By Katy Savage
As mountain biking trails are being blazed in the area, the sport is also growing in schools.
The Woodstock High School Cycling Club launched at Woodstock Union Middle-High School this year under Todd Uva’s leadership.
Uva, who has led mountain biking programs at Woodstock’s summer SOAK camp, presented the concept of the club to the WUHS school board last year.
“This didn’t exist when I was a kid,” said Uva, who has been mountain biking for 20 years. “There are so many kids riding now. They really just needed someone to take them.”
Uva, who leads the group of about 14 riders at Woodstock, wants to make mountain biking a recognized school sport.
“I think it’s inevitable,” said Uva.
The Woodstock High School Cycling Club is one of about 16 youth teams registered with the Vermont Mountain Bike Association. Other local youth clubs include the Windsor Bike Club, Green Mountain Union MTB in Chester, the Rutland Area Rippers and Stowe High School MTB Club.
The youth clubs operate under the newly created Vermont Youth Cycling Program, which is part of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association.
“There was the energy and numbers to support an organization like this in Vermont,” said VMBA President Ross Scatchard.
VMBA held its first youth race at Ascutney Sept. 29 with more than 100 youth riders competing.
“Trials are getting better, bikes are getting better,” said Scatchard of the sport’s growth. “It’s more fun for kids to take a stab at getting on the trails.”
The Woodstock club practices three times a week through the fall, taking advantage of nearby trails in Killington, the new trails at Suicide Six, the Woodstock Aqueduct and just about anywhere.
“There are hidden gems of networks in the community that aren’t well known,” said Uva.
Uva admitted there were some challenges to starting mountain biking in the school.
He said parents had safety concerns. Unlike varsity sports, Woodstock doesn’t provide a budget for club sports. Uva received an anonymous donation to help him pay insurance costs for his riders. He also used donation money to purchase four bikes from Alpine Bike Works in Killington for those students who didn’t have their own.
“If kids can have some quality equipment, it makes it easier,” said Uva.
Noah Anderson, 15, a competitive skier at Woodstock Union High School, joined the mountain biking club this year.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” said Anderson, who has been mountain biking for five years. “It allows me to have a high-speed sport while skiing is not in season.”
Woodstock Union Middle School 8th grade student Holden Larmie also joined the team. Larmie’s passion for the sport grew when he was 10, after his father built him his first bike.
“I really wanted to join the mountain bike team because it had never been an option before and I wanted to try it,” Larmie said.
Uva never imagined his riders would compete when he thought of the club idea, but this week, he is preparing to host his first home race at Suicide Six in Pomfret Oct. 3.
Uva is working with the Woodstock Inn Recreational Trails and Nordic Director Nick Mahood, to design appropriate course routes. Community volunteers will help with timing, parking and course marshaling while the school’s STEM lab is helping by using its 3D printer to design custom awards.
“It will take the cooperation of several members of our school and the local community to make a successful race,” said Uva.
Uva is still learning about the youth club rules and aspects as he goes.
The lengths of the youth race courses depend on the skill of the rider. Races vary from six miles to 12 miles in the high schools and from three to six miles in the middle school. Top riders cross the finish in about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, VMBA is partnering with the New England High School Cycling Association to expand opportunities for youth in this area. The next youth race will be held at Cochran’s in Richmond Oct. 7 before riders go to Craftsbury Outdoor Center Oct. 14.
Kassidy Lynch (left) and Sam Leggett (right) compete for Woodstock’s new mountain biking club.