1979 saw the launch of BRITON Engineering Developments, but the story begins 10 years earlier.
When British winters were reliable for heavy snowfall, enthusiastic engineer Brian Thomas combined his two main passions, skiing and engineering. The goal was to get the most out of the seasonal snow. After various experiments he created the perfect solution, the BRITON Portable Ski Lift. It was an instant success and used Worldwide including the French and Japanese Winter Olympics in ‘92 and ‘98.
Ski lifts remained the sole objective of the company and when synthetic slopes started using the Portable, BRITON saw a new opportunity, leading to the invention of the QueueDodger in 1981 and the BritonButton in 1985. Both lifts are still widely used.
The company’s dedication to innovation was acknowledged in 1984 when Doppelmayr appointed them sole UK Agent, a position still proudly held with the world’s leading ropeway manufacturer.
BRITON increased its involvement with synthetic slopes as UK winters became less reliable for snow. The invention of BritonMist, the remarkable slope lubrication system was heralded by the industry as “The Biggest Advance in the Dry Slope Industry for 25 Years”.
The company went from strength to strength as it rounded off the decade with a key role in building Nevis Range, the UK’s newest mountain resort. This was a great recognition of the skills and expertise the company held.
1990 saw BRITON turn its attention back to the synthetic slope market. Seeing a chance to improve on current slope styles BRITON seized the opportunity to expand its design and build packages to create more exciting slopes..
This move was rewarded with the 6000m2 Søhøjlandet Snowsports center contract in Denmark and included the creation of features such as moguls, jumps and a half pipe previously seen only on mountain snow. The project was another great success, although injury rates highlighted the problems with outdated surfaces. BRITON could see that urban snowsports were still far from their potential; the challenge to improve the industry was too tempting to resist.
In 1996 after several years of intense development, encouraged by two UK Department of Trade and Industry awards, the revolutionary snowsports surface Snowflex® was launched transforming the possibilities of synthetic slopes.
When interviewed about Snowflex®, John Shedden, Director of Coaching for the English Ski Council said;
“…for the first time we have a safe, clean surface that people will come back to time and time again.”
Tired of the painful products manufactured as a sideline by the brush, plastic and carpet industries, BRITON had engineered Snowflex® on a clean sheet basis. This achieved the key criteria of producing a cost-effective, high quality urban snowsports experience.
1979 saw the launch of BRITON Engineering Developments, but the story begins 10 years earlier.
My job at the Luton Hoo Hotel finished-mid afternoon, but my journey home would leave me facing the horrors of rush hour on London's M25 orbital motorway. Having enjoyed such a great evening the day before, I was aching for more of the same, on the spare of the moment I formulated a plan and there was to be no plan B.
I would investigate the Snow Centre at Hemel Hempstead , the closest indoor snow sports centre to London. Hemel Hempstead is a small commuter town to the North West of London, made famous in December 2005 by becoming the site of the largest European peace time explosion at the Buncefield Oil Storage Terminal.
The Snow Centre is located close to the junction M1 and M25, somewhat incongruously in a residential neighbourhood. Opened in May 2009 on the site of a former dry ski slope it features a 160m long main run and a 100m nursery slope all inside an 8,000m2 snow box.
For the off season period they are running a 2 for 1 discount, getting me 2 hours for the price of 1, that said their hourly rate is significantly higher than Milton Keynes.
|Hemel Snow Centre - Grand Opening May 2009|
My first impression was the excellent quality of the snow, definitely not powder, but oh so familiar to Alpine conditions; a sprinkling of loose scraped snow on a hard packed base. Around 6pm the slope was empty, a perfect opportunity for making some nice wide traverses.
Thing got decidedly busier around 7pm, to cater for the increased demand the 2nd Poma lift started up. This is an express Poma, for intermediate and above users, with a fast speed, much like those that run up the side of slalom courses or other expert terrain.
During the busy period there was still space for everyone and queuing was very limited.
My 2 hours over, I headed back to the car and enjoyed a stress free drive home with all the heavy traffic gone, blissful.
Another recent internet discovery, the amazing fat snow bikes:
Fatbikes.com was really born in February of 2004 at the Susitna 100 winter endurance race in Alaska. Pushing their "fat bikes" equipped with uber-wide 44mm Snowcat rims through the night, Bill Fleming and Jamey Stull forged a friendship that ultimately resulted in the founding of Chain Reaction Cycles in Anchorage, Alaska. Taking their passion for winter cycling to the next level, they developed and produced the first aluminum fat bike, the 9:ZERO:7, named after the area code of Alaska. After selling their frames far and wide around the globe, it occurred to them that maybe a website devoted to fat bike afficianodos might assist in sharing their passion with others. And Fatbikes.com was born...
A meeting and skibiking session with the other London/Home Counties based skibikers has been on the cards since I returned from France in April. The most obvious location was SNO!zone at Xscape in Milton Keynes, the awesome indoor snow centre which had allowed previous skibiker meetings to take place.
By lucky chance I had some work taking place a the Luton Hoo Hotel about 30 minutes away with an evening free to do as I please.
I left Luton around 5pm and thanks to roadworks on the M1, the short journey took nearly an hour. Luckily it is not far from the motorway, which makes access by car relatively straightforward. Xscape is not just a sports centre, it is a sizable retail and entertainment village. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is free parking after 6pm.
Due to a failure in communication, skibiker Wayne Richards was still at home and some 90 minutes away. This gave me the time to explore the venue. I moved my car close to the rear exit of the building, which saves you a long walk carrying your skibike to and from the SNO!zone. I got myself checked in and booked an open practice session. Whilst waiting for Wayne's arrival I had some fun warming up on my SnowBlades, after he arrived, I swapped over into Skibiker guise.
The SNO!zone regulations stipulate that you must be an experienced skibiker with the ability to use the slope safely, able to link turns and stop. Lastly you will be required to wear a safety leash.
To get up the slope requires you to use a Poma drag lift. I have used these before as a skibiker but never in pegger mode. You have to get it between your legs like a skier, then sit down on the button wedging it against the saddle. Wayne made it look very easy and although the Poma was slow moving, I found it very awkward to use. I have gained sympathy for novice snow boarders and appreciate the difficultly.
On the descents I tried the standing on the pegs like a motocross rider, after a number of "superman" ejections and face planting for the umpteenth time I was starting to feel dejected.
Wayne suggested I revert back to the more familiar sitting down technique, swinging out a leg on turns to maintain balance.
He had the charity to save my pride by suggesting that the stem was too low for pegging on my diy skibike. We briefly swapped skibikes and the bugger rode my skibike down the slope perfectly.... you can really go off some people.
|SkiBiker with true talent - you can really go off some people|
Dismantling my skibike in the car park a passing women asked the familiar question "What is that thing?"
I reeled off a familiar and well rehearsed script. "Is it as top banana as it looks?", she asked next. "Well you keep getting a frozen mouth from grinning so much" I replied "..and on a really good run snot comes out of your nose".
"Oooh" she retored "The snot thing has sold it for me".
Anyone who SkiBikes is bound to be a bit weird, so it will come as no surprise when I confess another dark secret....I don't have a TV, I got rid of mine in 2003 after I got a BroadBand Internet connection. The idea of having to wait for someone to broadcast a programme you wanted to watch just seemed so last century.
And don't even start me off on the whole TV licence and viewing subscription issues!
I digress, I recently came across the BlinkBox website, where you will find a selection of both; free to view and chargeable films and television series, all available to watch on-line. The quality is good and there is very little buffering or glitching. You can find out more about BlinkBox here
One of their freebies is the excellent Freeze-Sports series, "A full-on winter sports series taking in freestyle boarders and heli-skiers; from Himalayan hot spots to the coolest ski destinations in India."
Here's what one reviewer had to say:
I don’t really watch much extreme sports but I felt this show was nice and refreshing. The whole programme is shot to perfection and the perfect soundtrack adds to the atmosphere of winter sports. There are plenty of slow-mo shots, making sure that the audience captures every detail of the stunt and it is something that you don’t complain about. You just wonder how they do it and you find yourself taking your hat off to the people who do this for a living. It would be nice if there were some commentaries or interviews with some of the boarders and skiers but that is just a minor thing and nothing to fuss about. Like I said before, the perfect soundtrack takes care of that and it suits the content.If you're aching to fast forward Autumn in get straight into Winter, I suggest you give it a try. You will find Freeze-Sports here
|Freeze-Sport - hurry up winter!|
By happy co-incidence a work opportunity allowed me to escape from the gloom of Broken Britain and head for the sunnier skies of Switzerland for a few days.
|Switzerland by Easy Jet - Gatwick to Zurich in just over an hour|
Needless to say it is horrendously expensive, but at current exchange rates where in Switzerland isn't? I had the unexpected pleasure of residing at the very pleasant Schweizerhof hotel elegant, luxurious, but not too formal, was the opinion of my colleague Buzz.
There is plenty to see; a well preserved old town, the modernist Culture and Congress Centre, a transport museum big enough to house whole aircraft and trains and best of all a brewery that serves the best Weissbier I have tasted outside of Germany.
Pilatus is a short journey by bus from the central train station to Krienz. Ascent can be by cable car or the steepest cogwheel railway in the world. Uniquely the pistes are specifically marked up for atypical snow sports, such as; sledges, minibobs, airboards and of course SkiBikes horah!
|Mount Pilatus - a piste map with SkiBike symbols!|
According to this page from the Pilatus tourist office website SkiBikes are authorised for pistes 2, 3 and 5, this may not sound much, but note that these pistes are up to 3km long.
BullSkate freestyle skibikes are available to hire at the snow park on the mountain, by the hour or half day.
Furthermore not too far away lies mount Titlis with its unusual revolving giant cable car. With a top station located at over 3000 metres, glacier skiing and possibly skibiking too, could be on offer the whole year round!
With typical tourist luck, after a week of perfect early Autumn weather whilst stuck indoors, on my free day the sky closed in and the heavens opened. This rendered a reconnaissance trip / pilgrimage to Pilatus itself utterly pointless.
|SkiBiker stuck indoors whilst the sun is shining|
A recently released government video featured Mayor Arturas Zuokas gleefully driving an armoured vehicle over a Mercedes that was illegally parked, in a stunt to act as a warning to negligent drivers. During the video, the Mayor is heard saying: "What should the city do about drivers who think that they are above the law? It seems a tank is the best solution."
The Mercedes was specially bought for the video. Afterwards, the Mayor is seen ticking off the 'owner', then getting on his bicycle and riding into the distance. The cycle-enthusiast's Rambo-style tactics were received well - he is already popular with residents and is known for installing cycle lanes during his first term.
"Mayor Zuokas wanted his message to be loud and clear that the city will not tolerate brazen and disrespectful behaviour by drivers who disobey parking rules," said his spokeswoman, Irma Juskenaite.
Luckily this article is not about an unpleasant medical condition brought on by too much time spent in the saddle skibiking. It is about a very useful glue that makes fantastic shoe and boot repairs. In my case the search for a suitable adhesive started after a nightime yachting trip spent with a wet foot due to my sailing boots leaking along a weld in the rubber.
This is what WikiPedia has to say about Shoe Goo:
Shoe Goo was created in 1972 by Lyman Van Vliet, a 45-year old senior executive at Hughes Aircraft Co. with a degree in physics from Wayne State University. A frequent player of tennis, Van Vliet was dissatisfied with the durability of the soles of his tennis shoes and sought a method to extend their life by repairing them.I bought my tube of Shoe Goo via eBay and the excellent SkateSlime retailer, the 30mL tube should last a dozen or so repairs and cost £3.74 delivered. My sailing boots are fixed, as are a favourite pair of sturdy hiking boots. I am beggining to wonder how long it will be before I can find a skibiking use for ShoeGoo.
Although Van Vliet already held several patents related to the aerospace industry, he had no extensive background in chemistry. Nevertheless, he set to work to create a solvent which could be used to create a pliable surface coating for shoe soles, whipping up his experimental blends in a spaghetti pot. The ultimate result of Van Vliet's efforts was a polymer that was eventually marketed as "Shoe Goo." ...Read more here
Cycling generates nearly £3bn a year for the UK economy, a report by the London School of Economics has found.
The figure takes into account factors such as bicycle manufacturing, retail and cycle-related employment.
The report says £51m was raised for UK manufacturers from the 3.7 million cycles sold in 2010 - a rise of 28% on the number of cycles sold in 2009
More than a million people also started cycling last year, bringing the total number of cyclists to 13 million.
Last year more than £1.5bn was spent on bikes and another £850m on accessories, with the LSE estimating that the cycling industry is now worth some £2.9bn a year.
There are now 23,000 people working in cycling, contributing more than £600m to the economy in wages and taxes.
The report also says rising fuel costs, improved cycle networks, concern for the environment, and the pull of the Olympics are all possible factors for the increase in popularity for cycling. Read more here
In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent. So in counterpoint to my last post showing the amazing bike skills of Danny MacAskill, I present freestyle skibiker Brandon Schmit
Before skibikes were banned at Copper Mountain, Brandon Schmit regularly hit the features in their terrain parks. He put together a demo video back in 2009 of all the tricks he could do then. Brandon has produced more video's since this one, but it's still amazing what he could do on the skibike back then.
The new Lenz Sport Launch freestyle bike that Brandon had a hand in creating has moved his riding even further.
Special thanks to the A Colorado SkiBiker goes SkiBiking Blog
Since the video went live, things progressed really fast; Danny found himself featured in the New York Times, joined a Hollywood production as a stunt man, appeared in a TV-commercial for the new Volkswagen Golf Estate and was nominated for the Action Sportsperson of the Year Category of the Laureus World Sports Awards. He eventually gave up his job as a mechanic so he could ride full time and now lives in Edinburgh.
Once again shot by Dave Sowerby, Danny released a new video “Way Back Home” produced by Red Bull Media House that shows him revisiting his roots on a trip back to his hometown Dunvegan the way he knows best – with the sickest riding far and wide. Only one week later, a film Danny shot with his clothing partner Dig Deep in London hit the web, as usual dropping jaws all over the world. Read more here