Fostering a passion for downhill in the French Alps
I wasn’t surprised that Tao (9 years) took a liking to mountain biking. It’s been a lifelong passion of his father Julien’s – who is just crazy about all things enduro and downhill.
From the age of 2, Tao was tearing round the house on a balance bike. Naturally he progressed to a pedal bike, and then onto a mountain bike. Anything with two wheels, he loves! Once he turned 8 he joined a MTB club and began training more regularly – developing new skills, and trialling different mountain bike disciplines. He began to fall in love with downhill.
Since Tao’s taken a keen interest in mountain biking, we’ve invested in some good gear – with the latest purchase being a second hand downhill mountain bike. A Kona Stinky 14’ full suspension – perfect for learning downhill.
If you’d like to try downhill riding with your own kid without investing in all the gear, you can often hire equipment from the mountain bike parks and resorts. They’ll set the bike up specifically to suit your kid. And don’t forget the protective gear – we opt for a full face helmet, a back protector and knee pads for Tao. Falls can be impressive and you don’t want your young one to be put off by a bad experience caused by a lack of protective gear.
We live only an hour away from a number of bike parks so we are spoilt for choice. On this particular day we decided to head to Val d'Allos bike park for the first downhill session of the season. This resort is perfect for families with easy downhill tracks and marked family routes. We’re lucky to have a family chalet in the valley that we often stay in when we go.
Tao woke that morning eager to head up the mountain. He inhaled his breakfast and quickly got changed. He couldn’t wait to try out his new bike! Tao and Julien left for the slopes. They started with the green tracks and then did the blue ones. Tao’s favourite track is called La Thune. It’s flow-y through the woods but has the technical aspect of downhill biking.
Taking the chairlift up and riding downhill is great fun for kids. Almost all ski resorts offer this option over the summer with the melting of snow leaving playful slopes, berms and small hills.
At noon, I joined them to eat lunch. Tao was exhausted after a big morning of riding! While he was catching a break and re-fueling, Julien took the opportunity to hit some of the harder trails alone.
After lunch Tao did his favourite tracks again. Then to finish they did a long trail that took them lower than the resort onto a path that runs along the river – and I joined them on foot. Tao loved this long descent. More natural than the rest of the bike park with amazing views – a nice way to end what had been a fun day.
The lessons Tao has been taking weekly have undoubtedly helped him develop the skills to read terrain and progress faster. But when riding with kids it’s important to remember to listen to them and ride at their pace. Kids tire quickly and often when they become tired they lose focus and this is when falls can happen.
Needless to say, Tao was exhausted after their day on the mountain. Home for dinner and straight to bed. Tao and Julien love these father son days on the mountain together, and as Tao’s mum I love to see them bond over their shared passion for mountain biking.
Story and photography by Magali.