What do you get if you take a low-rider bike, swap two short skis for its tires, and toss the pedals and brakes? It's a snow bike, winter's newest downhill toy. First developed as a "sit-ski" by Austrian Englebert Brenter in 1949, the snow bike is fast developing a fan base on British Columbia's slopes. The reason?
"It's fun and easy," says Whistler Blackcomb guide Paul Ruiterman. "Even a non-skier can learn it in under an hour."
I hope he's right. My bright yellow bike attracts a lot of attention at the top of the mountain; it looks like I'll have an audience for my first lesson. As I settle onto the long banana seat, I concentrate on Ruiterman's simple instructions. Hold your arms straight. Keep your knees close together. Look over your shoulder to turn and stop. I grab hold of the handlebars and start to slide.
It's not hard to master the technique. On my feet are two short skis that act as training wheels, helping me keep my balance and regulate my speed. These skis, combined with the snow bike's low center of gravity, make it easy to zigzag over the hardpacked surface. With four points of contact on the snow, it's almost impossible to fall.
The sport's gentle learning curve makes it popular with downhill novices. And for those with back or knee problems, the snow bike's shock absorbing suspension system makes the ride extra easy on the joints. Ruiterman believes the appeal of snow biking will continue to grow. "After all," he points out, "It is the only winter sport you can do sitting down."
• Whistler Blackcomb: (604-932-3434; www.whistlerblackcomb.com). Lesson, lift ticket, and snow bike rental: half day $133, full day $143.
• Sun Peaks Resort: (250-578-5505; www.sunpeaksresort.com). Half day snow bike rental $40, full day $60. Lesson and rental $40.
• Panorama Mountain Village: (250-341-3043; www.panoramaresort.com), Invermere. Half day rental $30, full day $45; includes lesson.