Skibiker Skibike Blog Tour 2014 - Conclusion

Posted: Sunday, 6 April 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

So that's the 2014 Skibiker Skibike Blog Tour for 2014 all wrapped up and what a success it proved to be. It didn't kick off till the beginning of February, but from then on it was a roller coaster ride for the best part of eight glorious, action packed and thoroughly exhausting weeks.

Week 1 - Getting back on the horse

The first week was the toughest; in spite of plenty of cycling practice over the winter, it was still testing to switch from a soft office job to riding the mountains for the best part of six hours a day. I spent the first few days hammering myself into shape at my "local" resorts in the Jura mountains, such as La Dole, Le Crozet and La Faucille. It was supposed to be an easy week of warming up and settling in, but the weather made for a tricky time. There was more fresh snow than I would have though possible, it was just a shame that for most part you could only see for a few feet in front of you.

Great snow in February - but poor visibility

Sadly I only managed one day with Carl & Andy in Flaine and that was probably only a couple of hours skibike riding at the most. All too soon they were homeward bound and Mark Bayston had arrived in Morillon.

Week 2 - Anglo French

Mark Bayston rode my black skibike for the week and we had a couple of fun days riding together. It was a better week for him than last year - injury free - well almost, he pulled a muscle in his shoulder walking!
I also managed to get in some solo rides at, Praz de Lys, Combloux and La Dole all of which have remained skibike friendly. I finished the week with a visit to Firem for some website tweaking and a ride at Grand Bornand, including a chance to try out the new VS 614 model.

Firem VS614 - It will put a smile on your face

Week 3 - Riding with Wayne

Wayne Richards returned to France after many year's self imposed exile and together with wife Lucille we got in a good few rides at various places. There was a fun ride with Team Firem VS at Combloux on the Saturday, with Thierry Avrillon on the Sunday comparing three strangely similar skibikes and finally cruising round the Grand Massif on the Monday. There were issues using the Grand Vans chairlift at Flaine, till this is resolved it is Au Revoir to Flaine, my hard earned Euros will be spent skibiking elsewhere.

Wayne Richard skibiking in France - what is the World coming to?

Week 4 - Back to the grindstone

Both refreshed and exhausted, I jumped on a plane for London and spent a few days working on a medical conference, but I did ride my push bike 30 miles a day to stay in shape for the following week's Balkan adventure.

Week 5 - Watch out for the Avalanches

Another plane took me to the spectacular seaside town of Thessaloniki on the edge of the Macedonian highlands where I met up with Team Avalanche. Together we ventured into Bulgaria along with the Real Balkan Spy and I rode Bucephalus at both Bansko and Borovets. We unexpectedly met Clive and Eddie on their SledgeHammer skibikes and made plenty of MacGyver repairs whilst on the slopes. The mountains, weather and the snow were all about as good as you can get and the prices way below normal. But there was something sleazy about Bulgarian resorts that spoiled their potential charm. All too soon it was time to get that flight home and make another quick turn around.

Team Avalanche Downhill Skibikes - I preferred the pink one


Week 6 - Three Valleys

Back in Geneva, I re-packed the car for my first visit to the Three Valleys area in two decades and my first time on a skibike there. First I gave my skibikes a shakedown in the Jura mountains before driving down to Brides-les-Bains to establish a base camp and form an expedition advance party. I met up with new boy John Andree and Cédric Sabatte and we found that Courchevel was the place to be. Meribel was a disappointment for many reasons and Val Thorens remained cut off from easy skibike access. 

Ace skibiker John Andree - joined the tour in Courchevel

Week 7 - Skibike Swiss Rolls

Fresh from the Three Valleys and with my salopettes in tatters it was time to pack some fresh clothes and head to Leysin where Carl Day had established a base camp. We braved the technical and icy black run descents from Glacier 3000 and in vain sought out the last fresh powder in Gstaad.

No powder left at Zweisimmen

We further explored Leysin, hot lapping the mountain and gathering some of the best skibike footage of 2014.
There was still time to ride with Kevin Dawson in Avoriaz and the following day skied Morzine in the rain and found the perimeter area where skibikes are allowed.

Week 8 - To The Very Last Drop

I managed an outrageously decadent day trip to BullSkate and rode two of the prototype models for the 2014/15 season. 

BullSkate - prototype models for the 2014/15 season

After much waiting, the NISM skis finally arrived for assessment, just in time for the last few days of the tour. They were put immediately to use on my first visit to Valmorel with "Mr A", it was so good we turned it into a two day trip and since I've been told that we are welcome back next season, yay! We gave the NISM skis a thorough going over and they proved to be the ideal off-piste tool.
On the last riding day we made a back breaking ascent of La Tournette, I had to employ every technique I could use to get both myself and my skibike to the top.

So What Next?

I was sad to reach the end of the tour but also very happy that the even the most hap-hazard of plans all came together so well. Unlike any previous year, so many virtual friends joined in and became real ones and we all got to ride together on the slopes of Europe like no previous season. We had a few new riders jump on and join in the fun too and so many enquiries for information that I had to make a second batch of cards.

A few people and places got missed out, next year I must build in some visits to the skibike friendly resorts in Italy and also those of the Auverne and Vosges mountains in France. We can only hope that mother nature will provide the medium for sliding.

Many, many thanks to all who took part, if you haven't been name checked, it is accidental and not deliberate. If you have read this blog and want to join in next season, don't be shy, all it takes is money to make it happen.
Next season you could be skibiking here too - all it takes is money to make it happen

Skibike Italy - Kronplatz

Posted: Thursday, 3 April 2014 by Waynemarlow in Labels: , , ,

Ladin Country, Sud Tyrol, Italy. Kronplatz a new venue for us.

As you travel around the European Alps you come across areas which seem to belong to another era and others that speak a dialect so strange that although you can recognise the core language, it's simply impossible to even begin to understand what anyone is trying to tell you.
From France, where the locals speak so fast that I have no chance of any decryption, to Austria and Saalbach, where there has been so much foreign influence that the German is simple and easy going, enough to grab a quick word or two. Onto Alpbach where the dialect is hard Austrian and finally to Ladin country, where the language is all of its own and spoken only by 20000 people in total. Hear Ladin in full flow, it’s nice to hear, but totally in a world of its own.
Kronplatz - wide open slopes

So to St Vigil, Sud Tyrol, Italy, Ladin Country, at the very head of a valley this lovely little town is a little gem if you want quiet and unsophisticated village life, it's bigger than you may imagine and is quite full of very high quality hotels ( check out Hotel Carmen a 3 star hotel punching well above its weight with its; 5 course meals, huge rooms, top wellness area and friendly staff, all for €78 a night, now if you want to impress the girls, lads !), small ski shops and better still, right on the edge of the Kronplatz ski area and with a 20 minute free bus ride, Alta Badia and the Sella Ronda the other way. The usual big church surrounded by a small number of shops and a limited number of bars and pizza style restaurant’s, typically Italian but with that Tyrol flavour. Got the picture, it’s nice, well worth a visit summer or winter. Do check out the local red wine, it’s stunning, available only locally and unfortunately not available in the UK, damn.

So what is the ski area of Kronplatz like for a skibiker? Well get your arses there and give it a go, if you are beginning to skibike and want a friendly easy area then you can’t go wrong; American boulevard skiing at its best, long blues and reds, all very flattering and carefully maintained. Black runs that are, well, tough reds in reality, are long and would be a challenge to the average skibiker, tough enough to test you but wide enough and with an escape route at the halfway points to let you off if needed.
Be careful of the St. Vigil side black run towards Piccolino, at the top it has a quite a steep pitch of about 200 metres, most skibikers would struggle, particularly in the mornings when it was very icy as we went down heading for the buses that would take us into the lifts of Alta Badia, which incidentally as far as I’m aware, are not skibike friendly.
So typical of the Dolomites

Add in all new bubble lifts everywhere, main line train stations built into the base of the lift system at Perche, a social après ski area at the base at Bruneck and loads of Tyrol style mountain restaurant’s, it’s quite a gem. Looking at the ski map it may look small, but the area is vast, some of the runs are over 8km long of 100m wide piste, real French 3 Valleys style, without the expense and vast numbers of people.

There are some downsides of course, the mountain is just like a big upturned ice cream cone with the lifts all ending at the top plateau ( where there is the Concordia 2000 peace bell,  one of the biggest active bells I have ever seen and well worth the wait at 12.00 o’clock to see it wind up and chime the requisite 12 chimes of noon ), its tree sparse at the top and the piste so wide that in poor weather it could be a problem. Equally because the piste are so wide and even, you find yourself thinking that you are skiing out the area quickly, although in reality you are just scratching the available area ( remember the Dolomite Superski of which Alta Badia is part of, is 1200kms of piste and over 400 lifts ) . Also because the pistes are wide, every available run is groomed and hence off piste is quite limited. Be careful also about when you want to visit, it’s quite a long way South and will close late March if Easter is late as per this year.
Concordia peace bell at the top of Kronplatz

All in all though a gem of a place for skibiking and well worth a visit.

NISM Ski Test - Less Is More

Posted: Monday, 31 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,


The British can't help but love an underdog and in many ways NISM, based in the USA, are exactly that. Their approach to skibike related design is unconventional, in a market heavily biased towards a few big names, with a conservative attitude to skibikes. So I was very "chuffed" to be asked to give an opinion of the NISM brand skis and really wanted them to perform well. That said, I have always tried to be honest with my articles and if I rated something highly across the board, you would no doubt smell a rat and question my credibility.

About The Riders

I was to be one of the riders and my friend, who I shall simply refer to as Mr A, the other. Without wanting to cause offence, it might be worth noting that we most likely weigh less than the average American rider. I am probably just a smidgen below average weight for a European male of the same age, but Mr A is definitely in the Bantam class of rider. We have both been riding about the same amount of time, we enjoy all-mountain riding and cruising. We would generally keep out of the snow park and avoid icy black mogulled runs. Below are listed our vital statistics.

About the riders

About The Skibikes Used

For the test I would be riding a vintage Marin East Peak full suspension frame, fitted with Suntour XCR forks and a Fox coil spring rear shock. The skis were mounted to a pair of Russian made Ski-X-Bike adapters, which pay great "homage" to an earlier American design. The front adapter has been modified with a link to the fork's brake arch to limit the pitch of the ski when aggressively carving turns, the system was inspired by one of America's premium skibike brands and works admirably. This skibike is neither a race winner, nor an example of the state of the art of skibike design; but is a safe, user friendly and robust lightweight cruiser that covers many miles over the season without issues. Furthermore, it is very much the sort of skibike that many people will create in their sheds and garages for simple, low cost, winter fun.

Marin conversion - the sort of skibike that people build for low cost  fun

Mr A would be riding a totally self-built skibike from the ground up, but I'm not talking about something held together with bungies, blocks of wood and glue. He is a master of artisanal metalworking and the build quality is on par with anything made by the top manufacturers. The components are all top quality too, the front fork is a modified Canondale Leftie and the rear, a DT Swiss Air Shock. It should be noted that even though it has 130mm of suspension travel, it weighs just 9 Kg. The skibike is also fitted with a "Bear Claw" style rear brake, but it wasn't employed bar a couple of emergency situations, more about that later.

ATSB - a totally self-built skibike from the ground up

About The Riding

We had arranged to spend a day at Valmorel, a mid-sized resort in the Savoie region of France which proved to be very skibike friendly. You can read more about Valmorel here. We had so much fun on day one that we extended it into a two day trip and on the third day took the skibikes on a gruelling back mountain expedition at La Turnette. We covered all grades of run and off-piste that ranged from easy traverses, through gullies to some tricky big mountain steep sections. On piste the snow varied from; European icy hard snow, through firm to buttery and finally slush. Off-piste we encountered; frozen crust, through powder to heavy snow and slush. Before we continue, I should qualify what I mean by European icy snow, as I suspect it might be illegal to ride it in the U.S.A. If you have ever stayed in a low budget hotel or apartment and opened the refrigerator's ice box, the stuff that grows on the cold metal surfaces is a bit like European icy snow, only softer and more yielding. I hope you get the picture now.

We covered all grades of runs and off-piste in all types of snow conditions

The Test

As this was a new resort to us, we needed a couple of hours to scope the place out and work out a test circuit. We could then follow the same route after changing skis and baring the effects of the sun, we would be as scientific as was practicable. We found some nice easy cruising pistes that lead to some very interesting off piste bowls and gullies. With the route decided, we headed back to the van to fit the NISM skis to our skibikes.

We found some very interesting off piste bowls and gullies for the test

Mr A got first pick and chose the larger NISM skis, running them in the "correct" orientation, I did likewise with the smaller model and we eagerly headed towards the chairlift. At the top we mounted up and had an easy first descent on a blue (intermediate) grade run down to the next chairlift. My first moments of "ooh this feels weird" soon morphed into "wow this is fantastic". Within a minute I was throwing my skibike around like never before, in the soft snow it was almost too easy, I could head down the fall line and wag the tail around like an eager puppy or rock the handlebars and carve like a slalom champion.
Meanwhile Mr A was having a lot less fun than I. He too had discovered the skis superior carve quality, but then found himself getting locked in at ever increasing speeds unable to break free and drift to loose speed. I saw him rocket off-piste and tentatively followed in his wake, I eventually tracked him down. The girth of the skis meant that he couldn't use his braking system and he just had to let gravity establish an equilibrium.

With the route decided, we headed back to the van to fit the NISM skis

Our next uplift took us to some delightful off-piste we had discovered earlier and nick-named "The Mountains of the Moon", large dome shaped hills that lead into natural half-pipe gullies. For some reason we appeared to be the first to have discovered this area and set about leaving plenty of tracks to mark it out as our own. The little NISM skis ripped through the smooth, but crusty surface making a noise like tearing calico. The gullies were a hoot to play with, inviting you to go ever higher and faster on a roller-coaster ride from side to side. There were occasional obstacles, like rocks and streams to dodge and the little skis gave the impression you were on wheels and not boards. Mr A had dialled in a bit better by now, but was still finding the long skis somewhat ponderous and unwieldy in comparison to mine.

Exploring the "Mountains of the Moon"

We then played alongside a black run with the snow making sudden changes from fresh powder, to skied out crud, to heavy and back again in moments. The skis performed exceptionally well in such situations, unperturbed by the rapid change in quality. At will I could dive out of the rough stuff, wiggle around some small moguls on the piste and whiz back into the rough.

On our final descent back to base camp. Some sections of the piste were now shaded and the snow had re-frozen into icy hardness. This proved to be both NISM skis Achilles' Heel and for some sections all one could do, was make massive slide slips and just try to hold everything together till the snow became softer again. It only needed a centimetre of scrapings to achieve a bit of grip, but without it you didn't have a hope of any meaningful control.

The following morning we followed the same circuit, this time Mr A had reversed the orientation of his rear ski to see if it would improve its ability to skid. He was pleased to report some improvement but was keen for us to swap over skis so he could get his turn on the little ones that had delivered so much fun yesterday. With my grown up skis fitted, I soon began to appreciate why you so often see SnowScoot riders with pained expressions of grim determination heading tentatively down the icier runs. It wasn't impossible, just very, very difficult to stay in control and on more than one occasion I ran out of slope and found myself thrust off-piste. A novice skibiker could really make a mess of things, flailing around wildly, in such conditions.

Back on the safety of the soft snow, there were no such problems, with these NISM skis you hardly need a piste map. You just look at the mountain to plan a route, look for the base station of the nearest chair-lift and head for it. At the top you don't need a piste, you build your own as you go, pretty much wherever the snow lies.

Our final challenge of the day was a huge un-patrolled bowl area left completely as nature intended. One again these skis made it easy, although I still found it very difficult to turn quickly in the heavy snow and had to opt for lots of wide traverses. Finishing late in the day, in order to make it back to base camp we had to make a huge traverse to a high point for the final descent. Mr A pointed out that the glide quality of these skis was poor and we lost altitude in order to make them glide forwards and had to climb about 30 meters back up the hill to compensate.

On the last day we visited a natural back country area and climbed 1400 meters on snow shoes to make our descent. Every gram counts when you have to carry it on your back to the top of the mountain. In this respect the NISM skis were the ideal choice as they are very light. We knew by now how good they would be coping with all types of unprepared snow and they delivered admirably. There were some big bumps and tumbles and the skis took it all in their stride.

Every gram counts when you have to carry the skibike on your back

Our Verdict

Sat in Mr A's comfy Alpine chalet over a glass of Anisette, we set about grading both types of NISM skis ability for the variety of situations you might encounter with them. We both gave our appraisal as a score out of ten and the results presented are the average.

NISM ski test - the judges' verdict


Both Mr A and I both preferred the smaller 90cm NISM skis over the larger version. Very little in the way of performance was sacrificed with the small ski, but the fun factor was so much higher. You could stand on the pegs and flick the tail around, sit down and carve at silly angles or head into a half pipe eager to push ever harder and faster. The large skis felt ponderous at times and although a tad quicker, you tended not to use the extra performance because you lacked the assurance that you could speed check later with a quick tail slide.
We both agreed that the durability of the skis was something to cause concern, after a few days the graphics were wearing off in places and where they had touched parts of the frame or fittings, light damage had already occurred. Mr A is even more of an anorak than I and felt that the quality of the material used for the base material could be improved, compared to our regular skis they were more prone to collecting scratches. He also noted that the quality of glide was below par for skibike specific skis at this price point.
We both concurred that the smaller 90cm ski could be beefed up with perhaps; a wood core, better base material and cap sheet protection. Providing the price stayed the same, it would be a market winner and first choice for a novice skibiker or perhaps for a more experienced one looking for a fun tool for off-piste or wherever soft snow was in abundance. It is currently such a competitive market that you will have to weigh the pros and cons carefully. That said, going into those gullies with those diddy 90cm skis was something from another universe, with those babies less really is more.

Before this report was published I let Royce MacDaniel of NISM see the draft copy, here are his comments and observations.

I talked with the manufacturer and he informed me that the top sheet damage should just be cosmetic. They were trying a new method for graphics this year, which is a direct print on graphic. They are seeing, across the board on all the skis using this method, that the graphics are not holding up and will not use it on future ski orders. The scratches will not effect the skis longevity unless you have gouges. In spite of their low weight, the skis are wood cored not foam cored. They are vertically laminated poplar cored with double layer of fibreglass for strength. There is also an urethane layer for the sidewall all the way around, to protect the wood core. The skis both have a 20m shared sidecut between the front and rear ski. The skis also have a universal hole pattern including both a 40mm x 40mm pattern which fits most current ski bikes and kits. As well as a 50 mm x 100mm pattern that will fit a Lenz Sport without any adapter plates needed.

La Tournette - Back Country Skibike Randonée

Posted: Sunday, 30 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

Continuing the off-piste theme of recent days, today was the ultimate dream or perhaps both at the same time. I had often wondered what truly wild big mountain back country skibiking would be like and today I found out. We left St. Jean de Sixt at the sort of hour I usually reserve for going to bed, it was made worse by the clocks having switched to daylight saving overnight. But, what the heck, this is the last skibiking day till next season, I can sleep all day when I get back to my official home.

The Alps at dawn - the sort of hour I usually reserve for going to bed

Our destination was under 30 minutes away and is a great big gnarly mountain called La Tournette, the very name sounds like the precisely the type of "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" reserved for those under going boot-camp in the armed forces.

La Tournette - the start of a cruel and unusual punishment

But don't expect to find La Tournette listed in any soft tourist guide or holiday brochure, because it is the epitamy of "Skibike Sauvage". There are no; lifts, first aid areas, ski patrols, restaurants or even rules here. It is exclusively for local consumption and proves to be a perennial hit, on busy days the route is like the "Champs Elysée" in Paris apparently. On offer is a gruelling 1400m ascent, followed by the consumption of whatever one has in one's rucksack in the way of vittles, followed by a speedy descent.
Sensible French types do it on proper off piste skis, fitted with skins for the ascent and the correct lightweight boots and touring bindings. Thierry and I were attempting it on snow shoes and pushing or carrying nearly 13 kg of skibike up the mountain. By the way Britishers, that's more than the height of Ben Nevis, don't ya know.

Ascent - all to soon my world was reduced to just the pain

All to soon my world was reduced to just the pain from the sweat dripping into my eyes, the salt water taste in my mouth, my vision swimming from the sweat dripping onto my sunglasses and all the while my heart was racing at what seemed to be around 240 bpm. Why do people do this for fun? I guess if you're fit and by that I mean really fit, like the impossibly low fat and highly muscled folk who do "Iron Man" challenges, then different rules apply. Thierry has made the same ascent in under 3 hours, it took me nearly 6.... you know you can really go off some people. At one point I asked Thierry why we had joined the French Foreign Legion, "To forget", he replied curtly. "To forget what?" I asked, "I don't remember" he replied.

As high as you can go without mountaineering kit - Anger is an Energy

I tried a number of different techniques to get myself up the mountain. First there was the Zen like "Pace Yourself and Embrace the Mountain" technique, slow and steady wins the day. This gave way to the "English Ascent", forget all this traversing nonsense, ram your snow shoes into the slope and step up the fall line like a staircase. In some respects this worked quite well, but only for about a minute. In near despair, I employed the, "Anger is an Energy" method, as originally postulated by Johhny Rotten, a.k.a. John Lydon of the Sex Pistols. This involved me loosing my rag completely, throwing the skibike up the hill and using it as a point of purchase to drag myself up, cursing all the while like a tinker. I guess this raised a few Continental eyebrows, not least of which were Thierry's, the rest must have thought it was a Monty Python thing, I had no idea I was about 50 metres from the finishing point at the time.

The view over Lake Annecy

The descent was somewhat of an anticlimax, this isn't a resort, so you have to cope with whatever the slopes offer. Thierry had warned me about crevasses and I had already witnessed a minor avalanche. Worse still, I suspect my insurance company would turn down the claim for the costs of helicopter rescue, as this was in all respects back country and not some carefully manicured resort.
All of the above reasons lead to a completely risk averse descent, with lots of very wide traverses and the odd bit of "get off and turn the skibike to face the other way" turns.
That said, wow! what a way to end the best skibike season ever; but it did also make me appreciate what good value a €30 lift pass is.