Over the past weekend I had the privilege of ski biking with a group at Vail’s Adventure Center. At first glance, the bikes seem to be nothing more than two skis; one in the front of the other. Apparently, there is a little more to it.
First, the adventure began in the late evening. We headed up the gondola late after the mountain had closed. Worth noting: our group went out at 5:15 which, in the mountains, is far past sunset. In fact, it was downright dark out. I started having second thoughts… Good thing everyone was provided with a headlamp; safety first!
Next, we strapped on what appear to be snow skates to the bottom of our ski boots. At this point in the bike metaphor our feet had become the training wheels (or the ‘tri’ in tricycle). That’s encouraging…
Finally, we awkwardly waddle outside (snow skates are like walking around with flippers on) and spot the bikes. There are two types of bikes: “big” and “slightly less big.” It turns out, my height qualifies me as a “slightly less big” guy. That really took a hit on the ego. Strike three…
At this point, it’s time to sit on the bike and receive the safety and instructional tutorial. “Sit on the bike, don’t stand, slide to a stop like a hockey player…”. I’ve been skiing for years, this all seems fairly straight forward. Turns out, if you’re a skilled skier, it is. The bike is a long frame with a seat, a handle bar which controls the ski in the front, and a ski in the back. The front of the bike and the seat have some suspension… some. But, the majority of the work is done in your hips. Much like skiing, you slide to the sides and carve on the edges to make nice turns. The only difference, of course, is you’re two feet from the ground.
I can see how the sport isn’t being widely accepted: you need to already have some skiing expertise, you are so much closer to the ground, you have many more moving parts and a big bike to land on you. The sport is intimidating. Oh and at Vail: you’re doing it at night, in the dark and it’s very cold.
All of that aside, once you push off and slide down your first hill, it’s a blast. I did a couple slides and fidgeted with the handlebars and already had the hang of it. Just by shifting my hips left and right allowed me to make nice, steady turns. Though, it did start to feel like I was going 100 miles an hour because the ground is whizzing by right below me. Overall, I had a great time. It’s a new experience and a new sport and you’ve already got the hang of it.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get three full top-to-bottom runs in during the two-hour session. If your group catches on quickly, you can try moguls, easy tree runs (very fun!), and maybe even a little jump.
Unfortunately, the snow conditions are less than perfect right now. If you hate going down icy runs in the afternoon, imagine them on a bike in the dark. It’s scary. I think with a bit more fresh snow, the ski biking could be even more enjoyable. For now, it seems a bit fast and almost reckless (the dark, its intimidating).
Check it out and don’t let me discourage you. Again, it’s a bunch of fun and with some more light and more snow, I’d consider ski biking again.