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Bike academy helps students break into cycling industy

The outdoor activity can be morphed into a viable career option
Members of the Howe Sound Secondary Bike Academy after a dryad training session.

A Squamish teacher is showing his students how to morph an outdoor hobby into a gig that pays the bills.

“Especially in a place like the Sea to Sky Corridor – it’s a very viable career option,” said Joel Harwood about the prospect of getting a job in the mountain biking industry.

This month marks the third year of the high school’s bike academy, which exposes students to different career paths in the field. For eight credits over the course of the semester, riders will spend about half a day every day on two wheels. Harwood, the teacher and founder of the program, will be introducing his class to the many cycling connections he made in his 10-year career as a downhill mountain biking coach in Whistler.

“I find the best way to expose them to the whole gamut of opportunities in cycling is to bring in other community members who have experience or are currently working in that industry,” he said.

Teens will get a chance to meet professional riders, bike builders, trail builders, retailers and everything in between. Mountain biking is the main focus of the academy, but attendees will be exposed to road cycling and BMX as well.   

The course appears to have made a lasting impression on some students, who have even gone on to pursue jobs as trail guides following the class. The academy is open to everyone in Grades 10 to 12 at Howe Sound Secondary, and while there is a fee, Harwood said that he has gone to great lengths to ensure that anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, has a chance to join.

Even the absence of a bike is not a barrier. In one case, a student who didn’t have a ride was loaned one by Whistler bike shop Arbutus Routes, a supporter of the academy.

“And we’re not talking about a $200 bike, but a $3,500 bike,” he said.

But Harwood said the ultimate goal of his class isn’t to create the world’s best cyclist. Instead, he hopes what he teaches in the course can be applied beyond the saddle of a bike.

“First and foremost, the value of the program – regardless of whether they pursue cycling as a career – is the character development that they get,” said Harwood. “Hard work, coachability, determination, organization, you know, all those intangibles that you want any person to have. We’re able to teach those through the cycling academy.”

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