Whatcom County is celebrated for our outdoor recreational opportunities. The trail systems lacing over Galbraith Mountain and the Chuckanut range are regional attractions, and their presence fosters a strong, local mountain bike culture. For those looking to take their riding to the next level, or simply introduce their children to the joys of trail riding, March Northwest offers mountain bike clinics for all ages and abilities.

Established in 2013 by professional athlete and pioneering mountain bike coach, Shaums March, MNW programs take riders around the county on trails to hone their skills or learn the basics.

The Rank Advancement trailhead on Galbraith Mountain, hosted by MNW, is a popular choice for trail riding practice. Photo courtesy: March Northwest.

“We want to make sure that everyone has an experience where they end on a high note,” says MNW coach and Director of Administration, Nicole Gerow. “We will often end a day with a few laps on Rank Advancement so our riders can test themselves and see how they’ve improved.”

Rank Advancement, a trail loop on Galbaraith Mountain, is sponsored by MNW and hosts a variety of features suitable for a spectrum of riding abilities. The trail is also used during MNW’s summer break camp to teach youth the fundamentals of trail building and maintenance. “It’s not all about the ride,” reminds Gerow. “We’ll take them for walks along the trails and check for debris. If the trails aren’t safe to ride, then there’s no point in going out on them.”

Many of MNW’s programs are built around the school year, allowing for children to become engaged with the sport, and the character building that comes with it. “Mountain biking necessarily builds confidence; it comes from this place of resilience in the face of risk, where you don’t quit because of inclement weather, and don’t give up if you’re stuck,” says Gerow. “It teaches kids to fall and get back up again.”

MNW clinics held at Trampoline Zone give riders an edge in learning aerial maneuvers and prepares them for learning to fall in control. Photo courtesy: March Northwest.

Falls on a mountain bike are often times unavoidable and can be dangerous. “We really stress to our team to respect the importance of an injury, that it could be them and it could be serious,” explains Gerow. “If someone gets hurt, the whole group walks to the bottom of the trail with them.” To help mitigate some of the risk, MNW hosts clinics at Trampoline Zone, where they use the foam pits and mats to teach riders how to fall. Using a hoop to jump though allows participants to practice the aerial movements needed to roll out of a fall in a more controlled and ultimately safer way.

Recreational riders aren’t the only ones who need coaching in mountain bike safety skills. MNW partners with the International Police Mountain Bike Association, consulting with precincts nationwide and teaching their officers how to ride mountain bikes. In contrast to the amount of training police receive for most of their tools and tactics, bike skills often fall by the wayside. Cities have unique obstacles compared to rural trails and an officer needs to be prepared to maneuver through pedestrians and cars, or roll down stairs. “They know how to be a police officer, but they don’t know how to be a police officer on a bike,” says Gerow. “Our job is to teach them the safest maneuvers for their situation.”

MNW coaches practice their skills at the Civic Field dirt jump track in Bellingham. Photo courtesy: March Northwest.

MNW also supports their younger riders with opportunities to help foster responsibility and leadership skills. Youth who have perennially enrolled in clinics now have the chance for their first jobs to be with the MNW program. “I am especially excited for these kids, watching them mature and grow with us,” says Gerow proudly. “They’re no longer just taking our program, they are involved in our program by becoming ride leaders.”

As a junior ride leader, youth are expected to have completed 40 hours of volunteer service at an organization of their choice and have taken a series of courses through MNW for certification. “Requiring them to volunteer is important to us,” she says. “We want them to understand the value of their time and for them to demonstrate commitment and self-discipline.”

The Bellingham School District recently procured a handful of mountain bikes for some of their middle and high school P.E. curriculums. MNW has stepped in to consult with physical education teachers during this season’s teacher development days. “We teach teachers how to be ride leaders,” explains Gerow. “We don’t expect them to teach the students bike skills, but it’s important that they know how to make emergency action plans and lead rides. It’s about how to get kids out on a trail, have fun and be safe.”

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