What were you doing at age 15? Deciding what music to like? Dreaming about a driver’s licence? Finally getting the drift of high school? When Alan Mandel was 15, the real-life Eagle Scout from Lander, Wyoming built his town’s first bike park.

“I just did some research and kind of went for it!” the now 20-year-old Capilano University Mountain Bike Operations (MBO) grad says today. In case you’re not familiar, every Eagle Scout (which is the highest rank of American Boy Scouts) must complete a final project that requires leadership skills and benefits the community. A friend had recently introduced Alan to mountain biking, so he thought a bike park would be perfect.

After raising significant funds as well as thousands of dollars worth of donated materials and labour, Alan and his friends successfully built their community’s first mountain bike facility. “From that day on, I was like, this is it!” he says.

The Google effect

By the time Alan finished high school and started looking into universities, he admits he really only had one thing on his mind—mountain biking. He chose to study business, but more importantly, if going to university meant moving away from home, for Alan, it also meant the chance to live in what riders around the world consider the “mecca” of mountain biking—British Columbia.

“I honestly just googled colleges in Whistler,” says Alan. The search engine quickly led him to Capilano University, whose Squamish and Sunshine Coast campuses are nearby the world famous resort town. It was only after a trip to B.C. and an in-person meeting with an academic advisor, however, that Alan discovered Cap’s MBO program devoted specifically to mountain biking. “At first I couldn’t believe it!” he says.

Alan didn’t instantly give up the idea of a business degree, but after attending a few biking events in the area and meeting several MBO alumni, he was sold. “Every single person I met who had done the program had only positive things to say about it,” he says, adding that the MBO courses also involve some serious business training including proposal writing, budgeting, marketing and event planning, in addition to significant hands-on trail building (and, of course, riding!). It’s also common for MBO grads to ladder up into Cap’s Outdoor Recreation Management diploma and Bachelor of Tourism Management, both of which include significant business components.

Blazing trails

In June 2014, within a week of finishing the MBO program, Alan started working in what he considers his “dream job.” He joined a trail building team with Hoots Inc. which is owned by TOUR 170 instructor Jay Hoots, and spent the next eight months working on new parks and trails from Richmond, B.C. to Toronto, Ontario as an official builder and tester.

Yes, “tester.” Before these parks opened to the public, it was Alan’s job to make sure all the trails were in perfect shape. “I got to make the final call,” he says, with a sparkle in his eye. For Alan, taking those first rides, sometimes blindly launching across 14-foot gaps, is worth all the planning and digging. “My entire life, I have just loved the feeling of flying and being in the air,” he says.

Flying, sure, but what about landing? According to Alan, a well-built jump should offer an almost zero-impact landing, and it all has to do with momentum. “There’s a lot of physics that go into it,” he says. As for those test jumps that may have been less than perfectly calculated, Alan has a few souvenirs, too. Looking down at forearms crisscrossed with scrapes and scratches, he modestly explains, “I suppose I get these so other people don’t have to,” then adds, “actually most of them are probably from just messing around with friends.”

New heights

In a way, Alan’s next ambition could also be considered “messing around with friends,” that is, for anyone whose friends enjoy traversing the globe and carving up the world’s highest mountain ranges! For professional riders like Alan, sponsorships and video projects are also major sources of income. Alan, who has already used his training in event planning and proposal writing to score a bike frame from Norco, is thrilled to be soon departing for a “summer” bike tour of New Zealand from January to February. After that, Alan says plans are being made to work with outdoor apparel company The North Face to produce a mountain biking video in the Himalayas.

As for who would film such an adventure, Alan knew the perfect person. Henry Austin, one of Alan’s first mountain biking buddies back home in Wyoming, is now an up-and-coming filmmaker in Maine, and an experienced rider too. Even as Alan goes through the complicated planning process (apparently November is the best time to visit Nepal, who knew?), his enthusiasm and confidence are so intense, you’d think the Himalayas were just down the street.

“I guarantee making it happen!” Alan says, going on to share his dream of making bike films in other remote locations around the world. He then reflects on his journey thus far. “I had this master plan of coming up to Canada and going to bike school and building bike parks. I was confident that it would work but, you know, there’s always a bit of doubt. I can say now that it’s been better than I ever imagined.”

Submitted by Marketing & Communications