Downhill mountain biking at a lift-served bike park with a child can be daunting. How do you keep them safe with all those bros on the mountain?
Whether you’re brand new to downhill mountain biking, or just new to doing it with a young child, we’ve put together some of our top tips on how to make your first time (or first season) go as smoothly as possible. We’ve learned many of these things the hard way ourselves, and we’ve also asked our community for their tips as well.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about downhill mountain biking with kiddos!
Make Sure Your Child Has The Appropriate Gear
Before you show up at the mountain, make sure your child has the appropriate gear. And no, this isn’t just so they look cool, it’s actually a safety issue.
Rascal Rides community member @cher_bear_o explains: “The biggest tip: BUY 👏PROPER👏GEAR👏.
“I can’t say this enough. Letting your kid ride without a full face, gloves etc makes for a miserable experience for you both when they crash (crashing is part of the learning and no one enjoys a road rash face from crashing). All lift access mountains have gear that can be rented and it’s well worth the cost if you’re just starting out and not sure about investing in all the gear as it can add up quickly.”
First thing first: the bike. At a minimum, we recommend choosing a real mountain bike with hydraulic disc brakes. When our son first started doing downhill riding at age 4, a bike like this didn’t exist. He survived, but believe me it’s a lot easier and safer with disc brakes. You also want to make sure your child’s bike has knobby, high volume tires.
While your child doesn’t need a “downhill bike” right off the get go, as they progress you will probably want to upgrade. A mountain bike with air-sprung suspension, disc brakes, thru-axles, and tubeless tires will allow them to progress, and they won’t be breaking their bike.
Basic Safety Gear
At a minimum, your child should have a helmet–preferably a full face helmet (ASTM certified is best)–and a pair of gloves. A pair of goggles or sunglasses also provide necessary eye protection. Don’t even think about riding without these things.
I would also strongly recommend both elbow pads and knee pads. If you’re not ready to invest in those quite yet, then have your child wear a long sleeve shirt and pants.
Finally, as your child progresses and starts to catch air, you may want to add additional protective gear. This past summer our son started wearing a chest protector and I felt much safer. If they are going inverted, you may also want a neck protector (although these can be quite controversial).
Our Guides To Protective Gear:
Green Doesn’t Mean Easy
Just because your kiddo is shredding the blue trails on your local trail system, doesn’t mean that they are ready to start on blue trails at the bike park. Downhill trails are notoriously more challenging the cross country trails.
Begin with the easiest green there is, and progress from there. Most bike parks will have a list of the trails and the difficulty progression.
You’ll also hear the phrase “PreRide. ReRide. FreeRide.” This means that the first run you do, you should take it easy. The second time, you can go faster. The third time, you can catch air. Encourage your kids to do the same.
It can also be helpful to show your child the pros in action. Watch RedbullTV to see the professional downhillers pre-riding the course and doing visualization practices. Visualization and positive affirmations can be particularly helpful for kids who are struggling with confidence.
Ride Behind Your Child (And Preferably Sandwich Them)
If it’s just you and your child, have them lead and follow behind them. Unfortunately, even on green trails you’ll sometime get riders coming up way to fast on small children.
By riding behind them, you literally block their body with yours. You also have the ability to help coach them on pulling over for faster riders.
Learning this early on is important. Per mountain bike dad Kerry Waldman: “Be sure to reenforce park etiquette on the trails with regards to faster riders, having to stop on the trail, keeping an eye/ear uphill at all times, etc.”
If you have a second adult along, even better. Sandwich your kiddo! Put one rider in front to help lead and show your child the best line. Put the other rider behind to help block them.
Even now that our son is older and faster, this is still the approach my husband and I take. My husband leads, the kiddo follows, and I take up the rear.
Invest In Coaching Or Lessons
Many bike parks offer one on one coaching or group lessons. This can be a great way for your child to learn, especially if you don’t have a lot of downhill experience yourself OR you simply aren’t a big fan of coaching your child. Sometimes they listen to another adult a lot better than they do to a parent. And they may enjoy the opportunity to ride with other kids.
Rascal Rides community member Eric Hendren agrees: “The most important things are coaches he likes and other kids to ride with. Doesn’t like dad coaching.”
There will also probably come a day (sooner than you may think), that your child exceeds your ability level. At this point, it’s time to get them some professional coaching so that they can continue to progress.
Bring Lots Of Snacks
If you do a lot of biking (or other outdoor activities) with your kids, you already know just how important it is to bring ALL the snacks. This includes snacks for eating while on the chairlift, but you may want to have a more substantial lunch packed in the car as well.
You may be surprised to discover that many resorts that are bustling in the winter are pretty empty in the summer. We’ve been caught empty handed a few times when we’ve discovered there is literally nowhere at the resort to buy food.
Taking a lunch break is also a good opportunity to let kids take a longer break. Downhill mountain biking is exhausting, and it’s important to keep feeling fresh. (For more on this, see our tip below on not over doing it).
Know Any Age Restrictions Or Wheel Size Restrictions
While it may seem ridiculous, many bike parks have age and/or wheel size restrictions. Don’t be caught surprised at the lift; check their website or call ahead of time to make sure your child and their bike will be allowed on.
Make Sure Your Bikes Are In Good Shape And Be Prepared To Fix Them Onsite
Keeping your bikes in good working order is key. Downhill dad Coffey explains his routine:
“I check ALL bolts night before. I use to not check every time until rear axle came out one time at downhill park causing a little crash. I have a torque wrench for checking all bolts. Very important due to speed and steepness of downhill parks and consequences of something breaking.
Check tire pressure at park not the night before. I have found pressure is different after being on back of car in sun for the drive.
I bring as many extra parts as possible. Most park bike shops don’t stock parts for kids bikes. Extra chain a must. I also upgraded wheels so I bring the original wheel set with tires. Those are not set up tubeless since they are not being used. Extra brake pads are a must. I upgraded brakes so I always take the original brake set with me too.
I would hate to purchase lift tickets for family and then to be out for part or most of day if something breaks and not have a way to fix it. I might not have the ability to personally fix it but if I have the parts then the bike shop on site can.”
Don’t Over Do it
Quit while you and your child are still feeling good. While it may be tempting to put in a few more runs, as soon as you start getting tired (especially in the beginning), it’s a good idea to call it quits.
Most crashes happen toward the end of the day. And tired kids quit having fun.
Make sure you have first and foremost, and you can always go bigger, faster, and harder next time.
Practice Skills In Between Visits
Most of us can’t go to the lift-served bike park every day. In between visits, keep working on skills.
If you are lucky enough to live in an area with a skills park, head there frequently. Our son built many of his downhill skills at Trailside Bike Park in Park City, UT.
You might also want to buy a portable jump like the MTB Hopper so you can practice jumping anywhere.
Family Friendly Bike Parks
We’ve been to a lot of bike parks over the years, and some are super family friendly, and others not so much. A couple things that in our opinion make a bike park family friendly are: beginner and clearly progressive trails, signed pullouts, staff that are helpful and will help load your child’s bike, a culture that isn’t overly agro, and pump tracks or skills areas at the base.
The parks listed below are ones we’ve been to and have had good experiences with, or ones that our community has recommended. Obviously, the list is not all inclusive and I’m sure there are plenty of other amazing family friendly bike parks. If you know of one, comment below and we’ll add it.
Targhee Bike Park – Alta, Wyoming – This is one of our favorites. Fantastic for kids of all ages.
Mt. Bachelor – Bend, OR – The trails higher on the mountain are rocky and challenging, but the bottom lift offers trails appropriate for all skill levels.
Whistler – Whistler, BC – The best bike park anywhere. While you’ve likely seen videos of the pros here, it also has some of the best trails for beginners. They are well built and easy to learn and progress on. We also enforce yielding to slower riders on the green trails.
Deer Valley – Park City, UT – There aren’t a ton of green trails here, but the runs are long, and you can easily spend a long day here. Once your kids progress to jump trails, they will be in heaven.
Bogus Basin – Boise, ID – Our local bike park. If you’re in town, hit us up!
Spirit Mountain – Duluth, MN – This was the very first bike park we ever took our son too! It’s uncrowded, and the green trails are easy while still offering plenty of rocks and technical sections to play around on.
Mammoth Mountain – Mammoth Lakes, CA – Per Kerry Waldren, “Mammoth is one of our favorites because of the Discovery Chair trails progression area.”
Snow Valley Mtn Resort – Running Springs, CA – Waldren tells us: “Snow Valley is a fun one close to us that has mostly green and blue runs and very small crowds. It makes learning easy knowing you don’t have a bunch of Enduro Bro or Weekend Worldcup DH riders breathing down your neck on the green run.”
Sun Peaks – Sun Peaks, BC – From @cher_o_bear: “We love love love Sun Peaks for the kids!!! It’s perfect as it has a progression park (magic carpet access) to help them get used to downhill riding and really prepare them for bigger hill riding. There are green, blue (flow and technical) trails and then when ready they can hit up the chair lift runs. And bonus: it’s super affordable!”
Whitefish – Whitefish, MT – Whitefish has a Strider course for the youngest riders, kids bike rentals, and camps.
Sun Valley – Sun Valley, ID – Good for intermediate riders. The green trail coming from the top is rocky. Younger kids will actually prefer getting off at the mid-mountain point rather than going to the very top.
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The Rascals are a family of three. Kristen (mom), Blair (dad), and Parker (kiddo). We started Rascal Rides when Parker was born and we didn’t want to give up our passion for biking. As we learned, we shared. Over the years, we’ve tested hundreds of kids bikes, helmets, bike trailers, and more.
Kristen is a USA Cycling certified coach and loves to share her passion for biking with other families. Blair is a bike geek, mechanic, and mountain bike junkie. Parker is our resident tester and inspiration.
If you see us out on the trail, make sure to say hi!