Thursday, July 23, 2015

An Inside Look at WinSport Mountain Bike Camps at Canada Olympic Park

Ever wonder what really goes on at summer camp after you drop your child off?  Wonder why your child looks so shattered and exhausted at the end of the day and wish you could have been a fly on the wall watching what they did all day?? Well, I had those same thoughts about my son's mountain bike camp at Canada Olympic Park (COP) after he came home in zombie mode for the third night in a row.  Seriously, the kid wouldn't eat dinner and he was an absolute wreck!  What were they doing to the kids??

Fortunately for me, being a writer who specializes in family outdoor adventure, I got the opportunity to spend a morning shadowing my son's mountain bike class at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park and I got a valuable look at what really goes on after the kids get dropped off for the day.

Biking down the hill on Strawberry Shortcake - the first downhill run all kids will do in camp

I followed my son's bike class all around Canada Olympic Park for a morning, took a trip to Narnia with them, rode up the chairlift with them, and attempted to bike down the hill with them.  I watched them attempt jumps, ride features in the skills park, and master the teeter totter in the Discover Park.  And I watched them learn a lot of important skills that would keep them safe on the trails long after bike camp had finished.  - and that was just the morning at camp!

Group Chat - Time to work on some skills!

A day in the life of a child in a youth mountain bike class at COP

Most days start off with a trip to the Discover Park to "Warm up" on the easy little bike track, try the teeter totter a time or two, and work on the banked corners going down the short run.

working on the teeter totter in the Discover Park
Spawn Biker Twins practicing at the Discover Park

Following the Discover Park, the kids took a tour around Canada Olympic Park to work on skills. They practiced riding with flat pedals, worked on hills (riding both up and down,) and tried to master getting their bums off their seats.  I enjoyed following the kids on the tour because I discovered some new places to explore in the park and I felt that the tour gave the kids a bit of practice with paved pathway riding (great for working on gears) as well as mountain biking.

Trying to work on bike skills (mine refused to raise his bum or stand during this lesson.)
Flat Pedals and Bums in the Air everybody!!

Next we took  a trip to Narnia!  Located near the bobsled track and kids adventure park, this little area in the trees features three separate tracks for kids to practice their banked corners, rollers, and even some tight turns around trees.  Now that I know where Narnia is, we like to come to COP in the evening for a round of mini-golf and some play time biking in the trees.

Riding in Narnia at Canada Olympic Park

After the tour of Canada Olympic Park, the kids headed in for a snack and I was told I'd have to get on the chair lift if I was going to continue following the class for their first run of the day down the ski hill.  Thank goodness they were just riding Strawberry Shortcake because this mom is a bit scared of downhill riding (hence why my kid is in bike camp learning from a professional!)

Following the kids down Strawberry Shortcake at Canada Olympic Park

I followed the kids and learned a few important things that ALL parents will want to know:
  1. No kid will  be left behind!! There was one boy in the class struggling on a smaller bike with coaster brakes but he was never abandoned and the Junior Helper in the class always stayed with him, pushing his bike when necessary,  and going as slowly as needed to get the kid safely down the hill.
  2. If you want to walk, you walk.  No pressure, no name calling by other students, no worries.  Ride when you can ride, walk if you need to walk.  (I confess that I walked a few sections with some of the more timid children.)
  3. The kids all stick together while riding down the hill.  The lead teacher stopped at every corner, waited for the slower kids to catch up, and then proceeded after seeing that everybody had made it.
  4. The kids are encouraged to support each other.  I even saw one boy helping another push his bike down a hill.   That melted my heart.
Helping a buddy - always encouraged
Riding down the easiest run at Canada Olympic Park to warm up
One teacher always rides at the back
working on  banked corners on Strawberry Shortcake
The kids stick together and ride in a group at all times

Following the ride down the mountain, the kids headed to the Skills Park to work on wooden features and jumps.  This took us to lunch time and by this point, I was already tired.  Meanwhile, the kids still had a full afternoon of camp left!!

Practicing in the Jump  Park
Learning to ride wooden features in the Skills Park

In the afternoon that day while I was a camp, the kids went up the chair lift again and rode down the second green run, Green Tea, which is harder than Strawberry Shortcake with more trees, banked corners, and proper single track trails. The trail goes through the east trees and winds it way down the ski hill. After that, the kids would have headed back to the Discover Park, Skills Park, and done more work on their technique.  They could have even taken a trip over to the neighboring Paskapoo Slopes for some cross country practice.

More practice in the Discover Park

Downhill and Cross country Practice at Camp

I'm relatively new to mountain biking but I have discovered how different downhill riding is from cross country riding. Riding down a ski hill with the banked corners, tight turns, and switch backs is quite different from what you'd get on a cross country trail where you'll have to practice gearing up and down, navigate rocks and roots, and build endurance for the times when you are not flying downhill.  

Kids at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park practice all forms of mountain biking and learn the skills required to handle all terrain, whether riding at COP or out biking in Bragg Creek on the cross country trails.

Biking on the Paskapoo Slopes one evening after camp

Cross country training is done at the neighboring Paskapoo Slopes (referred to as the East Lands) where the kids bike to the Big Rock and back on a very rooty rough trail, ride up Lemon Orchard to practice gearing down for hill climbs, and bike down to the Lower Slopes for some good downhill riding and solid hill climbing at the end.

Cross country training on the Paskapoo Slopes

I appreciated the fact that my son was doing both downhill and cross country riding and am glad he didn't just do chair-accessed riding all day. That's not "life" for most mountain bikers and you have to be able to do the work climbing hills and biking cross country if you want to enjoy the hills down after.

Mountain Biking on the Paskapoo Slopes beside Canada Olympic Park

Overall Opinion and Review of WinSport's Mountain Bike Camps

I can only comment on the youth camps that run all day having no experience with the half day preschool camps.  I can also only really assess the younger levels since my son was in level 2 at camp (in the 6-8 year old category)

Based on what I saw though, WinSport's Camps get two thumbs up from me and I would not hesitate for a second to register my son in camp again next summer!  I think kids would even benefit from two weeks of camp per year, one if July and then one in August after practicing what they learned in the first week of camp.

Practicing at the Discover Park after camp

How You Can Best Support Your Child at Camp

You'll get a packing list and a phone call from your child's teacher before camp.  Below are other items though that you may want to consider:
  • A platypus water backpack.  Kids get thirsty and most kids' bikes don't hold water bottles very easily.  Kids need easy access to water on the trails.
  • Bike gloves.  Anything that protects hands from connecting directly with dirt or pavement is worth having!
  • A full face helmet (only if your child is in youth level 4 or higher.) - we bought one and never needed it.  Nobody in my son's class, level 2, had one.  Most of the kids in level 3 did not have one either.  
  • Elbow and knee pads - if your child freaks out when they fall down and would do better to have more padding against pavement, dirt, rocks, etc. 
  • A bike with HAND BRAKES!!! This is a MUST.  Please don't send your child to camp with coaster brakes.  It is not safe for your child to be riding down the ski hill with coaster brakes.  It also impacts the other children in your child's class if group rides are cancelled or changed to easier trails out of necessity for one child who doesn't have the required equipment to keep him or her safe. 

A good bike goes a long ways towards success at camp

Other things to consider:

First, don't make serious plans for the evenings after your child finishes camp.   They will be tired and they won't feel like doing more biking or active activities.  This is the week to allow them to watch as many movies as they want in the evening.

Second, don't make serious weekend plans following a week at bike camp.  Chances are, your kid won't want to go biking, camping, hiking, or climb a mountain.  I could be wrong, but mine did not!

And finally if your child does not have a good mountain bike with hand brakes, consider visiting the rental shop at COP before you register your child for camp to make sure they have suitable bikes for your child's age and size.  You don't want to find out that your child requires a 16" bike on the first day of camp and discover that COP only has 20" bikes.  A bit of preparation goes a LOOOOONG way towards your child's safety and success at camp.

An evening ride through Narnia after camp

I want to give a big thank you to my son's teachers for doing a fabulous job.  My son was in a very diverse class with children who ranged in abilities from level 2 through level 3 or higher.  The teachers worked hard every day though to ensure the safety of all kids while creating a fun learning environment for each rider. I have seen my son practicing what he learned in camp in the weeks following the experience, and I now have skills I can work on with him.

As a side note, I feel like I also went to bike camp after shadowing the class for half a day and my riding has improved tremendously after just one morning! Maybe WinSport needs to look into a parent/child mixed class for those of us newbie bike parents.  What do you think?

Thank you to WinSport as well for allowing my son to participate in a week of camp for this review. As always, my opinion is my own and I wasn't paid to write this story.

For more information on Camps at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park, please visit their website.

My rad. biker at Canada Olympic Park


  1. Love this post! My boys were at bike camp the same week as you (I recognized you but didn't want to interrupt during your private family time), and this was their second year. We are also very impressed with the program and highly recommend it to everyone we can. The instructors are fantastic, and many (most? all?) are serious riders themselves, often competitive, so you're getting excellent coaching. They are so good with the kids (even keeping them calm and safe during this weeks tornado warning!). A parent/kid class would be great, but I just finished the five week women's class and loved it, I'll do it again next spring as a refresher! I learned a lot that I just wouldn't (haven't) been able to do with kids. But I agree, have lots of quiet, lazy activities planned for the evenings of bike camp, my kids were shattered!

    1. I agree Jennifer, Tanya gave us a lot of information, and I just signed up my boys for one in August. what class did you take?? is relate to mountain bike??

    2. Thanks Jennifer and Jenny. And you can always come up and say hi Jennifer if you should ever run into me again. Glad you signed your son up for a camp in August Jenny. Noah was in youth level 2, for kids ages 6-8.

    3. Jenny I took the Level 3 Women's Mountain Bike camp. We did a lot of skills work, riding in the Eastlands (Paskapoo Slopes) and downhill as well. We were taken on black trails I never would have tried on my own and I felt a huge change in my ability and my confidence. I have a lot of difficulties with climbs, and my instructor was very patient and supportive and I never felt 'bad' for always being the last one. So much fun!

  2. Thank you, Tanya, for such a detailed review. My 6-year old is enrolled in the Level 2 class the second week of August and it sounds like it will be amazing.
    As for a camp for moms, have you heard of the Trek Dirt Series? I am relatively new to mountain biking as well, but want to be able to keep up with my sone and husband as they start biking together on more advanced trails. I did their weekend camp in June and it was great. I learned more in a weekend than my husband has been able (willing?) to teach me in 10 years. I highly recommend it if you are looking for some instruction. The camps are for women, coached by women, and gave me a ton of skills and confidence.

    1. Thanks, I have heard of the Trek Dirt Series. I think I liked being with the 6 year olds because then I had lots of excuses to walk the sections I was scared of, lol. In reality, mountain biking isn't something that my body can do on a big level. My kid is already better than me and I have to accept that he will continue to get better. One of my hips is put together with titanium so that means I have to be super careful about what I do. I will most likely continue to ride the easy stuff and let my husband take my kid out for the crazy stuff. :)