Sterling Lorence photo.

At What Age Would You Let Your Kid Ride Whistler’s Bike Park?

A dad lets his young one fly free at an iconic mountain bike school — Whistler Blackcomb’s incomparable Summer Gravity Camp. By Mitchell Scott.

It’s enough to make most parents quiver in their full-face. Your child, unscarred and unbroken, armed with uncontainable stoke and little fear, about to embark on a week of high-paced, gravity riding at the notoriously air-afflicted (and emergency room prone) Whistler Mountain Bike Park in British Columbia. It’s massive fun, for sure, but not without potential for consequence. For my kid, a 13-year-old, small-town mountain biker,  it’s nothing short of a dream come true.

Above photo: From training drops to sending rock outcrops to spinning into foam pits at the famous air dome, summertime means a lot of time off the ground for kids in Whistler. Toby Crowley photo. Top feature photo: Ethan Shandro, son of Summer Gravity Camps founder Andrew Shando, enjoys the perks of Dad’s hard work. Sterling Lorence photo.

Since it first began running in 2002, Summer Gravity Camp (SGC) has become the largest and most renowned mountain bike clinic in the world. The brainchild of Andrew Shandro, whose resume includes being the first Canadian to win a World Cup downhill, SGC runs both youth and adult camps each summer, teaming up attendees with a who’s who of professional freeride, enduro and downhill athletes. Famous freeride athletes like Graham Agassiz, Thomas Vanderham and Cam McCaul coach at the week-long camps, offering tips on the important stuff, like how to whip, flip or keep speed throughout berms.

For my son and his Nelson, British Columbia buddy, it’s heaven: six hours in the bike park with Ryan “R-Dog” Howard, “the sickest rider ever,” then straight to the Air Dome for 360s and backflips into the foam pit, then dinner with the mates, followed by an extra-curricular session at the dirt jumps to round out the day. Campers do this seven days in a row. And where there is frequency plus coaching, there is great learning and exceptional experience. With that, comes confidence and—believe it or not—safety. The Nelson boys didn’t crash once.

Toby Crowley photo.

“Interestingly, most mountain bikers have never been coached,” explains Shandro. “From kids right through to adults, you might be a solid rider, but, you’ve actually never really been taught proper riding technique. A lot of what we do at SGC is focused on teaching people how to ride safely. We focus on helping them break bad habits and make smart decisions.”

It’s music to a parent’s ears. Shandro has seen almost 3,000 riders go through the program in 15 years. Some kids have gone on to become professional racers and freeriders. Some come back to coach. He hires a full contingent of support staff and counselors to ensure kids (the primary demographic at his camps) are taken care of, kept safe and, ultimately, have the time of their lives. There is still the odd broken wrist and gaping flesh wound, but by the end most kids are sending it confidently.

“You might be a solid rider, but you’ve actually never really been taught proper riding technique. We focus on helping break bad habits and make smart decisions.” Andrew Shandro, SGC

“We’re basically trying to create the most epic experience possible for these passionate young riders,” continues Shandro. “They’re meeting kids from all over the world. The pro riders they’ve idolized in videos are the same guys that are now riding with them and teaching them 360s and backflips in the foam park. At the end of the week you’re having food fights with them at the wrap-up party. It’s a pretty intimate experience.”

For my kid it was a little bit more than that. “You want to know what I thought of SGC?” he says to me incredulously, like I should already know. “It was basically just the best week of my entire life.”

Duh. Dumb parent.

Author / Contributor

Mitchell Scott

Mitchell Scott is the longtime Editor-in-Chief and co-publisher of both Kootenay Mountain Culture and Coast Mountain Culture Magazines. He’s been in the writing/publishing/media business for over 20 years and currently lives in Nelson, BC, where he tries to keep up with his two teenage sons with aching futility.

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