What do you get when you cross a mountain bike with a set of parabolic skis? The
extreme sport of ski-biking.
By: Patrick Doyle
Like nearly every other snow sport, ski-biking was born in Europe. The first
patent for a ski-bike was issued there during the 1950's, but it took more than five
decades to become popular Stateside, appealing to folks who've grown tired of downhill
skiing or are looking for a more knee-friendly alternative. In fact, only in the
past few years have liability-fearing American resorts started allowing bikers to
use the chairlifts. But, this winter, it seems Colorado resorts are coming around.
Many will permit the sport, although some, like Keystone, require a two-hour lesson/certification
before you have free rein.
The ski bike looks a bit like a mountain bike, but has skis instead of tires.
Riders are closer to the ground than on a regular bike, as the skis are located
where the center of a tire would be; without tires, there's no need for pedals--riders
buckle their ski boots into two small skis that are used as outriggers.
My lesson at Keystone starts innocently enough on Spring Dipper, a gentle intermediate
run. My first attempts at turns are really just skid-outs. I'm trying to turn the
front wheel--er, ski--like I'm navigating a hill on a mountain bike. Stoneback advises
that I forget the handlebars and instead transfer my weight from edge to edge of
the bike's skis. I do so, and it works--it's a similar edge transfer to downhill
skiing, but on one ski instead of two. I make it down with nary a fall.
At the end of the run, we approach the dreaded chairlift--the bane of any athlete
trying a new snow-based sport, because both the chairs and the dismount are less-than-accommodating
to new gear. Am I really going to have to hold this thing the whole ride up? Thankfully,
no--we slide forward on our tiny boot skis and hook the saddle of the bike on the
arm of the chairlift. Stoneback give me a few more pointers and tells me he's only
been ski-biking for three years. He picked it up rather quickly, bought a bike,
and went from mountain host (those friendly greeter folks) to instructor within a
year. He's a full-time ski-biker now, gliding down slopes he would never think of
trying on regular sticks.
We get off the chairlift without a problem, and I swing my leg back over the
bike and sit down. Before long, I'm flying down groomers at Stoneback's tail, going
as fast, or faster, than anyone on a board or skis. High speeds on the ski-bike
don't give the oh-my-gosh-I-am-going-to-break-something-if-I-fall rush that I'm used
to on skis, partly because I'm lower to the ground, but also because I can use my
feet for balance, or to quickly stop. They're almost like training wheels. And
with a soft rear suspension, the ride is surprisingly smooth.
About an hour into the lesson, Stoneback decides I'm ready for the glades, and
we drop into tightly wooded trails. Surprisingly, the ski-bikes are perfectly suited
for trees--it's easy to stop and turn (here, we begin using the handlebars to turn
the front ski), and we maneuver runs that any sane skier would avoid.
It's on our second glade run when I realize I'm getting the hang of it. Sure,
I've crashed a few times, but the newness is wearing off and I'm getting the feel
for the sport. I smile and laugh smugly. Old Man Stoneback won't be getting the
best of me for too much longer. ▲
Patrick Doyle is an assistant editor at 5280 magazine.
Clark Stoneback, my 66-year-old ski-biking instructor, whips through the snow-covered
trees on a mountain bike jury-rigged with skis. As he disappears between the pines,
I realize the old man is crazy. He's recklessly indifferent to safety. My safety.
This is fine for him, as he's an instructor and has logged over 100 days in this
sport. But today's my first day on a ski-bike, and I'm just trying to keep myself
upright. Still, I'm not quite digging the fact that an old man is challenging my
physical prowess--my ego simply can't handle that. Stoneback's not going to get
the best of me.
As this thought runs through my head, I cut a corner too sharp and begin sliding
toward a tree. I bail off the bike, landing upside down in the dip at the base of
said tree. Clark, 2. Me, 0.
5280 Magazine-Denver, Colorado
November, 2006 Issue
If You Go:
Lessons: Keystone offers ski-bike tours at the Adventure Point tubing center at
the top of Dercum Mountain for $49; tours are also available at Vail and Winter Park.
Telluride and Durango both offer ski-bike lessons.
Where to go: Keystone, Vail, Winter Park, Copper, A-Basin, Buttermilk, Telluride,
and Durango all allow ski-biking, but call before you go--many mountains don't offer
What you need to know: You'll need to wear your ski boots to strap into the foot
skis; wearing a helmet is advised.