Wayne's 2015 Season - A Bit Of A Damp Squib?

Posted: Saturday, 18 April 2015 by Waynemarlow in Labels: , , ,

So what has been the result of 2015 in regards ski biking for yours truly. Sort of an odd year in some ways and not what I had really intended.  I have skied more than ski biked this year and that has been a bitter pill in some ways, as I do enjoy the biking on snow. Mind you the conditions I have skied in this year, which generally have been really slushy and poor, I haven’t missed much, it’s not been an epic snow season for sure.

On the technical side I haven’t really moved forwards, as the intended bravado of publishing a method to make ski bikes from composites, turned out to be a bit of a dud, purely because the bike frame turned out too heavy.  The one I built using a surfboard type method, weighed in at 10 kilos fully inclusive of skis v the semi moulded one at about 7 kg. If you simply convert a quality downhill mountain bike with good components, you are going to be around that weight and save yourself a load of build time.  The first build method I used of using a sacrificial mdf mould, CNC cut, I think will sort the over weight problems out nicely. This summer I’ll try and get ahead of the game and finish this project off. Apologies to anyone who had read and was following that earlier article on ski bike build, I just need to go back to where I was originally and build out from there.

On the technical side i haven't really moved forwards

Secondly, I wanted to try my idea of a front ski adaptor, but due to the lack of bike time on the snow owing to work commitments and mainly due to the nature of the groups I travelled with ( all skiers and snow boarders ) taking only a skibike to resorts, which were known to be limited to certain pistes, or may never have seen a ski bike before, without any plan B was always going to be risky. Again, over the summer I may build one or two prototypes and ride them locally.

With the days I have ski biked, have I learned anything? Yes in lots of ways. Why do ski bike manufacturers insist on having such long forks, long suspension travel and by consequence such a high peg height.  You see these bikes around and the riders look like Giraffes on the Serengeti. Get that centre of gravity down guys and girls and restrict the amount of travel. For me that was highlighted riding a hard tail SnoScoot for the day. I’ve always run low peg heights instinctively and once you ride a bike with very low COG you will understand what I mean. The SnoScoot takes this to the extreme with your boots virtually at ground level. The feeling of being down on the snow really does feel much more akin to actual skiing, throw in the bike aspect and you really do get that true ski biking / skiing cross over.

Don't make your foot pegs too high

Many will say that with a low peg height, the inside peg will hit the snow, but in all honestly I have yet to get problems, even on very steep hard pisted conditions, nor will being so low in powder be a problem, with the very low frontal area of the Scoot, probably being the easiest bike I have ridden in powder. Talking of pegs, I rode a bike with pegs that simply bolted into where the crank goes. They are also quite small in surface area. For the first time I had sore balls of my feet, painful ankles and worse still, my ageing hips were starting to really feel hard done by after a single day. As the rider of this bike sits most of the time, it hadn’t been a problem before but I stand all of the time, it really did highlight the importance of measuring what the distance between your feet are when you naturally stand and opening the peg width to suit.

I tried skis with the side cut spread across the front and back ski i.e. each ski starts wide and ends narrow, with the rear ski turned 180 degrees to form a constant arc across the two skis, this year for the first time. As much as I found them interesting, they have an inherent problem. At speed they work fine and will carve well on their edges as per a conventional ski. As soon as the front ski begins to take a different line, as in when you want to scrub speed off by allowing the rear to slide out sideways, then a whole new geometry problem arises. Most obvious was when you wanted to “hockey stop” to a halt, as you kicked out the back end and lent the bike into the slow speed corner, the geometry arrangement actually makes the ski edge bite in even at more of an angle, the last thing you want. It really did perplex me to start with and once I learnt to keep the bike much more upright, to the point of actually almost slanting the bike down the hill, I could break the ski off its edge, but for a novice that is not very intuitive as under G force the bike naturally leans in, simply compounding the problem. In comparison to a normal ski, you have to ask whether the high speed advantages are worth the slow speed disadvantages.

Shared sidecut skis - are the high speed advantages are worth it?

Skibiking with three others who I hadn't skibiked with for a year and noting how their sytles have changed highlighted something to me, watching the film I had taken reinforced that. All four of us are self-taught, without really discussing method and generally have evolved a method to get down the mountain safely and in control. We are all now very competent and as good as most. What we have all done is end up with a very similar style of riding though, yes some sit, some stand but we all ride with that very “waggly” rear ski controlling our speed and the front maintaining the direction.

Skibikers - time to go waggle that rear ski

Some will criticise that we are not carving enough, but if you think this method through and compare it to normal skiing, you have to ask just actually how much do you carve with skis. Yes in nice open terrain, say nice blues and easy reds, you do carve on skis but then ski bikes do take nice open turns, using the edges to carve on similar terrain. On steep black runs or tight tracks between pistes, where you short swing down the fall line, in skiing you actually are encouraged to compress your legs slightly to encourage side slip, controlling speed, use a leg extension to edge check and build a platform, to then compress the legs ( unweighting ) rotate the skis back up the fall line and across to the new direction, again side slipping to control speed.

Surely with the evolving method that the four of us are using, are we not doing the same. The front ski controls our heading whilst the rear ski goes from side to side controlling speed, the rider compresses / lowering their body to allow the side slip just as a skier would, now extend out the legs to effectively load the ski edge ( platform ) and then pull the legs in to allow the bike to rotate back up the hill, once past the fall line allow the bike to side slip and start to extend the legs slightly, using the side slip to control the speed. As Skibikers we need to also use the front ski to maintain direction and I'm tending to find that on very steep slopes the handle bars are nearly always in the same plane as my shoulders, i.e. if I'm facing say 10 o'clock to the fall line then my front ski is pointing much the same. That again is a skiing basic, your shoulders should always face down the fall line.

Evolving skibike riding methods - perhaps it's time to write a book

Interesting stuff, perhaps I should write an illustrated book. Lol!

So another ski season on bikes and I think probably the first true season where we virtually can go anywhere in the ski world and ski bike, give yourselves a big pat on the back all those who have been at the forefront with seeking permissions from ski resorts and a further big pat on the back to all those participants who are now actively “ Ski Biking”.

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Conclusion, This Is The Life!

Posted: Friday, 17 April 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Looking back on the 2014-15 skibike season, it is easy to forget that it got off to such a terrible start. Many resorts had a green rather than a white Christmas, even a premium resort like Morzine was forced to bus their guests up to neighbouring Avoriaz where just a few runs were open and lift tickets were rationed. At Morillon, they opened the bare and rocky pistes to anyone that fancied a bit of out of season lift assisted mountain biking on Christmas Day.
Despite a big dump of snow on New Year's eve, the snow drought continued through January and the prospect of the season becoming a total write-off looked ever more plausible.

At the very end of January nature re-established the equilibrium and there were huge snowfalls that continued throughout February. I studied the forecasts and watched the webcams like a hawk; once I had completed all of my work commitments, I blocked booked my diary, packed the car and headed South to Geneva; better late than never!

Time to hit the road - better late than never

I had not been at all well during the winter months and wanted to start the tour with a gentle warm up day in the Jura mountains; blog tour stalwart Thierry drove over from the Aravis area to join me for a whirlwind tour of skibike friendly Col de la Faucille and Lelex / Le Crozet ski stations.

Blog stalwart Thierry

Without any pause for recovery we then had our first group ride of the season at La Clusaz, most of which I spent falling about in the snow and going head over heals in the low visibility.

I then had a couple of days in Sainte Foy, one of which was spent mostly in the company of Max, a skilled BMX rider, working there as a seasonaire. The look on his face when he saw me trudging towards him with not one, but two skibikes in tow, was priceless. His previous skibike experience had been riding his ghetto BMX skibike conversion on his local golf course in South Wales, so riding my skibike on the big mountain was quite a challenge, but one he soon warmed to.

Sainte Foy - skibike friendly, but freestyle skibikes were a novelty

Sainte Foy has historic connections with skibikes, but this was still the first time the lift operators had seen a freestyle skibike. They weren't sure it was wise to take one all the way to the very top of the mountain, but I soon proved the viability of skibikes as all mountain machines and made Sainte Foy the first new skibike friendly station of the season.

Buoyed up by my recent successes, I made a day trip to Tignes to check out whether it was once again skibike friendly. It turned out that you can legally ride skibikes, and can use the gondolas and cable cars for access. The down side is that you can only use the chairlifts with foot skis, which was frustrating, there's no way I will be regressing back to this method of riding and you can guess where all the really good riding was to be found. I ended up switching to skis, it would be great if Tignes caught up with the trend for easy skibike access everywhere, making it only half skibike friendly for the moment.

Tignes - you still can't do this with a freestyle skibike

Whilst in the area I made an expedition to La Plagne to prove its viability as a skibike friendly resort. It has been used by skibobs for many years, but the trip verified that you can also use a freestyle skibike with impunity. La Plagne was the second new skibike friendly resort of the season and fortunately wouldn't be the last either, can you sense a trend emerging?

La Plagne - the second new skibike friendly resort of this season

The venue for the next group ride was Avoriaz, it gave us a chance to scope out the adjacent runs at Châtel and Champery, although we didn't fully appreciate it they were two places we would be seeing more of in the coming weeks.

Avoriaz/Châtel - we would see more of this in the coming weeks

Some very stormy weather followed, but once the clouds had lifted I managed a laid back afternoon at Le Crozet, cruising around and loving the skibiking experience.

Le Crozet - loving the skibike experience

Feeling ready for fresh adventure I headed off the grid for an expedition to the small, isolated village of Areches Beaufort a charming little resort, which in many ways serves as a glimpse into a less commercial past. There's no modern glitz, no giant screens shouting advertising at you wherever you look, a pleasant relief from the marketing overload that so many bigger resorts can exhibit. The conditions weren't brilliant, but it was the third station with a positive attitude to skibiking I had found this season and will be worthy of a return visit next year.

Areches Beaufort - a charming little resort

I had a fun re-union taking giant steps walking on the moon with Kevin the deaf skibiker at Val Thorens. He didn't say a word to me for the whole day, but he laughed like a drain, especially if it involved me making slow motion falls or a really good face plant. Mmmm snow sandwich anyone?

Val Thorens - Kevin the deaf skibiker in action

Thierry and I then broke fresh ground with a trip to Les Arcs fixed in our cross-hairs. Les Arcs is also the self proclaimed "home of (French) snowboarding", this was the place where the snowboard broke out of the snow park and became accepted as an all mountain machine. To say that there are parallels with the history of modern freestyle skibiking would be an understatement. Once again it was totally skibike friendly, making it the fourth skibike friendly resort of the season.

Les Arcs - the fourth skibike friendly skibike of the season

Thierry, Stephane and I then made a visit to the Maurienne valley to enjoy the novelty of being able to skibike at Valloire, the fifth new skibike friendly resort of the season. Valloire has charm and a distinct Gallic/Italianate cross-over vibe, the lift infrastructure at was very good for a smaller resort and the attitude commendable. With easier access from Italy than France, it would make a great spot for a novice Italian skibiker from Milan or Turin to get in some riding experience.

Valloire - the sixth new skibike friendly resort of the season

I took a day off from skibiking and went house hunting in Morillon for a potential base camp for future tours and just maybe a place to retire to later in life.

House hunting in Morillon - a potential base camp for future tours?

I ended the first tranche of the tour by getting thoroughly chilled out on the Dole, drinking Myrtle beer in the car park and musing on the joys of having a great big snowy hill and a chair lift just 30 minutes from my Geneva base camp.

Chilled out drinking Myrtle beer!

Back in November I had spotted Jonathan's interest in skibing via Facebook, I couldn't resist the opportunity to introduce myself, in the vaguest hope that he would give skibiking a go, whilst in the company of some unknown and eccentric Rosbif in Combloux. Amazingly he went for it and even came back for a second bite later on in the tour.

Jonathan in Combloux

On the my last run I unwisely "went for it" on the Boarder Cross circuit, promptly overshot the banking and went sailing into the hillside at full tilt. Fortunately my head broke the fall!
I took a weeks hiatus and headed back to London as "Walking Wounded" to earn myself the cash to spend on "Part Deux" of the tour.

Back in the skibike saddle after a week off, I enjoyed my second ride with Jonathan at the ski station of Praz de Lys / Sommand he was rapidly turning into an off-piste monster!

Jonathan - smashing it at Praz de Lys

I then had an early start to join Thierry on a visit to Champery which was was a little different from the average tour day. Our objectives were; to meet with the operators of the lift company, do some test rides and show how skibikes can safely use the various types of chairlifts. All in the hope that by next season we will have another resort in the Portes du Soleil to ride.

Champery - a little different from the average day

We had passed the ski lifts of Châtel en route for our morning ride at Champery, so it would have been nothing short of churlish not to have stopped on the way back for an afternoon ride. Châtel has been SnowScoot friendly for a long time, more recently it has opened up to skibikes too, for both of us this would be our first opportunity to see how the theory would translate into practice. The trip was a resounding success and Châtel became the sixth new skibike friendly resort of the season.

Châtel - stopped in for a Saturday skibike ride

A second trip to Avoriaz which was somewhat of a reunion, blog co-writer Wayne had come out for a long weekend to join me and was joined by Thierry and John who had come all the way from the 3 Valleys. Group rides always have a different feel to solo expeditions, sometimes you are spurred on to get out of your comfort zone and try new things, like that black run that looked too steep for freestyle skibikes.

Avoriaz - group rides always have a different feel to solo expeditions

Continuing the theme of testing the skibike friendliness of sundry ski stations, my focus of interest shifted to the Les Sept Laux in the Chaîne de Belledonne, somewhat off the beaten track, although not really that remote. John travelled over from Les Menuires to join me and it turned out to be quite a large station, with plenty of variety, very quiet and peaceful and lots of good runs. It was another success and the seventh new skibike friendly station of the season.

Les Sept Laux - quite a large station with plenty of variety

Success at Les Sept Laux spurred me on to check out Chamrousse, another Chaîne de Belledonne ski station. Skibikes aren't officially permitted at this ski station, but they were happy to let me ride providing I had a safety leash. The weather was appalling, but my priority was to ride the eighth new skibike friendly station, tick the box and move on to the 3 Valleys.

Chamrousse - another skibike friendly ski station

This year was the first time someone has made me an offer I couldn't refuse and no the Mafia weren't involved, it was the chance to hang out in the company of fellow skibiker John in Les Menuires to do some easy riding all around the 3 Valleys domain. I would like to report that it was all plain sailing, but sadly that was not so and I have been left with the lasting impression that it was somewhat of a bitter-sweet experience.

The 3 Valleys with John - bitter-sweet

It was such a slow season to get started, but with fresh snowfall and a shift to much colder temperatures it seemed reluctant to end. The timing couldn't have been better for an Easter Monday jaunt to Valmorel in the company of John and Thierry which turned out to be the best riding of the season.

Valmorel - the best riding of the season

A message from Tim and Lesley to say that they were going to make an end of season trip to Morzine, provided a great reason to delay my departure and get in a final group ride of the season in Avoriaz. Due to slow post operative recovery Tim couldn't ride and Leslie wouldn't even consider it, instead I had to hang out with the skiers.

Avoriaz - hanging out with the skiers

So where could I find for the final ride of the tour? I pondered long and hard about where to go, I would have been happy with any of my local little Jura ski stations, but despite bountiful snow, they have all stayed firmly on schedule and already closed for the season. So instead I opted for the Grand Massif domain, which has in so many ways become a home from home.

So where could I find for the final ride of the tour?

I have always found a piece of music that sums up the vibe of a season's tour; this little ditty may not be the most current, but I heard it a couple times on French radio and the words seemed oddly appropriate to me after having I spent so much of this tour hunkering down in a guest or hotel room bed.

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Morillon, School's Out For Summer

Posted: Wednesday, 8 April 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

Today will be my last day on the slopes for this season, I pondered long and hard about where to go, I would have been happy with any of my local little Jura ski stations, but despite bountiful snow, they have all stayed firmly on schedule and already closed for the season. So instead I opted for the Grand Massif domain, easily accessed above the village of Morillon, in the charming Giffre valley, which has in so many ways become a home from home.

The Giffre valley- charming

I took my time getting over to Morillon and wasn't ready to ride till nearly 11:00, Thierry would not approve of such tardy behaviour. Yet there was still some iciness in the shaded runs, but it didn't last for long. Morillon was pretty much deserted, just a few clusters of school kids, the sun was shining, the snow softening and the visibility perfect.

Grand Massif - I don't even need a piste map here

After so many rides this season where I was frustrated by poor visibility and slopes clogged with novice skiers fumbling around, this was my one day to really let rip in safety. As has been observed by my buddies, normally I err toward prudence and get overtaken a great deal; but today it was I who was zipping past the other snow users, carving giant arcs and daring myself to get the handlebars ever closer to the snow.

The runs in this area are so familiar I don't need to consult the map any more. That said, I don't ever recall having skibiked the Chamois piste before, it had always appeared too steep for freestyle skibiking, but today in the post lunchtime heat I finally put pay to that myth too.

What a perfect end to my tour, school is now out for the summer and there's nine months to wait till the start of the next season.

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Avoriaz, Hanging Out With The Skiers

Posted: Tuesday, 7 April 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

I really should have already been back in London by now, but a message from Tim and Lesley to say that they were going to make an end of season trip to Morzine, provided a great reason to get in a final group ride of the season.

I last rode a skibike with Tim over 18 months ago at the Bottrop indoor ski centre in Germany, at the time he was testing out a Lenz Brawler that was for sale and hasn't been on a skibike since. I had hoped to get him on my spare skibike for the day, but it turned out he has only recently had an operation on his hand which is taking a long time to heal up. If you have trouble even getting your gloves on, then lugging a skibike on and off sundry chairlifts is probably not a good idea.

A mix of ice, slush, grass and rocks can be intimidating on skis

In the last few weeks I seem to have spent the majority of my time playing catch up with the other skibikers. But today Lesley got a bit intimidated by the odd mix of ice, slush, grass and rocks found on some runs and took a highly cautious approach; whilst I enjoyed the luxury of being able to jump off my skibike and carry it over the muddy bits and had the rare pleasure of being first down the slope. This of course meant I could take a breather in the hot sun and field curious bystanders' questions.

With slushy conditions predominating from noon onwards I witnessed the build up of a great deal of "saddle envy" whilst making jet ski style progress through all the slush. I left Tim and Lesley to head back to their chalet in Morzine with tired legs, whilst I indulged myself in some solo rides till the last lift closed.

Tim and Leslie - saddle envy from lunchtime on

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Valmorel, Punching Above Its Weight

Posted: Monday, 6 April 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

It was such a slow season to get started, with the recent fresh snowfall and a shift to much colder temperatures it now seems reluctant to end,. The timing couldn't have been better for an Easter Monday jaunt to Valmorel in the company of John and Thierry. Thierry and I made a similar visit at the end of the 2013-14 season and were highly impressed with the scale of easily accessible, gentle and fun off-piste riding that this resort has to offer.

There was even the prospect of finding fresh powder snow to ride, which with the possible exception of the few high altitude resorts, is highly unusual in early April in the Alps. But Valmorel has a knack of punching above its weight and delivering better conditions than mere statistics would first suggest.

Valmorel - has a knack of punching above its weight 

Thierry and I travelled together from St. Jean de Sixt and made a rendezvous with John who had journeyed over from nearby Les Menuires. We kicked the day off with a trip up the Altispace chairlift and followed an open off-piste route running parallel to the La Froide piste. John, although well accustomed to the high altitude snow available at Les Menuires and adjacent Val Thorens, was still somewhat blown away by the presence of such a huge powder field at relatively low altitude and immediately demanded a second bite of the cherry.

Valmorel - easy, open off-piste

We moved steadily on towards St. Francois/Longchamp re-discovering an off-piste area we had previously nick named "The Mountains of The Moon". In the cool and crisp air the snow glistened like a carpet of diamonds, even the air sparkled and for once I had the pleasure of putting virgin tracks through a hidden gully, turning it into a joyous natural half-pipe.

We headed for the top of Soleil Rouge chairlift

Not wanting to waste a precious moment we headed for the top of Soleil Rouge chairlift for the intimidating big mountain terrain underneath. In many ways the conditions were perfect for skibiking with a foot of un-tracked powder over a firm icy base. The substrate gave predictable control, with the powder lending an awesome amount of float. Had it been deeper we would have needed a snorkel to breath and a periscope to see where we were going. The riding conditions were sensational, it was unequivocally the best off-piste riding so far this season and for me, a revelation of just how good powder riding can be, we simply had to do it a second time.

The riding conditions were sensational

Feeling elated we headed for the two runs off the top of the Lauziere chairlift, which had been closed on our last visit, but this time was fully open, thanks to the recent snow. We split our routes back down; with Thierry and John following the precipitous black route, whilst I elected to play safe and follow the Reverdy red route. Sadly though, we had missed our moment, the sun had already rendered the snow wet and heavy, making both turning and speed control difficult. We made it down safely if not elegantly, but unanimously agreed that it was more of a technical challenge than fun.

The afternoon was moving on and we were all feeling tired, so we slowly retraced our tracks back towards Valmorel, focussing on the easier runs and generally larking about till the close of play.

Afternoon - we were all feeling tired

In conclusion, I can't think of any other resort that has quite the same scale and depth of off-piste as Valmorel. If you like half-pipe riding there are so many little gullies to exploit. If you think that this is just an easy family resort, try out the long and steep off-piste routes available at St. Francois/Longchamp and re-evaluate your opinions. Add to the mix a thoroughly skibike friendly outlook, which allows use of all but one chairlift and you have a winning combination at Valmorel. John was even considering whether to defect here from his regular 3 Valleys haunts for next season and that is all the recommendation you really need.

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Les Menuires, A Bitter-Sweet Experience

Posted: Friday, 3 April 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

This year has been the first time someone has made me an offer I couldn't refuse and no the Mafia weren't involved, it was the chance to hang out in the company of fellow skibiker John in Les Menuires to do some easy riding all around the 3 Valleys domain.

Les Menuires - time for some easy riding

Les Menuires was much maligned back in the day, mainly for the brutal and ugly nature of the first wave of architecture. Since then development has been more sympathetic to the environment and recent structures have been of the chalet and super-chalet design. Les Menuires is part of the 3 Valleys domain, an interlinked area of gargantuan proportions; there may be areas of a similar scale in Austria and Italy, but in France it is without equal. Each sector of the 3 Valleys have their own character and appeal to widely differing consumer needs. Whereas Courchevel may now be the second home of Russian Oligarchs, Les Menuires appeals mostly to French visitors who take advantage of the plethora of self-catering apartments available.

I had a great time touring round all the nooks and crannies of the 3 Valleys domain and it also served to be a wonderful opportunity to finally nail down the skibike friendliness of the area.
We had both good and bad days weather wise, but on one of the good ones we managed to hit all the 3 Valleys in a single day and on another I managed to achieve my ambition of finally seeing Orelle after 20 years of trying.

I finally managed to achieve my ambition and see Orelle

So what of the positive aspects of the 3 Valleys?

It is has an unrivalled scale you are spoiled for choice with so many permutations. You could spend weeks running over the area and still find runs that you've missed. The infrastructure is excellent quality and is continually being upgraded, it is unusual to find queues or bottlenecks outside of peak periods.

You could spend weeks and still find runs that you've missed.

I would like to report that it was all plain sailing, but sadly that is not so and I have been left with the lasting impression that it was somewhat of a bitter-sweet experience.

Oddly, on the last day of my trip the lift operators at Les Menuires began to hamper our progress. Even though John has been quietly skibike riding here for the last couple of months and last season too; it appeared that with the arrival of the Easter break, suddenly "Rules is Rules" became the lift operating company's new mantra.
As far as I can work out the lift operators at Les Menuires and St. Martin de Belleville have boxed themselves into a Cul de Sac. They decided that both skibikes and SnowScoots are permitted on the infrastructure, meanwhile the local council has ruled that any device with a saddle isn't permitted to use the slopes, with the sole exception of disability devices, oh and sledges (provided the lift company supplies them of course).
This leaves the lift company in the awkward position of back-tracking and deciding that only skibikes without are saddle are allowed. As far as I am aware, there isn't and nor has there ever been a skibike made without a saddle and that includes all the skibobs going back to day one.
I suspect that someone from the council has heard about skibikes on the slopes and as a result they are now enforcing these complex and contradictory regulations.

La Masse - above Les Menuires

Poor John's base camp became distinctly skibike unfriendly overnight, am I really to blame?
I am hoping that maybe Thierry, on behalf of the Aravis Skibikers, can put on a charm offensive and try to improve the situation for next season, things usually progress far quicker when the natives push for change, rather than all us crazy foreigners what with our weird skibikes with saddles and all.

Without wanting to dwell on the negative aspects of the 3 Valleys, I also have a gripe with the complex and inequitable price structure of the lift tariffs. By mistake, I bought a pass that only covered Les Menuires, not realising that Val Thorens, just minutes up the road and in the same valley is on a completely different tariff.
I needed an extension to access Val Thorens and expected the price to be the difference between the two tariffs, but no, you have to pay considerably more. In my case the extension alone was approximately €30 and that was on top of a €44 ticket, what a rip off!
This is most certainly not an equitable arrangement in my books, but has served to teach me that in such an interlinked domain you shouldn't mess about buy the full 3 Valleys pass regardless of whether you are likely to need it or not to avoid a costly error.

In conclusion, here's a quick breakdown of the current situation regarding skibike friendliness throughout the 3 Valleys:

St. Martin de Belleville - Skibikes with a saddle are not permitted on the slopes or lift infrastructure

Les Menuires - Skibikes with a saddle are not permitted on the slopes or lift infrastructure

Val Thorens - Full skibike access to all chairlifts, gondolas and cable cars

Orelles - Full skibike access to two out of three chairlifts (even though they might be banned on the pistes!)

Meribel - Full skibike access to all gondolas and cable cars

La Tania - Full skibike access to all chairlifts and gondolas

Le Praz - Full skibike access to all chairlifts and gondolas

Courchevel - Full skibike access to all chairlifts, gondolas and cable cars

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Chamrousse

Posted: Monday, 30 March 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

My recent visit to Les Sept Laux spurred me on to check out Chamrousse, another Chaîne de Belledonne ski station. I checked the Chamrousse website last night and they listed a selection of SnowScoots allowed on the lifts, but I couldn't see any skibikes listed. I decided that I would give it a try anyway and in the worst case scenario I would be getting in my second day this season on skis.

The weather has really closed in in the last 24 hours and as I left Allevard the rain was falling in near biblical proportions, I could only hope that this meant fresh snow at altitude. Chamrousse is quite close to Grenoble at the Southern end of the Chaîne de Belledonne, it is a fun drive up through the forest from the valley floor, with a wide single carriageway road.

Chamrousse - I stopped at the first accessible chairlift 

I stopped at the first accessible chairlift and checked with the operator whether my skibike would be allowed, he had never seen anything quite like it, so radioed the boss. Perhaps it was the bad weather, perhaps it was end of season, or perhaps Chamrousse is one of those places where they're prepared to give a paying customer a chance, but the boss said that if I had a leash he could see no problem.

In the ticket office I was warned me about the weather conditions, with no visibility and driving snow at the top. They laughed when I explained that it would be like a summer's day in Scotland. As promised, the weather at the top of the chair lift was apocalyptic but just to get in one ride would have counted as "mission accomplished" in my books.

Chamrousse - the weather at the top of the chair lift was apocalyptic

Chamrousse has a variety of gentle runs through the trees at the lower levels, the more advanced runs are accessed from a second stage chairlift or directly from the base station by a gondola system.
Given the lack of visibility, it was probably just as well that I had to keep to the easy slopes. Seeking some shelter, I found a pleasant forest run called Coqs and went over it enough times to learn the bends and be able pick up a bit of speed without really being able to see where I was going.

Chamrousse - "mission accomplished" in my books

In conclusion, Chamrousse could be a great place to skibike, with a good mix of runs and offering good value for the budget concious skibiker. I have asked Thierry if he can to contact the lift operating company and hopefully get skibikes added to their list of approved rides and make Chamrousse another skibike friendly resort for next season.

Chamrousse - could be a great place to skibike

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Les Sept Laux, Off The Beaten Path

Posted: Sunday, 29 March 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

Continuing the theme of testing the skibike friendliness of sundry ski stations, my focus of interest has shifted to the Chaîne de Belledonne. As the title of this post might suggest, it is indeed somewhat off the beaten track, although not really that remote.
The Chaîne de Belledonne is a narrow ridge of mountains, with Chambéry at the Northern extremity and Grenoble at its Southern end. To a foreigner this would still be part The Alps, indeed there are many well known resorts just 50km  as the crow flies to the East. But in many ways this area is a World apart, much in the same way as the Auvergne or Jura mountains are.

I decided to make the Hotel du Parc, situated in the spa town of Allevard les Bains, as my base camp for this expedition. Allevard is a charming little ancient spa town, more likely to be visited in the Summer for the curative powers of its spring waters, than as accommodation for winter sports. Allevard has its own compact family skiing area, the Colett d'Allevard, just 7 km above the town, but as it is quite small I have decided to give it a miss this season and focus on Les Sept Laux some 30 minutes away over the Col du Barioz.

Allevard - a charming little ancient spa town

Surrounding Allevard are peaceful working agricultural areas, which have probably not changed much since Napoleon Bonaparte strutted his stuff. Up on the ridge, high above the small farming communities, Les Sept Laux is to be found. Les Sept Laux is very low key compared to the posh resorts, more of a ski station, with a cluster of low density, modern apartments all sympathetically designed to match the environment.

My companion for the day was to be John, who though relatively new to the sport, is already a far better rider than I will ever be. We picked up our lift passes, which cost under €25 and headed for the nearest chairlift. There were no issues once we had shown the operator our safety leashes and without further ado we were off.

John - a far better rider than I will ever be

As we worked our way around Les Sept Laux it was immediately apparent that a good deal of investment has been made in the infrastructure, the majority of the chairlifts were of the detachable design, with just the one speedier example. There was the typical mix of differently graded runs, many erring on the easier end of their grade.

As has been typical of this season, the weather conditions weren't the best, with overcast skies and hill fog at altitude. The lack of visibility tempered our speed somewhat, but it was apparent that for the time of year and relative to other resorts, the quality of snow was much better both on and off piste. There was slushiness closer to the resort, but without the rocks and branches I have witnessed recently at other similar places.
As our start had been somewhat tardy, we skipped lunch and rode on, but by mid afternoon it began to snow at altitude which turned to rain lower down, so we called time around 16:00 and headed back to our vehicles.

Les Sept Laux - a great spot for skibiking

In conclusion, Les Sept Laux is a great spot for skibiking; the quality of the infrastructure, the scale of the area, value for money and great snow conditions all stand in its favour. We found little to fault, perhaps if you only wanted extreme riding, then you might have to look elsewhere. Otherwise, might I be so bold as to suggest that you broaden your horizons and consider heading off the beaten path to Les Sept Laux.

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Avoriaz Reunion

Posted: Saturday, 28 March 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

Avoriaz was one of the first skibike friendly resorts that I visited in France and has become somewhat of a perennial favourite, it's always a cool place to go and the snow is always good. I can guarantee that I will spend a day or two here each season, no matter what other delights are offered.

Today's ride was somewhat of a reunion; as blog co-writer Wayne had come out for a long weekend to join me, Thierry had made his way over from the Aravis area and John all the way from the 3 Valleys. Group rides always have a different feel to solo expeditions, sometimes you are spurred on to get out of your comfort zone and try new things.

Group riding - get out of your comfort zone and try something new

We spent a great deal of the morning cruising around the pleasant long runs below the Pointe de Voriaz, but the highlight of the day was to be found heading of the top of Les Haut Forts.
After all these years I had never tried the Coupe du Monde black run, this is where World Cup skiers hurl themselves flat out down the fall line in search of glory. I was quite content to take my time and get down in one piece, it is a steep run following a ridge line. The vertiginous drop-offs to each side are intimidating and you had better get your turns in on time, as it's a long way down. On the plus side the snow was in surprisingly good condition and there was enough grip to have control.

Avoriaz - quite a reunion

Feeling fiesty, we returned to the same starting point and followed the SnowCross Crozats route, a steep, un-groomed "big mountain" run that had given Thierry and I a near death experience a couple of years ago.
I am merely a survival skibiker, I will give most things a try and am not ashamed to cheat by getting off my skibike and turn it around to face the other way when I feel it is too steep to make a turn. I was humbled to be so out-classed by the talent of the other riders, it was like watching an instructional video all the way down. You know a run is gnarly when it leads onto a black graded run and your first thought is "phew, now I can relax a little".

Avoriaz - phew, now I can relax a little