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Biking the Freshies

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.

 

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    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.  

 

Reproduced from:

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 ski-bike rentals.

What you need to know:  You'll need to wear your ski boots to strap into the foot skis; wearing a helmet is advised.