Ilenia, crazy about biking
“Fresh air, silence, and tranquillity. I have always loved everything about mountains,” recounts Ilenia. Ever since she was a little girl she always took part in activities that allowed her to pass as much time as possible in the open air, from hiking to climbing, from snowboarding (which also became a job) to ski mountaineering. “In a sense it was almost inevitable that I would get interested in mountain biking.”
However, my encounter with this sport was accidental. “When the first Bike Park was inaugurated in Fai della Paganella I was working in the bar at the chairlift station. At the time we had never even heard of gravity biking, but I started getting to know the scene and I immediately liked what I saw: a group of youngsters led by Ezio, they were very capable, enthusiastic, and environmentally aware. When I stopped working at the bar I joined the team, and today I manage the organizational aspect of the Paganella Bike Academy, and I'm a qualified instructor.”
“I think this sport is often misunderstood: from the outside it might seem dangerous, only for expert riders or daredevils, but that depends on the way you approach it. I often compare it to skiing: nobody who had never skied would set off down a black run. They start with a course on the beginners slopes before moving progressively to steeper runs. The same applies for gravity biking.”
This is why Ilenia and her colleagues offer courses at all levels, from beginner bikers to those who want to perfect their techniques. “We are lucky in the Dolomiti Paganella Bike Area because we have trails suited to all levels, starting from the pump track and skills area of the Trail Center. The Big Hero has a slope and formation that makes it doable for children as young as 5 or 6 if they have enough basic skills, while the Willy Wonka is perfect for those who already have good technique and want a genuine thrill. Finally, there are natural trails, some very technical and only suitable for expert riders.”
This gradual approach is definitely recommended for gravity biking. Like all the more "exclusive" mountain sports, it tends to be thought of as mainly masculine, but the number of girls and children on the trails is growing from year to year. “The truth is that it seems much more difficult than it really is. A lesson or two never goes to waste, even just learning how to ride the trails safely, or how to repair a puncture when necessary. The biking world will provide the rest because bikers are all very helpful and welcoming.”
As usual, children are the most enthusiastic pupils: “They are like sponges, extremely curious and quick to learn. They are also less fearful. Last summer we organized a little course for local children and even though some of them were just 5 or 6 years old and had just moved on from stabilizer wheels, by the final lesson they were confidently whizzing down the Willy Wonka trail with great skill.”
“Something that we particularly care about during our courses, especially with young children, is not just talking about bicycles and techniques but also considering environmental themes. We believe it is really important to pass on our love of the natural world, because this makes it more likely they retain their enthusiasm for outdoor sports, whether this is biking, hiking, or climbing. I think this is especially important for local children. All the people my age who are still living here have done so because they have a hobby that connects them with the local area, a hobby that in many cases transforms into a job. The same is true for me.”
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