At risk youth program swaps snowboards for mountain bikes

The arrival of spring usually means another chapter closed for the Young Riders Program. This summer they ride again.

The arrival of spring usually means another chapter closed for the Young Riders Program.

This summer they ride again.

The program, offered by the non-profit group Yukon Youth Outdoor Leadership Association, is becoming a year-round operation, it was decided recently at the association’s annual general meeting.

“Young Riders, historically speaking, has only functioned as a ski and snowboard program. So what we’re looking to do this year is continue our partnership with the various youth service providers in the Whitehorse area,” said president James Roddick.

“Currently YYOLA has been successful in securing more funding through the Youth Investment Fund to expand the Young Riders Program from a winter-based program to include spring, summer and fall. So our goal is for the Young Rider Program to be offered on an annual basis … (and) to also expand our community partnerships with youth service providers, aboriginal groups and departments in the Yukon government to insure the most marginalized youth are able to access this program.”

The program, which is geared towards creating outdoor recreation opportunities for at-risk and/or underprivileged youth in the Yukon, will now offer downhill mountain biking and time at the WildPlay adventure park at Whitehorse’s Mount Sima for the first time this summer.

The expansion into year-round activities comes just a couple years after the organization all but dissolved. YYOLA was on the edge of collapse as Roddick took over the reigns. Since he became president, YYOLA has more than 50 “unique” youth participate in the Young Riders Program the last two ski seasons. This past season about a third of them were female.

“I wish I could live at Sima, I never want to leave,” said John, 13, one of this year’s riders.

“I’m going to be a professional snowboarder some day,” said Andrew, 11.

In its inception a decade ago, YYOLA was specifically aimed at partnering with Yukon Youth Justice and the RCMP to provide outdoor activity opportunities for those in the justice system.

These days YYOLA casts a much wider net, also targeting socially and economically disadvantaged youth, including wards of the state living in group homes, and youth struggling with drugs and alcohol.

The group draws strength from partnerships with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Yukon, Youth Achievement Centre, Skookum Jim Friendship Centre and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation.

“I think it’s a spectacular program. It’s really awesome. It gives kids who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to get out there and experience Yukon culture and Yukon sports,” said David Blottner, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Yukon.

“I know for most of the kids we have, a trip to Sima, the cost of lift tickets and rentals, the mechanics of transportation, getting from town to town, getting out there and back, just would not happen for them.

“They’re outside, they’re exercising, they’re taking part in a new sport, they are getting the feel of the Yukon culture. All those things are awesome.”

YYOLA isn’t done expanding. It hopes to grow the program and its accessibility. Roddick hopes to have week-long canoe and kayak trips added to the program in the future. He also wants to start splitting participants into groups based on age and have the older kids, who have been with Young Riders longer, mentor the younger kids.

“One of our hopes as an organization premised around leadership and mentorship is to make the Young Riders a two-tier program,” he said. “To have a young group, six to 12, and have some sort of mentorship where the older youth are helping the young youth in the program.”

For more information, contact James Roddick at

“It’s kind of unique in that it focuses on providing exceptional athletic opportunities for at-risk youth or marginalized youth that they otherwise, most likely, wouldn’t have the chance to do,” said Roddick. “By extending this opportunity to these youth, they are more likely to become engaged in a positive and pro-social activity, which helps to accomplish such goals as building self-esteem, self-worth through challenging themselves in an outdoor environment, building healthy relationships with families and friends and the larger community through teamwork and mentoring.

“It helps also to reduce exposure to harmful situations by providing an alternative recreation opportunity.”

Contact Tom Patrick at