Refining the Art of Freeride Teaching

By Johnathon Allen

It takes a few attempts, but on the third try Susan nails the longest logride in the room and lets out an unrestrained whoop over her sudden advancement in skill. Susan is one of the 150 women who have taken over Ray's Mountain Bike Park in Cleveland, Ohio, for "Ray's Angels Weekend"—a three-day party of sessioning and skills instruction with 15 big-name pro athletes and coaches from every discipline on dirt.

Photo: Mark Poore

Photo: Mark Poore

The loud hoot of accomplishment Susan just let out happens to be the sound that drives Tamara Peloquin, one of the event's main organizers and a Mad March, IMIC-certified coach. While everyone has their own approach to facilitating learning and progression, Peloquin is leading the other coaches in the room to use the same terminology and methodology established in the newly released International Mountainbike Instructor Certification (IMIC) program. Proponents of the program claim it yields faster, more consistent advancements from their students, whether they're working on elevated logrides, tabletop jumps or the pump track.

"I left my corporate life to pursue mountain bike coaching because I really love the feeling that comes from helping people improve their riding skill and gain new levels of confidence," says Peloquin. "Sometimes more experienced riders are not sure of my ability to teach them something and they'll ask, 'what if I'm already faster than you, or a better rider than you?' But the fact is, with a solid understanding of proper technique, as well as the ability to facilitate learning, I can help make anyone ride better just by watching them."

Originally adopted from the CMIC (Canadian Mountainbike Instructor Certification), the program used in Canada for the past 10 years and the standard for training guides at Whistler Mountain Bike Park in British Columbia, the newly announced international certification system for mountain-bike skills instruction has been refined over the past three years by Shaums March and a select team of coaches from across North America. While previous gravity oriented instruction models have largely consisted of rides with well-known pros who may or may not be adept at teaching how to ride better/faster/safer, the IMIC defines a tested curriculum for safely teaching the essential techniques for pinning corners, hucking airs and nailing drops.

"Most people wouldn't jump on a kiteboard or even strap on a pair of skis or go golfing for the first time without taking some form of instruction," says March. "It's easy to assume you already know how to ride a bike if you've been doing it your whole life, but the skills needed for downhilling are very specific. And the lack of a defined instructional system has held the sport back because the 'ride with the pros' and 'just huck it' model can result in just as many injuries as 'aha' moments."

Steve Parrish, owner of the Dirt Dart mobile mechanic service in Boise, Idaho, was the first person on the Mad March Racing team of international coaches to adopt the IMIC terminology and techniques, which he now uses to instruct riders of all ages and skill levels—from first-timers to expert racers looking for an edge.

"Having a proven system for teaching skills means more people are going to have fun riding bikes without getting hurt," says Parrish. "And being a coach really complements my mechanic business, because people who hire me to work on their bikes will also mention that they're looking for ways to ride faster, and that often leads them to take a clinic or two. It's great to be able to break things down into five or six key steps, bring it all together for them and watch them instantly improve."

The IMIC manual defines four levels of instructor certification (Ride Leader, Guide/Instructor, Coach and Master Coach) based on experience, knowledge of the curriculum and teaching hours.

"The Ride Leader certification covers the basics for dealing with people on bikes in groups, while the Guide/Instructor certification is more intensive because when you're taking people out on multi-day trips you need a broader knowledge base since you may end up teaching different techniques on different types of terrain," says March. "Certified Coaches are fully up to speed on everything in the IMIC manual, and Master Coaches are the only ones with the authority to certify others."

To receive IMIC endorsement, prospective coaches and guides must attend a certifying course and participate in yearly training. Certification includes a copy of the IMIC manual, which details progression sequences, terminology and standards. Depending on the level of training, certifications range from $199 for basic Ride Leader to $799 for Coach. All of them are backed by an international insurance policy that protects both instructor and students. To find out more, check out