Traditionally, if you harbored dreams of becoming the next Lindsey Vonn or Mikaela Shiffrin (or if you were Lindsey Vonn or Mikaela Shiffrin), you trained and raced with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV)—the official athletic program of Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy (VSSA) in Minturn’s Maloit Park, which just moved into its new $28 million clubhouse at the base of Golden Peak. But once the snow melted on Vail Mountain, elite athletes who wanted to follow in the toeclips of Olympians Alise Willoughby (or Connor Fields), with dreams of racing singletrack for Team USA were pretty much on their own. That all changed this spring with the debut of Vail Junior Cycling, SSCV’s new full-time mountain bike team, which, like Ski Club Vail, aims to groom local athletes for the US National Team.
“We’re super excited,” says head coach Miles Gentry (pictured at right) of SSCV’s new dirt-centric offering. “There really aren’t any programs out there that do skiing and biking at this level.”
In addition to VSSA, Vail Junior Cycling draws teenagers from Battle Mountain and Vail Christian high schools in Edwards and Eagle Valley High in Eagle, as well as female racers from local nonprofit the Cycle Effect, who train and race with the club when they aren’t doing the same with their own teams. The benefits of all that extra work? Exposure to higher-level racing (on the super-competitive USA Cycling circuit), a longer season, better development programs, and (ka-ching!) potential athletic scholarships to colleges with competitive cycling programs, like Colorado’s own Fort Lewis College in Durango or the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Then there’s the elite coaching, one of SSCV’s hallmarks (the club consistently ranks as top in the nation). Gentry writes each athlete’s training plan for the season and sends it to them via an online training platform. At home, the kids attach a digital monitoring device to their stationary bikes so Gentry can track everything from speed and distance to pedal stroke output, along with cardiovascular performance via a heart rate monitor. On weekends, the kids train at the academy’s (and Lindsey Vonn’s) home gym, Minturn Fitness Center, where they do their spin workouts together, along with weight training twice a week, developing team cohesion.
Finding local talent was the easy part. Locating trails for the kids to train on before their first race in late March (which coincidentally took place at Vail Lake, California)? Not so much. All of Eagle County’s singletrack was either covered in snow, mired in mud, and/or closed for wildlife migration. “For our race in California, we stopped somewhere along the way each day so they could ride,” says Gentry. “That race was one of their first days on dirt, and they got thrown into [it] with the best juniors in the country.”
In the meantime, wearing the jersey of an unknown new club gives the kids a rare chance to compete as underdogs (as opposed to being favorites) when they show up at races around the country. “I think most people at Vail Lake thought we were a local team,” laughs Gentry. Although, given SSCV’s success on snow, Vail Junior Cycling might find obscurity to be a short-lived phenomenon.
If you’re a little past your prime to be pedaling with competitive high schoolers on local trails but want a risk-free sampling of local singletrack, consider booking a guided MTB ride with Edwards-based Paragon Guides. One classic half-day route begins with a pedal up a Forest Service road from Vail Pass to the top of Shrine Pass, followed by an eight-mile descent through aspen and fir forests to the mining town of Red Cliff (from $170 per person for groups of four or more), while another full-day sightseeing tour follows the Colorado River through ranchland, offering spectacular Western vistas (from $190 per person for groups of four or more). Prices include transportation to and from the trailhead, guides, and a snack or picnic lunch, but alas, no podium finish. paragonguides.com