European Skibike Association Meeting - January 2016

Posted: Saturday, 14 November 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Here's some very exciting news for the 2015-16 skibike season! Formed just over a year ago, the European Skibike Association (EUSA) have recently announced their first meeting which will to be held from the 8 - 10 January 2016 at Zell am See in Austria.
It will be the first ever meeting in Europe aimed specifically at freestyle skibike riders (skibob riders will still be welcome). Apart from this unique opportunity to socialise and ride with elite freestyle skibikers, you will also be able to test out the latest product offerings from skibike manufacturers.

Registration for the EUSA Skibike Meeting is free and you don't even have to be a member to register.
Membership costs €25 per year, an amount which you will soon be able to recover using the special price for lift passes and discounts on accommodation available to EUSA members at this event.

2016 European Skibike Association Meeting

Perfecting The English Turn - Autumn Skibiking

Posted: Wednesday, 21 October 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

Fresh back from my recent trip to Gran Canaria I had to do a quick turnaround to be ready for a whirlwind trip to SnowWorld in Holland with SkiBike Blog contributor Andy C. He is an accomplished trail rider, who also recently experienced riding both skibobs in Austria and freestyle skibikes in America. He plans to assemble his own skibike conversion in the near future and wanted to see how they ride without waiting for the season to start.

Journeys feel a lot quicker with two people in the car, especially someone with Andy's encyclopaedic knowledge of mechanical matters to share. For once the journey ran like clockwork leaving us with plenty of time for beers and unsurprisingly for Holland, one of the cheesiest of four cheese pizzas I have ever eaten.

SnowWorld - Landgraaf, Holland

My last visit here was in the height of summer and at the time just the one (easy) slope was open, but this time slopes on both sides of the chairlift were in use. Given that both runs are served by the same chairlift it seems that the laws of physics have been broken to create a noticeably steeper slope to one side. At its extremity a slalom course had been roped off, being enthusiastically exploited by a youth ski team who had, somewhat ironically, travelled 8 hours from Zermatt in Switzerland to take advantage of the perfect conditions to be found here at SnowWorld in Holland.

SnowWorld - Andy C getting the feel of a skibike conversion

Andy rapidly dialled in to the feel of my spare skibike and we passed our time playing around with different styles of riding, starting with the English turn and working up through a selection of riding styles. Before we knew it it was late afternoon and we ended the day grabbing some action pictures and video clips, before making the run back to Calais.

Working through a variety of riding styles

All in the trip cost about £130 per person, which is not bad considering the amount of time you get can spend on the snow. And if you want to know how to do an English turn you'll just have to get yourself on the list for the next visit to SnowWorld in Holland.

La Fortaleza - A Biker's Beach Holiday

Posted: Wednesday, 14 October 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

This report is dedicated to Roger a devoted an observant reader who noticed a dearth of the usual off-season summer reports and recently commented...
(The SkiBike Blog) normally documents an interesting trip or two to a German indoor ski-slope, or a bicycle ride around Greenwich - But nothing.... Thought you might be ill, or working triply hard to pull some funds together...

The answer was pretty much yes to all of the above; after the 2014-15 SkiBike Blog Tour finished in April I had to dive head long straight into boring old work and yes working triply hard would be a fair estimation. I also had a number of essential house repair projects to push through during the summer, refurbishing and redecorating the exterior of both mine and a neighbour’s houses; even so I somehow managed to squeeze in an indoor skibike trip to both SkiHalle and SnowWorld in early July. Unfortunately, with all this manic activity I picked up a horrid cough that lasted from mid-August through till early October, as a result of all this furious endeavour I was getting a bit burned out and desperately needed a quick break to re-vitalise.

Too much boring work - I needed a break
So feeling like an old man I stepped aboard an EasyJet flight for a trip to the island of Gran Canaria for a week or so of rest and relaxation. Despite these worthy intentions, if I could squeeze in a mountain bike related adventure, well so much the better.
I should mention that I have visited the island of Gran Canaria many times in the past; around the year 2000 I even packed a very heavy and primitive DiamondBack rigid mountain bike into a bag and gave it my best to conquer the many peaks to be found in the centre of this island. This time round I was looking for some uplift that would evade the whole tedious business of spending 6 hours of climbing for just 30 minutes of wild descent.

My research took me to Free Motion a trendy looking outfit that offered mountain bike tours, with uplift, bikes, water and even a sandwich included on their jaunts. I made some last minute arrangements through their website to join the "La Fortaleza" tour which promised 1350 metres of vertical descent for a mere 440 metres of ascent.

You never know what lurks behind a shiny website, I had suspected that the Free Motion base camp in Playa del Inglés would be just three enthusiastic guys with a mini bus and trailer. To my surprise I discovered a large scale operation with more than a whiff of Teutonic efficiency about it. Apart from the formidable showroom and shop, there were the outdoor workshops and racking systems, all complemented by a shiny collection of branded vehicles filling the parking lot.
It was precisely the sort of operation that would not have looked out of place in the centre of Gstaad and a quantum leap from usual Spanish resort bike hire operators.

Having checked in, I had a few minutes spare to grab a coffee and pastry from the German bakery on the other side of the road before getting on the shuttle bus for the 900 metre vertical uplift close to the village of San Bartolomé de Tirajana at the start of the tour.

On the bus there were the typical mix of super fit Germans, Swiss and sundry Scandinavians present, plus Team GB comprising myself and Magnus, who had made the long journey down from The Orkney Islands to represent Scotland.

The journey up to San Bartolomé de Tirajana only takes 20 minutes from Playa del Inglés, once at the top we were assigned our bikes and had the chance for a quick pedal around the car park to familiarise ourselves with our steeds. Mine was to be a Cannondale Rush 29 2, a marque I haven't previously encountered, my first impressions were of a sturdy, yet light mountain bike with plenty enough travel to soak up the bumps.

A mix of fit; Germans, Swiss and Scandinavians - plus Team GB

It was the first 29er big wheeled mountain bike that I've had a chance to ride and it seemed very efficient, requiring very little energy to get going and minimal rolling resistance, in spite of the monster tyres fitted. It was also my first experience of using disk brakes too, which proved to be very suitable for the task; although the brake levers were the wrong way round compared to UK practice, with front on the left and rear on the right. I was going to have to be especially careful not to accidentally grab the left one on descents and risk heading over the handlebars.

Somewhere along the immense Barranco de Tirajana - spot the skibiker!

The ride began rather abruptly with an "easy" warm up, climbing up a lung bursting 20% gradient, above the village, I was relived to see the odd person get off and push and gladly followed suit. The pain and effort were soon forgotten as we plunged down vertiginous descents through the village of San Bartolomé de Tirajana, the tyres scrabbling to maintain traction with the concrete, rubble, rocks and dirt that formed the path running between the houses.
I was focusing on avoiding the near lethal consequences of grabbing the front brake and had to keep repeating to myself "right hand only, right hand only, right hand only" like a mantra.

La Fortaleza - Long sweeping dirt trails

Heading South towards the sea, we worked away along long sweeping dirt trails following the West side of the immense Barranco de Tirajana. In some ways this was the most enjoyable part of the ride as you could go pretty much flat out and let the bike's suspension take the strain.

Although the Cannondale Rush 29 2 is one of Free Motion's most basic hire items, I found that it had lots of control for locking out the suspension on climbs or road sections.
Bike Radar gave the Cannondale Rush 29 2 quite a poor review seeing the Fox fork as a weak point; fortunately I hadn't read the article before the trip, furthermore given the vintage nature of the bikes I typically ride, I found it to be a superbly well engineered machine.

Cannondale Rush 29 2 - a well engineered machine

We stopped half way along for a lunch stop and I got the chance to deplete my ample water reserves. I had been concerned about de-hydration so brought with me 2.5 litres of water, only to find myself handed another 2 litre bottles by the Free Motion guide to stash in my back pack at the start of the ride. I was greatly relieved to loose a good couple of Kilos of weight of my back at this point.

On the next leg of the journey we emerged from the clouds and into the desert heat of the South coast of Gran Canaria with water streaming from my downhill style helmet on the more exerting climbs back towards Playa del Inglés as we tracked the route of the motorway through desert scrub. Our last few Kilometres followed the beach promenade, with our dusty mountain bikes looking incongruous as we skipped past the sun worshippers.

La Fortaleza - time for a pleasant ride along the prom

I found my all too brief outing with Free Motion very enjoyable and exhilarating. The whole operation ran with the precision of a Swiss watch and the guiding was very detailed, briefing you on each leg of the route, before agreeing the next rendezvous point. This practice gave the fastest riders the chance to let rip whilst the guide was often zipping from the front to the rear of the pack and watching out for those with mechanical issues, punctures or just plain old stragglers like me.
It's such a shame that on such trips UK riders are so under represented compared to the army of Scandinavians who appreciate that Gran Canaria as so much more to offer than just; sun, beer, chips, "Kiss me quick" hats and camel rides.

You can download the La Fortaleza route plan in pdf format here

Mission Impossible - Summer Skibiking

Posted: Saturday, 27 June 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

For the last couple of years I have made a trip to one of the German indoor ski centres during the summer season. I love being a contrarian, whilst the normal people are heading for a day trip to the beach I am heading down the coast road armed for a trip to the fridge.

My mission this time was to rendezvous with fellow skibiker Timo at SnowWorld at Landgraaf in Holland. The bad news was that before I had even as got to Dover, the signs alongside the motorway were ominously announcing that Calais was closed and to expect long delays. My luck improved with the news that the ferry company were diverting their vessels to Dunkirk; a slightly longer crossing, but slightly closer to my destination. Having made it into France there were tailbacks on the roads which turned my anticipated 3 hour drive into a tedious 5 hour marathon to get to my overnight stop just outside Neuss, Germany.

SkiHalle, Neuss

Before my rendezvous with Timo I enjoyed a warm up session at the SkiHalle in Neuss, which is part of the Allrounder Mountain Resort. Although it had only been a couple of months since the end of the last SkiBike Blog tour, all the sedentary office work I have been doing recently has clearly done a good job of turning muscle into flab.

One of the chairlift operators, a keen mountain biker was curious about my ride, so I stopped for a chat about skibikes and the how an indoor ski centre operates. Here's a quick summary:

  • The temperature is maintained at a constant -5 degrees Celsius
  • Fresh snow is added every night
  • The roof is double insulated roof and the underfloor chilled 
  • At Neuss they pride themselves on having the best snow available

How so many facilities manage to make it through the thin summer months is a total mystery, it was so quiet at certain points that I had almost the entire facility to myself. It was the perfect moment to launch off the special race ramp at the top and put in some full speed runs down to the bottom.

SkiHalle Neuss - I had almost the entire facility to myself

I packed up in the late afternoon and made the quick drive to Landgraaf, just over the border in Holland. I had opted to stay on site, not at the main hotel, but at the Overstof instead, a renovated farmhouse nestled in a nature reserve.

I met up with Timo and we grabbed a quick bite to eat before making a twilight pilgrimage to the top of the "mountain" and made our peace with the mountain. Spiritually refreshed we then fortified our corporeal needs by knocking back some excellent Bavarian lagers he had stashed in the boot of his car.

Landgraaf - we made our peace with the "mountain"

SnowWorld, Landgraaf

SnowWorld in Landgraaf lays claim to be the largest indoor slope in the World, I knew of it as a popular destination for UK snowboarders. Until recently I had been under the mistaken belief that skibikes were banned at SnowWorld, that was until Franky, a local skibiker corrected me.

SnowWorld - skibike friendly

When it comes to indoor slopes, even the largest, spending a whole day inside such a small space can get boring really quickly. So once warmed up we decided to try working on the techniques that we felt needed improving. Riding backwards was one the neither of us could claim to have in our bag of tricks so we set up doing doughnuts on the snow. It is a lot trickier than I thought, but we sought of got it right a couple of times, the next challenge will be to get it right every time.

SnowWorld - summer practice makes perfect

After a light lunch we took turns to choosing which style of riding to make on the way down; sitting, standing, fast carves, skidded turns, etc. We finished off the day with a photo session, before packing away our kit and heading for the barbecue included in the price of our ticket.

Make each run in a different style - sitting, standing, carved, skidded, etc.

Timo was unimpressed by the length of the runs at SnowWorld, but then where he lives there are glaciers two hours away that remain open almost the whole year round.
 For a flatlander like me, it is still the largest indoor centre I have, or am ever likely to experience; add on the snow park with some intimidating features and some tasty cuisine all makes for a winning combination in my book.
With low season summer promotions, a day's ski pass and an evening barbecue can cost under €30, at current exchange rates that's £22, or about what you would pay for an hour in an equivalent UK centre. As it is only 3 hours from Calais with a clean run, I can see this becoming a regular off-season jaunt.

SnowWorld - I can see this becoming a regular off-season jaunt

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 skibike 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 SnowScoot 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.