One of Julie Minahan’s first experiences in Park City was riding down Main Street on her luggage because there was so much snow. When it came time to return to the University of New Hampshire after her spring break visit, she thought to herself, “Why the heck am I leaving this place?”
As a ski racer from the East Coast and a lifelong athlete, she knew she wanted to be out West. The National Ability Center hired her as a therapist, and she also ran their adaptive ski program. “I was really lucky. I mean, who goes to school these days and then gets their career job right after school?” she says.
These days, Julie is still working with kids and the outdoors as the director of one of Park City’s most popular camps, Young Riders, a position she has held for almost 18 years. Young Riders is a grassroots mountain bike program and nonprofit that teaches kids mountain biking and life skills.
Each year, the camp works with around 400 kids ages 5 to 14 and employs around 50 coaches, many of whom are schoolteachers off for the summer or riders who went through the program themselves. Young Riders offers week-long camps and once-a- week programs for local or visiting kids.
“Safety first, having fun and learning something new are our top priorities,” Julie explains.
In addition to biking, kids learn trail etiquette, map reading and how to change a tire and troubleshoot issues out on the trail. The programs are developed for cross-country mountain biking, so the kids often have to earn their downhill thrills.
One of Julie’s priorities is keeping groups small, capping them at 13 riders. Three coaches lead the charge — one adult coach (17 and over), one 15-to-16-year-old coach and a junior coach, who is usually around 14 and came up through the program.
“Coaches go through training with me,” Julie says. “They have to have their CPR first-aid certification and we do concussion training and go through skills of how to be a coach. The head coach is a big mentor for the younger coaches. And the younger coaches are so much fun for the little riders. The program is only as successful as my coaches out there. I can do everything administratively and be organized, but if I didn’t have amazing coaches, our program wouldn’t be how it is now.”
Julie is also careful to keep groups spread out across Park City’s world-renowned trail system to avoid flooding a single trail with a bunch of young riders.
“We have such amazing trails and so many miles of great terrain. We can really set up a point ride that will be successful for the kids and their abilities,” she says.
Each year, Young Riders has an extensive waitlist, which Julie goes through regularly and strongly encourages parents to use in case they miss registration. She says the program could reach upward of 1,000 kids, but that the quality of the staff and kid-to-coach ratio is one of the program’s standout features.
“Keeping the kid-to-coach ratio is very important. This is a boutique program that makes for a great learning environment,” Julie says.
At Young Riders, kids are first divided by age, then by skill level, much like ski school. In the once-a- week program, kids stay with the same head coach for a consistent, fun experience.