By Michael Kessler
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Outback Boredom Busters
| Organize A Treasure Hunt|
Let older kids write out and hide clues along the bike route for the younger ones to find. Don't forget paper, pen, and a prize.
Just because you've left the city for the great outdoors doesn't mean you have to abandon all your citified ways. The Marble Book (Workman Publishing, $9.94) teaches 54 games, like Bossout and Dropsies, and comes with 30 marbles plus two shooters.
Play the Harmonica
It's portable and, with some practice, it's easy to learn. As with mountain biking itself, ten is a good age to take it up.
Have a Scavenger Hunt along the Trail
Before a ride, make a list of 15 items that your bikers have to spot along the trail. For example, something with four legs, scarlet gila, something winged. Kids check off items as they see them.
Pack paper and pencils. Collect 25 items from in and around camp, put them on a plate, then cover them with a towel. Other family members get 25 seconds to try to memorize all the items before the plate is covered up again. Whoever remembers the most wins.
--Lisa Twyman Bessone
When planning a family mountain-bike trip, it's not uncommon to feel like Columbus in the preparatory stages of a trans-Atlantic voyage. The hours spent mapping out routes, planning group meals, and scrambling for last-minute equipment can be as exhausting as milking a few extra bucks out of Ferdie and Isabel. Fortunately, however, there are mountain-bike packages that include guided rides, instruction, bike and gear rentals, lodging, and even alternate activities for those who opt not to ride. So the only dirty work required in fat-tire trip-planning involves saddling up and slinging some mud. Here are a few of our favorite off-road retreats.
Dirt Camp, Moab, Utah
When spoken together, the words "dirt" and "camp" don't bring to mind six days and nights of kindred accord, until you consider these two words: "Moab" and "hotel." Dirt Camp--the most instruction-intensive of fat-tire retreats--offers six-day sessions in mountain biking's unofficial capital that provide everything from singletrack to saunas. Days begin with an instruction-oriented group ride followed by lunch; afternoons are taken up with more personalized instruction. Accompanied by veteran racers and instructors, you'll ride on Slickrock and Gemini Bridges, through lunar scenes and red-rock canyons, while honing off-road skills such as cornering, descending, braking, even falling. Six-day sessions (two in April and two in October) cost $1,425 per person, including lodging at the Canyonlands Inn and all meals. Minimum age for riders is 12, if accompanied by a parent. Dirt Camp also offers two-day weekend resort sessions at Northstar at Lake Tahoe and Keystone, Colorado ($289 per person). For information, call 800-711-3478 or 303-545-9516.
Mammoth Mountain, California
Aside from the usual summer trappings at Mammoth--hiking, fishing, hot springs, horseback riding, the San Andreas Fault--the Big One has gained a reputation as the eastern Sierra's number one off-road destination. The Mammoth Mountain Inn, located at the base of its 11,053-foot granite namesake, offers two- and three-day instructor-guided tours through the mountain's 65-plus miles of singletrack. After breakfast at the Mountainside Grill, riders of all levels take off from the hotel to conquer steep grinds or enjoy casual spins on fully-suspended Schwinn mountain bikes. Included in weekend packages are a two-hour lesson, bikes and protective gear, breakfast, lodging, and tickets to the bike park, home of the six-mile Kamikaze downhill run and the new Off the Top downhill, a kinder version of its predecessor. Prices begin at $214 per person; additional lessons cost $25 for a half-day session (for two to five people). Packages are available May 1 through October 31, weather permitting. For information, call 800-228-4947, ext. 3606, or 619-934-0606.
Mount Snow, Vermont
One of the finest ski schools on the Right Coast, Mount Snow has also managed to carry its alpine reputation into the world of two-wheeled instruction. There's a staff of 30-plus instructors, some 140 miles of rideable terrain, access to World Cup race courses, and lots of family-oriented riding. The Family Mountain Bike Weekend includes two days of instructor-guided riding through dense maple and spruce forests in the Mount Snow ski area and Jamaica State Park. By morning you'll have learned fat-tire fundamentals from tire-changing to tree-maneuvering. In the afternoon, choose from private or group lessons (starting at $30 for four hours), self-guided riding, or hiking. The Family Package starts at about $150 per person, per weekend ($165 with bike rental), and includes morning lessons plus lift and trail access. Lodging is booked through Mount Snow Vacation Services (800-245-7669) starting at about $180 for two nights for a family of four.