Building better bikers

Professional association in Whistler standardizes mountain bike instruction

For decades the snow sport industry has had a method in place for training its ski and snowboard instructors.

In Canada, that’s through the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance (CSIA) and the Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors (CASI), both of which offer internationally recognized certification. Mountain biking is a much younger sport and as such, has yet to standardize a methodology of instruction — until now.

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The Professional Mountain Bike Instructors Association (PMBIA) is the brainchild of Whistler resident Paul Howard, who has been teaching mountain bike clinics for the last 15 years. In 2006 Howard taught his first mountain bike instructor course at Whistler’s Lost Lake Trails with the dream of it one day becoming a fully fledged association. After several years of industry consultation, refining the PMBIA curriculum and getting the association insured, Howard’s dream has now become a reality.

“I started the PMBI (courses) because I felt that the courses at the time were really falling short in terms of quality and professionalism,” said Howard. “We’ve always wanted to raise the bar to make sure the people we’re training to teach the sport are knowledgeable, safe and have been assessed to a certain standard. I also really believe in having an international consistency, instructors travel a lot and it’s frustrating when you move somewhere new and have to re-certify to the local standard.”

Howard also works in the winter as the head snowboard trainer for the Whistler Blackcomb Snow School, a job which has helped him develop the PMBIA curriculum. By breaking down the mountain biking technique into six fundamental skills, a Level 1 PMBIA graduate can teach just as effectively in a lift-accessed bike park as on cross-country trails.

As much as the PMBIA draws from Howard’s years of experience, he knew that partnering with another organization was key to gaining credibility in the industry. After contacting the best instruction providers he could find, Howard approached North Vancouver’s Endless Biking with an idea to collaborate on the PMBIA standard.

“We’ve taken several shots at trying to get all the players in the industry on the same page and trying to create a standard,” said Darren Butler, co-owner and vice president of Endless Biking. “It wasn’t really until we met Paul that we were able to move forward and gain some traction. I have no interest in being the one to write the book or get the credit, I just want there to be a book. It was a few years ago when we realized that (ours and Howard’s) programs were much more similar than we thought. We signed off on non-disclosure agreement and put everything on the table.”

After revealing both their methodologies and critiquing each others’ programs, Howard and Butler agreed on what they believe is the definitive, three level standard for mountain bike instruction. Howard has since made the PMBIA ideology international by teaching courses in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Costa Rica.

“It all boils down to the big goal, which is to get more people on bikes,” said Howard. “If instructors and guides are teaching safer, more fun and more effective lessons, then the sport is more appealing to learn and hopefully we get more people into the sport.”

For more information on course dates and pricing visit pmbia.org.

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