Never Having To Say “Just Me” – Why I Joined A NICA Mountain Bike Team

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NICA mountain biking - the ups and downs of joining a mountain bike team.
NICA mountain biking - the ups and downs of joining a mountain bike team.

When a friend talked me and two other girls into joining the East High Mountain Bike Team the summer before my seventh grade year, my dad was overjoyed. When my friend and the other girls gave up on the idea, he made me stick with it. The only kid my age on the team, a boy, was a fast biker, so my dad and I ended up riding way behind everyone else at practice. It was lonely, but at least the fast kids couldn’t see me huffing and puffing.  Dad kind of became obsessed with the idea of mountain biking, so every time the family went somewhere, we had to take our bikes with us.

Getting inspired at mountain biking nationals in Mammoth, California.
Getting inspired at mountain biking nationals in Mammoth, California.

What Is NICA?

NICA stands for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. It is the United States’ accredited mountain bike organization where children in grades 7-12 may have the opportunity to join a middle school or high school mountain biking team in their area. Teams go on group rides and compete in races. Visit the link below for more information.

Traveling with the mountain bikes included our family trip to California to visit cousins. On the way, we discovered the MTB national championships were going to be in Mammoth, so we took a detour to catch a day of racing.

At the girls race, we decided to cheer for the two Utah high school girls racing. When their race began, and the mass of kids jockeyed for position, one of the Utah girls, Kira Crowell, locked handle bars with another racer, went down and, her leg stuck in her bike, got run over by another racer. She was screaming and in a lot of pain. Standing next to me, my dad was thinking, “Oh no, there’s no way Chiana’s gonna want to race now.” And I was thinking sort of the same thing. But, after the officials pulled Kira to the side and checked on her, she got back on her bike and continued the race. Though she was now several minutes behind the slowest of the racers, she finished the race 8th out of  sixteen!  It was inspirational. I got to take a picture with her, and the other Utahn – who finished 2nd – and the girls were nice enough to follow me on Instagram and invited me to go riding with them.

Our junior development team at Snowbasin Resort.
Our junior development team at Snowbasin Resort.

I was too shy to take them up on the invitation to ride (there’s no way I could keep up), but now I had someone to look for at the races, and some inspiration for preparing for them. Being part of the East High team helped me meet other kids as well. Even though I still practiced at the back of the pack, the other kids on the Jr. Development team starting noticing me – saying hi to me in school and giving me high-fives. Which coming from 8th grade boys is pretty cool for a 7th grade girl. That first year, there were no other girls on the team to race with, but I did end up seeing my best friend from pre-school at one of the races and got to stage with her.

East High School Mountain Biking Team

The East High Mountain Biking Team

NICA has leagues for several states across the country. The East High MTB team was started in 2012 and is part of the Utah High School Cycling League. This group of riders and coaches know how to have a good time. Follow the East High Mountain Biking Team on Instagram to keep up with the antics.

Riding is fun, but racing never gets easy. In my second year, when more kids my age joined, I was no longer the slowest (I even kept up with some of the boys), and had been through two races, but I still I got nervous at the beginning of every race. For the first race of my second season, in Vernal, I was frightened because I started in the front row of advanced and intermediate girls. It was an early morning start and  when the time came to line up I felt sick to my stomach. It was the longest five minutes in my life until the horn blew and the race began. In the first 50 feet of the course, a girl cut in front of me and fell off her bike, causing me to brake and fly over my handlebars (I had been warned about slamming my front brakes, but well, you don’t always remember those things in the middle of a race). On the ground, I thought of the moment Kira Crowell went down in her race at Mammoth and decided I wanted to finish my race. I wasn’t in much pain, only shock, and luckily no one had run over me, so I got up and started again. I was hyperventilating because I was so stressed about getting my spot back, so it took a while for me to start going full speed again. I never got back to the front of the line, but I did finish the race, which was the important part.

Finishing a NICA race in Vernal, Utah.
Finishing a NICA race in Vernal, Utah.

When you move from being a Jr. Devo to a High School racer, your season almost doubles, and so does the fun. This previous season, the coaches put in extra effort to make sure there was a lot of team bonding. Tons more kids joined and it isn’t easy to get to know 35 kids. Instead of just doing practices every couple of days, the coaches organized a lot of adventures as team bonding activities. The first was a cookout/campout. Former team members were invited, and everyone, whether they were experienced riders or not, went for a quick team ride. The uphill was hard, but the downhill was much better because at the end of it, s’mores were waiting for everyone. Some kids even camped out that night.

Roasting marshmallows for s'mores during a team practice.
Roasting marshmallows for s'mores during a team practice.
Some of the East High School mountain bike team at the top of Puke Hill. This is part of the Wasatch Crest Trail.
Some of the East High School mountain bike team at the top of Puke Hill. This is part of the Wasatch Crest Trail.

The biggest adventure of the preseason was towards the end of the summer, when the coaches were confident the team could take on a big ride and we piled in cars and shuttled up to the famous Crest trail — a twenty plus mile ride that begins close to 10,000 feet. We were all proud that after training all summer, we made it up Puke Hill without puking (though there were some who had to push our bikes). The first few miles of the ride have a lot of climbing and not much oxygen, but all the miles of downhill, through beautiful alpine country makes it worth it. It’s about the best thing you could do with your summer, and not a bad way to way to start your high school year.

East High MTB photo during a ride on the Mid-Mountain Trail near Park City.
East High MTB team after a ride in Park City, Utah.
Ninth grade mountain biking girls.
East High School ninth grade mountain biking girls.

It certainly helps to be confident about a sport, but one of the great things about mountain biking is everyone works at their own pace, and we all support each other, whether we’re on the same team or not. At that Vernal race my 8th grade year, when I was breathing heavy and trying to get my spot back, I was cheered on by one of the senior boys on East, who got up early, for the first race, and was cheering all of us on. This lesson stuck with me. The first race of this season was nerve-racking, but racing in the morning meant I could get it over with and cheer on everyone else. When we were climbing down the mountain to find a good spot to watch the race at Powder Mountain, four of us found a giant wooden spool, rolled it to a spot along the course, stood it upright and spent the next 5 hours cheering everyone on through a megaphone one of our teammates had brought. We may have cheered loudest when an East High racer came through, but we made sure to cheer everyone on. I learned that cheering on kids helps the riders a ton.

Hanging out with the East High MTB team following a race in southern Utah.
Hanging out with NICA East High MTB team following a race in southern Utah.
Hanging out playing games at a condo the team rented on a race weekend.
Playing games at a condo the East High MTB team rented on a race weekend.

As important as team friendships are for when you’re racing, the funnest part of being on a team often comes before or after the races. This year, the high school kids traveled to Moab and Cedar City for two races.  Moab was full of hanging out in the hot tub, swimming, playing ping pong, and some awesome fun rides in red rock country. We ended the season in Cedar City, the state championships, where we got a team house and spent the weekend together. The first few nights were mellow (we had races, after all), but as the weekend went on, we saw discovered some of our teammate’s true colors. Half the team pulled an all-nighter after the races were done. We made sure not to wake any adults up so we could continue our games. Everybody slept on the way back home, probably dreaming about the fun team bonding the night before.

The best part about being on a mountain biking team is you never have to say “just me” as you pass someone going in the opposite direction. Whether it’s with your parent, other kids, or a coach, you’ve always got someone to help push you up the mountain or yell with joy as you descend.


Contributing Writer

Chiana Rossiter, Author Chiana is a freshman at East High School in Utah. In addition to mountain biking, she likes to ski (on water and snow) and play on the school’s soccer and basketball teams. Follow the East High MTB Team on Instagram to keep up with this great group of young riders as the 2018 NICA season gets started in Utah. Many thanks to Chiana's father - Shawn Rossiter, for providing the photos.

The Captain Ahab Trail

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Riding the Captain Ahab Trail with kids

We rode the Captain Ahab Trail for the first time as a family last spring when our kids were 10 and 13. It’s now one of the kids’ Moab favorites. This trail is long and strenuous for many who choose to give it a go. In addition to having the right mountain biking gear, be prepared with ample water and food. For young families it can be a long day of pedaling. There are steep, technical ascents/descents; cliff exposure and off-camber traverses. If you want to ride the Captain Ahab Trail with your kids, we strongly suggest having an adult from your clan with strong intermediate skills ride it first. Have fun – be safe. That’s always the mantra.

The entry to the Captain Ahab trail is reached via the Hymasa trail
Get to the Captain Ahab Trail via the Hymasa climb.
Climbing on the Hymasa trail en route to the Captain Ahab trail
Climbing on the Hymasa trail en route to the Captain Ahab trail.
There are several technical descents along the way
There are several technical descents along the way.

Access the Captain Ahab Trail by via the Hymasa trail. Pedaling up Hymasa can be a doozy. Just when you think you’ve reached the top and you can peek over the cliffs, you have about another 10 minutes of strenuous climbing. We usually regenerate with snacks and cold water before we start the first descent as you need to keep alert for all of the technical challenges this trail presents.

After the initial drop-in, be prepared for an undulating canvas of sandstone. The vistas are nothing less than stunning and the mountain biking is world-class.

The entire loop about 8 miles long. This ride can easily become one of the trails where both you and your kids measure your stamina and technical prowess over the years to come.

Getting To The Captain Ahab Trail

From the south end of Moab, head towards the McDonald’s and zero out your vehicles’s trip meter. Turn right off of Main Street at the McDonald’s and head northwest on Kane Creek Blvd. Stay on Kane Creek Blvd as it curves left and runs parallel to the Colorado River. The paved road will turn to gravel after a bit. Continue on the gravel road. You’ll pass the Kings Bottom Campground; then pass the Kane Creek RV Park. About 5.4 miles from McDonald’s you will arrive at the Amasa Back parking lot on the right side of the road. The parking lot’s coordinates are 38.528501, -109.596631. Park here and pedal up the road for about another half mile. On your right, you will see the start of the Amasa Back trailhead. The Amasa Back trailhead is for motorized off-road vehicles. The sign is pictured above is the start of the Hymasa trail – your access point to the Captain Ahab trail.

Spawn Yoji 14 Review

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Spawn Yoji 14 Review

Many mountain bikes designed for kids are fairly utilitarian. They come in basic colors and aren’t overly customizable. The Spawn Yoji 14 is quite different. This mountain bike is just as lightweight and functional as the others, but it has a number of exciting features.

Spawn Yoji 14 Review
Spawn Yoji 14 brake lever
At-A-Glance

Cassette: 12t on Freehub

Brakes: Tektro Mini-V

Buy It At: Spawn Cycles

Dad says: "The Brood Perch Pivotal seat on this bike is second-to-none. The adjustability of the handlebars is great. My son will also learn how to use front and rear brakes with this bike."

Spawn Yoji 14 rear v-brake
Tektro V-Brakes control this little bike's momentum, not the fun.
Spawn Yoji 14 quick release seat collar
A quick release seat collar helps with on-the-fly saddle height adjustments.
Spawn Yoji 14 rear wheel
Spawn's Loam Star tires have an aggressive off-road tread.

Some Of The Numbers

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STANDOVER HEIGHT

14 inches

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DRIVETRAIN

Single speed

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WHEEL SIZE

14 inches

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WEIGHT

About 13 pounds

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AGE RANGE

2.5+

The Spawn Yoji 14 is a 14-inch mountain bike designed with kids in mind. Its frame is available in an array of colors, including bright blue, purple, neon green, orange, and red. This complements the all-black tires and trim to create a striking bicycle that will definitely be noticed on the trails. However, the looks of this bike are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s extremely lightweight – only 13 pounds – thanks to the 6061-T6 aluminum frame. This goes well with the 4130 chromology fork.

The Spawn Yoji 14

This Kids’ Mountain Bike Is Designed To Grow With Your Child

The seat, a Perch mini Pivotal seat from Brood Bike Co., is attached to the Spawn Yoji 14 with an alloy post. As your child grows taller, the seat height can move up as well. This saddle was custom-designed for Spawn. They wanted one that was more comfortable than a typical rail seat and wound up with the world’s smallest padded Pivotal seat. This design is both stronger and lighter. 

The stem on this boys’ and girls’ mountain bike can be flipped over in order to raise the handlebars up. This makes for a comfortable fit, as well as a bike that will last for quite some time. Tires on the Yoji have an aggressive tread that grips the roads and trails. The tires even have built-in puncture protection. Tektro Mini V-Brakes enable the bicycle to stop smoothly.

The Spawn Yoji 14 comes with a real freehub and hollow axle. 64mm bolt circle diameter (BCD) connections on the cranks enable the chainring to be swapped out with Shimano cogs. You can customize your little one’s gearing depending on the terrain that you and your child are riding on.

Spawn Yoji 14 bike control
As with all bikes, the proper fit helps the rider control the bike. And, when you can control the bike - that builds confidence.

Riding The Spawn Yoji 14

Our test rider enjoyed riding this bike. Naturally, his favorite feature was the color. Maybe in the future he can appreciate all of the research and design that went into the bike’s geometry and components.

The 89mm long cranks allowed for smooth, even pedaling. The 460mm wide handle bars were a comfortable fit that enabled confident cornering and maneuvering. Our young buck was even able to maneuver the bike up on a narrow 18″ tall skate park feature. Confidence just kept growing, too. After a few revolutions of the cranks, our rider was up-to-speed, standing up on the pedals and dropping in on some of the skate park’s bowls.

Spawn Yoji 14 coming at you
Get out of the way! Here comes a fun, light weight 14" kids' bike.
Spawn Yoji 14 handle bars
You can control the reach on this kids' bike by rotating the handle bars.
Spawn Yoji 14 - Victory
We don't know if this means "Peace" or "Victory". Either way - the Spawn Yoji 14 was a hit with our test rider. This bike fit him very well and that allowed him to ride the bike as it was intended.

Building The Bike Out Of The Box

When the bike arrived on our doorstep, I was excited to see that the bike requires a bit of assembly. In addition to attaching the pedals and handle bars, we had to adjust the brakes properly. You have to provide your own tools but Spawn provided the know-how via a well designed instruction manual. Some people may balk at the idea of having to assemble a bike, but we say embrace it. Even if it’s a surprise gift, take the opportunity to have your daughter or son assist with building up the bike. As always, safety is paramount and you need to make sure all bolts are tightened to specification and the brakes are functioning properly.

Spawn Yoji 14 - unboxing
Instruction manual for Spawn Yoji 14
Born To Ride - Spawn Yoji 14

Visiting SkyPark At Santa’s Village

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SkyPark At Santa's Village
SkyPark At Santa's Village

At a 5,700 ft. elevation in southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains, you’ll find the revitalized SkyPark At Santa’s Village. Originally opened in 1955, this small renovated winter-themed amusement park features a dozen beautifully crafted mountain biking trails the whole family can enjoy.

Where: 28950 CA-18, Skyforest, CA 92385
When: Open year-round. Check online for exact days and if trails are open due to recent weather conditions
How Much: Children (4-12) $24 / Adults (13-59) $39 / Seniors (60-74) $24 / Children 3 and under and adults 75 and over are admitted free.
Why: There’s a bike park here among other fun activities.
Who Its’ For: Mountain biking families who want to try something new.
Learn More: www.skyparksantasvillage or call 909.744.9373

During a recent trip to California, our family of four made the 1.25 hour trip from Anaheim to surf the dirt on our mountain bikes at SkyPark At Santa’s Village. We were also able to experience more of the park’s offerings. The drive up from San Bernardino into the forested mountains was impressive by itself. We ascended over 4,500 feet in the span of just 20 miles on CA 18. Upon arrival you will have to pay your entrance fee(s) and exchange signed liability waivers in return for fabric admission wrist bands. Your daily fee is good for all the park’s activities all day long.

San Bernardino mountains on the way up to SkyPark at Santa's Village
Mom entering SkyPark at Santa's Village
Post box in Santa's Village

Upon entering the park, you’re immediately transported to the North Pole. Before you lie Santa’s House, St. Nick’s Patio and Grill, as well as the attractions Arrow’s Adventure and Silver Bells Skating Pond (roller skating during warm months). The bike park trails are accessed on the looker’s right of the park after you enter.

Riding The SkyPark Mountain Bike Park

You get to earn your turns at this bike park. There is not a lift or shuttle. We spent most of our time at the south side of the park so the the trail Row Upline was our main gateway to the downhill trails. The ride up only took about 10 minutes for each lap and it was never too hard for our 11 year-old. There’s even a small skills park with ascending/descending logs, a see-saw, ladder feature, and more technical log features where you can test your chops. Throughout the day we saw younger kids pedaling and doing hike-a-bike up the trail. We got our first lap down the trail Sleigh Ride, an intermediate flow trail almost a half mile long that ends on Row Upline. From there, we took the intermediate trail Playground and opted-in to the end of the advanced trail, Arrow. Sleigh Ride featured great berms, rollers and few small table top jumps. Playground was very good single track and the lower half of Arrow offered up three rollable cedar plank wood features that were wide and in very good condition.

Young mountain biker riding a see-saw at SkyPark at Santa's Village
A young mountain biker riding a see-saw at SkyPark at Santa's Village.
Our young gun starts to get some air on the Arrow trail.
Our young gun starts to get some air on the Arrow trail.

Our next lap started at the top of Arrow. There is a large wooded berm on the right side after you start the trail and it’s followed by two table jumps with wood tops, then a ladder feature with a steep rolldown. We won’t spoil the rest of trail for you, but it’s good. Really good.

The mountain bike park’s signature trail is an advanced jump line called Neverland. Be sure you and your kids can ride all the features on Sleigh Ride and Arrow before you take this one on. Neverland is accessed from the top of Row Upline and it’s two-thirds of a mile long. Some of the take offs on the table jumps have sculpted lips to give you extra boost; there is a bridge with a small step-up; and an expertly built step-up/step-down whale tail. Get the speed right to make the jump onto the whale tail. Again, there’s more on this trail to discover when you have the opportunity to experience this bike park in person. All this being said, I’m just an intermediate rider, but by the end of the day, I was able to do a few of the jumps and features that looked too difficult when we first arrived.

Here’s What The Kids Said About The Bike Park

  • There was a lot of opportunity for progression in the bike park.
  • They put a cooler full of ice-cold water at the top of Row Upline. That was really nice later in the day.
  • I really enjoyed the bridges. And, a lot of the other features weren’t only built well – they were creative.
  • There’s a lot to do and you’ll never get bored.
What the kids said about riding the SkyPark At Santa's Village bike park

Comet is another advanced trail in the park. It also starts at the top of Row Upline and heads north. Although it does not feature a gnarly rock garden, this trail has the most steep and technical sections in the bike park. There are tight turns, exposed roots and an elevated ladder feature with a tilted 90º turn. Truth-be-told, I walked a few parts of this one. It was plenty tough. The return route takes you past another skills park and Ladybug Pond.

Reading the tail map and getting ready for the next ride
A couple of wily womp rats railing the berms at SkyPark at Santa's Village
The kids loved the interesting trail features at the bike park

We also rode part of the intermediate trail Deck The Halls. This was more of a cross country trail as opposed the to flow trails in the park. After about halfway through, one of my sons and I opted out and connected to the Row Upline trail so we could ride Arrow again.

This mountain biking zone can accommodate riders of all ages and abilities. There is a balance bike trail near the center of the village – bikes and helmets are provided. And, the trails Pipeline Road and Reindeer Return meander along the lower elevations of the bike park. The multi-use trails Pond Road and Fantasy Forest Multi Trail can also accommodate less aggressive mountain bikers.

“The trails were wide enough so you could focus on the features and not just staying on trail like thin singletrack. Almost everything was rollable. The trail designers and builders went out of their way to make the mountain biking trails family-friendly. The pedal up was nice because you could ride side-by-side and still pass or get passed. All the other riders at the park were polite and friendly.” – Mom

Our kids didn’t mind the uphill pedaling at all. Our 11 year-old put in about five laps before heading our to discover the park’s other offerings. Our 14 year old could not get enough of the Neverland trail. When stopping for a quick chat with the bike patroller, I mentioned how much we were enjoying their trails. He told me that they were in the process of building a beginner level mountain bike trail from top-to-bottom with optional advanced features on the sides.

Explore the bike park at your own family’s pace. You’ll have a great time if you do simple out-and-backs on the multi-directional trails or ride all the trails. You’re nestled in a gorgeous forest with dense trees and great dirt. We really lucked out during our visit because it rained quite a bit a couple days before. The ground was tacky, not greasy – and all the man made features were in excellent condition.

The Adventure Center is where you rent gear at SkyPark At Santa's Village
The Adventure Center is where you rent gear at SkyPark At Santa's Village.
Full suspension youth mountain bikes are available to rent
Full suspension youth mountain bikes are available to rent.
Reasonable mountain bike rental rates help beginners hit the trails
Reasonable mountain bike rental rates can help the bike-less hit the trails .
The on-site bike shop can help save the day if a minor repair is needed
The on-site bike shop can help save the day if a minor repair is needed.

SkyPark can also rent mountain bikes at very reasonable rates if you cannot bring your own equipment. They also have a small bike shop on site so minor repairs and maintenance can be taken care of during your visit.

When You Visit SkyPark At Santa’s Village, Plan On Spending The Entire Day

Playground at SkyPark At Santa's Village
Bouldering room
Climbing tower

You should get to SkyPark At Santa’s Village as early as you can and plan on staying late. Their days of operation vary, so be sure to call ahead to make sure they are open when you plan your trip. That being said, there’s a lot to do. After a few laps in the bike park, our 11 year old was ready to see if the rest of the park could wear him out. Here is a list of other attractions in the park.

Arrow’s Adventure – Kids and adults can ride pedal cars along a track of varying terrain. One of our kids said, “The cars were easy to pedal because they were geared. They were fun and fast.”

Blitzen’s Bungee – The automated bungee/trampoline hybrid system allows jumpers to get a bird’s-eye-view of the adventure park.

Discovery Playscape – A playground featuring playhouses, an obstacle course, mini zipline swing, and a spider web composed of thick ropes.

Frozen Falls Climbing Tower – A 30 foot outdoor tower with climbing holds and automated belay system.

Magic Tree Bouldering Room – Interior bouldering with 12 foot walls suitable for climbers of all abilities. Our youngest told us, “You could climb on the ceiling and the arch in the boulder room. And, the floors were padded.”

North Pole Express Train Ride – Cruise through the park on an electric powered train with four passenger cars.

Serrano Archery Range – Do your best to hit a bullseye with real arrows at the archery range

Silver Bells Arena – Ice skating in the winter and roller skating / roller blading in the warmer months

Strider Balance Bike Trail – Kids 8 years old and younger can hone their skills on balance bikes on a dirt track. Helmets are required and provided as well.

Zipline – 600 feet long and 30 feet high. Our youngest thought the best part of the zipline was jumping off the landing platform to the ground with the assistance of the automated belay system. The staff members managing the zipline were trained with fitting harnesses properly. They communicated via walkie-talkies to ensure fun and safety for each participant. The facilities Harnesses looked brand new and staff made sure guests should not allow the equipment to touch the ground so it could be used properly and safely.

Zipline
Archery range

Make Sure Ole Man Hangry Doesn’t Stop By

In addition to all the fun activities at SkyPark, they also have St. Nick’s Patio and Grill. With a menu consisting of salads, tacos, sandwiches and burgers – it’s easy to make sure you keep the kids’ energy up with good food. We stayed for lunch and dinner. All of us enjoyed our meals. SkyPark also has the Pedal Pub, an on-site watering hole where those of age can enjoy a cocktail, beer or glass of wine.

St. Nick's Grill
Chicken sandwich
Pedal Pub at SkyPark at Santa's Village

Add This Destination To Your “Nice” List

There is a lot to choose from in southern California and it’s very competitive. But if you have a mountain biking family who likes to switch things up or try something new, you have to visit SkyPark At Santa’s Village. It’s a wonderful change of pace from all the expensive, big crowds and big hassle theme parks in the general area. The park was very clean and staff members were always quick to answer questions or offer a polite greeting.

Our 11 year old said this was better than Disneyland. I asked him if this was really true. He said. “Yes. Because I get to choose what I want to do on a lot of things. I can ride the trails I want and go as fast as I want in the bike park. I can choose my route in the bouldering room and it’s up to me if I make a bullseye at the archery range”. Well said, kid.

My wife and I really enjoyed being in the woods, in the clean air without hoards of people. Of course the park operates at capacity around Christmas time, but for mountain biking families who enjoy exploring off the beaten path, make sure you put SkyPark At Santa’s Village on your list of places to ride.