Multi-talented mountain biker adds another string to his bow with Skills Active qualification

February 7, 2019

Making a career out of mountain biking requires a broad range of skills.

Nobody knows this better than Damian Stones, who recently sharpened his skills with an on-job qualification through Skills Active Aotearoa, the industry training organisation for outdoor recreation.

Damian is a professional mountain biker, guide, instructor, brand ambassador and filmmaker. He has just completed the newly launched New Zealand Certificate in Outdoor Leadership (Instruction) (Level 5).

Riding appealed to Damian from a young age because it was a means of exploring untouched corners of New Zealand. He organised social mountain biking in his university days, and over time this grew into what’s now a close-to-full-time job.

For the last few years, Damian has been instructing both kids and adults in mountain biking, and in the summer, he is a mountain bike guide for Haka Tours.

“I really like showing people our awesome country. It’s very cool to show people our landscape and all the great trails we’ve got to offer.”

He also captures his bike trips on film. His most recent project was The Grand Loop, a six-minute movie following his journey along the isolated and beautiful Old Ghost Road in the northwest corner of the South Island.

As a professional mountain biker, Damian says that creating content and being a ‘cycling ambassador’ is a big part of what he does, and it’s through the support of his sponsors, such as Santa Cruz Bicycles, Shimano and Ground Effect Clothing, that his adventures come to fruition.

Don’t underestimate the challenges of Assessment Day!

Despite having a few decades of experience behind him, Damian was keen to achieve the Skills Active qualification, as a way to support this new professional standard for mountain bikers in New Zealand.  And he still came across new ideas and challenges through his training.

Skills Active trainees are usually assessed on the job, in the course of their work.

However, outdoor recreation trainees also have the option of ‘assessment events’, which are run in partnership with the New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association. This was the pathway that Damian chose to complete his qualification.

These assessment events enable trainees to demonstrate their skills, and get assessed by highly-trained industry experts, over the course of a few days.

Ideas and approaches change over time, Damian says – especially in mountain biking, where the technology evolves and requires new techniques.

“So it’s a good thing to always be open to new developments. And I think it’s useful to get your information from multiple sources because there is no right way to do one thing; everybody has their interpretations, and as long as they are doing it safely that’s okay.”

Damian had done a lot of work to prepare for the assessment, but it was “still challenging – and it’s supposed to be. You’re certainly not going to feel like you’re just breezing through and ticking all the boxes”.

Coming out the other side with the qualification under his belt was very satisfying, he says.

“I felt like it reaffirmed that I was on the right track, and it was good to hear that positive feedback from the assessors.”