SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Avoriaz

Posted: Friday, 31 December 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

By now the car almost made the familiar drive to Cluses by itself; after that we changed to a well prepared departmental road, with easy gradients. To avoid the chore of driving up to 1800m, possibly on chains and pay the parking premium. I was advised by my navigator to drive to Les Prodains, a car park with cable car access to the centre of Avoriaz village.
The main down side of this plan was a long wait for the lift to cable car (20 minutes), then long wait for cable car (10 minutes), then a long ride to the top (10 minutes).

Leash required
Avoriaz now hires out SnowScoots and this year (2010-11) have opened up the lift system to them, which seems to have opened up the area to skibikes as well. The main rule seems to be that you wear some form of leash between yourself and your skibike.
Access is limited to certain facilities, which in practice means chair lifts only (of which there are plenty), life can be so cruel!
Note: I recommend you contact the resort and check for the latest information and mark up a copy of the piste map, so as not to get stranded without uplift.

Eager to start getting some miles under my belt I used the Lac Intrets chairlift - to access the easy blue run of the same name as a warm up then on to the Aller de Chavanette/Retour de Chavanette roads to get back.

Next I wanted to try the Stade run, but it was closed off, this didn't seem to bother most skiers, but I had to be on my best behaviour and followed a monster mogul field under chairlift which combined big icy bumps with killer gradients. I couldn't mess it up with an eager audience watching from the chairlift above, I got down OK, but not elegantly and at one point after an especially big bump wondered if I would be coughing up my testicles!

In order to give the family jewels a rest, I used the Lac-Intrets chair to get me on to the excellent Blue d'Arare.
I used the slow Plateau chair for a ride to the top of town for quick coffee in Le Yeti then followed the signs for Proclou to see what the other side of town had to offer.

Check your piste map carefully
There were some pleasant, if gentle runs through the trees but their location made it dark and feeling later than it really was.
So I headed back up and through town to Stade with the intention of following the Aller de Chavanette all the way to Chavanette. Irritatingly this route was now closed due to avalanche risk so it was back to Lac Intrets for a final long run.
From the top of Les Haut Forts I skibiked down the Blue d'Arare then Crot back to the car park at Les Prodain, an awesome 1000m descent. The pistes were very bare of snow and I had to pick a line to the edge of the piste where possible to find some traction.

Avoriaz has a unique location high on the cliffs edge, unlike other resorts which shiver in the frosty hollow of a valley floor, Avoriaz will have the longest, sunniest days when such benign conditions prevail. Conversely, in poor weather; such as blizzard / whiteout, it might be totally exposed and much like conditions in the Antarctic, or Scotland on a good day.

Although accessible by road, it has been designed to be totally traffic free.
People often complain about French resorts being "Supermarket skiing" that may be true of Avoriaz but that supermarket would lie somewhere between Marks & Spencer and Harrods in terms of quality.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Grand Bornand

Posted: Thursday, 30 December 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

After an uneventful drive from Geneva base camp, I was lucky to be able to find a parking space opposite the Tourist Information Office at the Spar supermarket.
First I checked on the lift access situation for skibikes, they knew immediately how to find the info needed and gave me a photocopy from their master file.
Luckily I discovered a public lift nearby to go from this level right down to the piste, thus avoiding a lengthy walk in ski boots carrying the skibike. I assembled my skibike and kit outside the Spar and headed to Reves d'Hiver where they hire Firem skibikes, touched base with owner, exchanged cards and pleasantries. He asked me where the brakes were on my bike and I pointed at my feet, his look of surprise was priceless!

The short Le Chatelet chairlift has been equipped with custom hanging brackets for skibikes and the loading and unloading is performed by the lift operator - luxury! This gives access to a handfull of runs, many perfect for nervous debutant skibikers. I chose Le Lac for warming up then Le Bois Joli.

Chairlift skibike bracket - ingenious
The longer La Floria chairlift gets you up to more serious territory, I went down La Combe de la Tolar, there was an alternative black run available to one side.
Finding myself at Le Maroly chairlift I was able to get close to the peak of Mont Lachat and sample Les Tetras, Piste 2000 and Les Chardons Blancs runs.

Returning via Le Lac, with lots of pushing on the flat bits up, I used the Le Chatelet chairlift again but turned right down the Les Elegantines run to access the Les Gettiers chairlift. It was very crowded with a long wait so I made the single run down the L'abondance piste which is floodlit for night skiing (and skibiking).

Avoiding the crowd, I ended the day doing a few more runs down La combe de la Tolar piste and returning via Le Lac in to town.

Le Grand Bornand has a lot to offer the skibiker, despite the limited number of lifts available.
As one of the first resorts to actively promote and support skibiking; with rental options, adapted lifts and a hungry new manufacturer looking to promote their skibikes.
All they need now is a Skibike Festival or Competition and it will truly be The Durango Mountain Resort of Europe.

Sunset from Mont Lachat at Grand Bornand

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Grand Bornand, Firem on Test

Posted: Wednesday, 29 December 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

My companions of the last few days were tired and poorly, so I opted for an exploratory solo mission; enjoyed a lazy, relaxed start to the day and didn't leave Geneva till after 1pm.
My objective was to find out whether the information I had received from Grand Bornand could possibly be true, not only was the tourist office claiming that there were skibike friendly lifts to use, there was also a hire shop where you could rent a bike for 22 Euros per half day.
If that wasn't enough the driving force behind this step change were local skibike builders Firem.

I arrived around 3pm had a quick look around town, all very pretty and picturesque and by using the tourist office found out the location of Reves d'hiver (Winter Dreams) the aforementioned hire outfit.
I was expecting a ski hire shop with a rusty skibike stuck in the corner, but to my great surprise I discovered someone outside promoting a selection of skibikes and demonstrating experimental models.

After making the introductions with my awful abuse of the French language, cards were exchanged, it was Pierre Mermillod proprietor of Firem, the skibike manufacturer himself. Luckily he remembered "L'Anglais" and offered me a quick test of his personal development model.

I am experimenting more and more with riding on the pegs, but it lacks a certain amount of control, I tried riding the bike in my shoes down the nursery slope and his appraisal was "mal" i.e. bad. He chastised me further "This is not a Brenter!" and insisted that I tried again on the pegs and trust his unique rear ski brake concept.
Firem offering free demonstration rides
I faced the bike down the fall line (which is so counter intuitive) planted my foot on the peg with the foot brake on, put the other foot up and was able to glide slowly forward straight down the fall line using the brake to moderate my speed to a couple of miles per hour.
It was an interesting and effective development, Firem have some excellent engineering built into their designs, I was keen to find out more but the resort was shutting down for the day. I was hoping that I might be able to meet with Pierre Mermillod the following day but he had other plans sadly, maybe in the future?

Having enjoyed this quirky resort area I was keen to return the following day and explore further.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Flaine

Posted: Tuesday, 28 December 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Once again we left at 8:30, did the easy 45 minute drive to Cluses, fitted the snow chains in under 10 minutse, then drove 25 minutes up the hill to the free car park at Vernant, there was plenty of parking space available.
There was no queuing for tickets, plenty of people in the sales office and the friendly lift attendant explained that a safety leash was required at all times.

There are a number of ticket options depending on whether you want to cover just Flaine Sector, Everything except Flaine (Massive Sector) or the Whole Domain (Grand Massif). I paid 33.50 Euros for the "Massive Sector" and opted for the convenience of an RFID card over the traditional paper ticket with a magnetic stripe.
Note: the RFID card can be topped up on-line and means that you don't have to dip into your pockets whilst manoeuvring a skibike through the turnstile.

The sky was lightly clouded with visibility reducing during the day, it was better at low altitudes with very low visibility up on the peaks. There wasn't much wind but there was some light snow precipitation which steadily increased through the day.
I started by using Le Lac chair, to access the Arolle run for a warm up; it had some up-hill sections and some quite flat sections, so you needed to maintain a good speed or get off and push.
Next was the Corblanche chair, my first experience of a "tapis" moving carpet chairlift system, it is tricky to keep your balance on 60cm skis whilst cradling a 10kg skibike in your arms.
Returning via the Silice and Dolomie runs I encountered quite crowded conditions and it was unexpectedly steep and mogulled in places.
The charming Portets run through the trees was easy, uncrowded and flattering. From there I took the super long Les Molliets chair lift back up to the top then came back down the Molliachets and Marmottes runs back to its base.
All ideal skibike territory; sublime blue runs, through the forest, with easy variable gradients, a few steeper sections and some moguls.
L'Airon, a very quick 2 seater chair lift took me to the Tetes des Saix. By following the Silice and Dolomie runs, now becoming difficult due to very flat and low light at this point, over to the Vernant chair, I had access to the long Tourmaline run down into Flaine itself.
Flaine central - dodgy architecture but great for skibikes and skibiking
This is on the limit of the Secteur Massif pass, so my only option was to return via the Grand Vans chairlift, by then the crest had very poor visibility with driving snow, so I descended gingerly down to the Vernant car park at the end of the day.This area proved to have considerable promise for the skibiker, lots of variety and scope for exploration and touring. It was quite crowded at times with the design of the pistes funnelling together snow users from different areas into bottlenecks. There were absolutely no issues with the lift system attendants, all staff were polite and helpful.

I intend to return later and explore the Flaine area more, anyone care to join me?

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - La Bapteme De Feu

Posted: Monday, 27 December 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

We left Geneva later than planned around 8:30am with the intention of skiing and skibiking around Flaine which is part of the extensive Grand Massif domain.

The main part of the journey was uneventful and followed the A40 "Autoroute Blanche" till the town of Cluses. At this point we joined a small departmental road and began a steady climb to Araches. The amount of snow and ice on the road began to increase till the tarmac was no longer visible. My budget "Matador" brand tyres began to spin and fail to make any traction. I thought that with careful technique I might make it up the hill, but the thought of the hairpin descent later in the day; with wheels locked and sliding made me reluctant to push my luck any further.

Retreating back to Cluses we headed to the Supermarket, unfortunately, my Ford Fiesta Encore economy car had such a small size of tyre and wheel combination that neither supermarket stocked them. They recommend I try the nearby branch of "Feu Vert" (Green Traffic Light) which is much like Halfords in the UK.

The correct size was sourced in moments and it was time to head back up hill.
Between the three brains in our expedition party we analysed the instructions, fitted the chains and were able to carry on to Le Carroz and finally Flaine. It was an amazing improvement, if a somewhat agricultural experience with a lot of noise and vibration through the car.

Arriving far too late to ski, I went to seek a definitive answer/confirmation from the lift companies office regarding access to the uplift system. Initially there were some conflicting messages from various parties, then a trip to mountain rescue provided the key...An A3 size sheet containing the details of every lift in the domain and the type of user allowed on board.

Wisely I asked politely if I could keep a copy, then should anyone question me there would be no arguments.

I looked at the many hire shops, none offered skibikes in any form, picking the coolest looking one that hired off-road Segways, I went in. Sadly they had tried SnowScoots last year but there were too many accidents and they sold them off at the end of season.
Feeling disappointed I spotted a man on a SnowScoot and asked for his opinion, "no problems for me" he said "this is mine, I go where I like".

I returned to Geneva, a 2 hours drive from the centre of Flaine, determined to return in the
morning and give it a go.

On the road to Flaine - getting snow chains fitted

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Le Crozet

Posted: Sunday, 26 December 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Today was bright, but quite cold and windy. Le Crozet base station is an easy 30 minute drive from the centre of Geneva and is located in the little known Jura mountain range. Lower than the neighbouring Alps to the South, they are a popular location for cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and some downhill skiing.

The helpful ticket office staff explained that there was limited skiing above and warned us not to go right over the mountain to Lelex, as we would not be able to return. There was almost no queuing and the skibike presented no issues.

Irritatingly, the only chairlift to the main runs closed just after our arrival, due to the high winds, limiting skiing to just a short nursery run served by a single poma lift.
This short run only allowed a few turns before re-joining a lengthy queue, most other skiers were good natured and jovial considering the circumstances.

I met another skibiker who was riding a snowscoot, this is a hybrid of skibike and snowboard, which you ride standing up with your feet in loop bindings, we shook hands.
Although disappointing to be denied access to most of the mountain and the descent over to Lelex, it was a ideal warm up and equipment test.

The view to the South was astonishing, Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) was a sheet of blue steel and the entire Alpine range was visible, especially the Mont Blanc some 70 miles away. There was a pleasant unpretentious village skiing ambiance about the place and the very short journey times to consider. A UK visitor could fly in to Geneva, have a day on the slopes and be home for a late super that evening.

Le Crozet - nursery slope with an amazing view of the Alps

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Geneva Office

Posted: Thursday, 23 December 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Estate Agents say there are just 3 things you need to know about property; location, location and location. This is La Grange located in beautiful parkland, in the Eaux Vivres area of Geneva, it has unrivalled views across Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) to the United Nations buildings with the snow capped Jura Mountains as a backdrop.

Best of all there is free public WiFi available in the park and it's fast too. I can sit on the bench in front of La Grange for as long as hypothermia doesn't set in, I can keep the keyboard snow free and my ageing laptop battery can cope. I am connected with the World and if I can locate a portable generator and coffee machine I might never leave.

How's this for a Geneva office?

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Alpine Adventures Await

Posted: Tuesday, 21 December 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

A once in a lifetime opportunity has arisen to spend some time in Geneva, Switzerland.
I intend to use my time to visit the Haute Savoie Alps and Jura Mountains, both around 1 hour from the centre of Geneva and I will be reporting on the results.

Over the last month I have been compiling a short-list of suitable places and mailing the many tourist offices to find out whether they are skibike friendly, or not, as is the case for roughly 50%. Luckily I am not the first skibiker in France, nor the first to attempt to get through all the red tape, there is a French Skibike Club who have done a great deal to open up the more progressive areas to skibikers.

To my great surprise there is now a French Skibike manufacturer based nearby in the Massif des Aravis

My thanks go to Olivier Wagner and the Association Francaise de Skibob  for his many interventions and great patience with "Un Rosbif" and here's looking forward to some great skibiking thrills to come.

Alpine SkiBikes DIY Mountain Bike Conversions In Austria

Posted: Sunday, 12 December 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

An interesting video where it would appear a group took their mountain bikes converted with the Alpine SkiBikes adapters into skibikes from the UK on holiday to the home of European skibobing - Austria, not only that, they rode US "Pegger" style too

Build a SkiBike - Skiboards Upgrade

Posted: Saturday, 4 December 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

At the end of last season the main upgrade I wanted to make to my skibike was to replace the old skis which were straight "Fischer Sunrise" skis from the 1980s cut down to half their original length.

They had worked well in a variety of conditions and were good for drifting, but the blunt cutoff ends won't run backwards, so no "donuts" for me.

They were secured by 4 screws salvaged from the original ski bindings and extra reinforcement underneath with double sided adhesive tape. Once I had removed self tapping screws from the skis, I mounted the adapters in my workmate and pulled hard to release the double sided tape. This took a lot more effort than I was expecting and I was also surprised how much you can flex a ski without it snapping.

The double sided tape left a sticky residue on the underside of the adapters which I cleaned off  with Pro Power Label Remover available in the UK from CPC/Farnell if you can't get this, White Spirit, Methylated Spirits or Cellulose Thinners would also be highly likely to do the trick.

The Line skiboards came pre-drilled with M6 threaded inserts for bindings and would be perfect, but for the fact that they are a different spacing to the adapters, bummer.

I put masking tape on the top of the skiboard and marked out the ski balancing point indicated by an arrow on the boards. This was to be the centre-line of the adapters. I put them in place, centered over this line and marked out where to drill pilot holes. I drilled them using a pillar drill in order to have a straight hole, you have to be very careful not to go too far or you'll drill straight through the ski base.

I mounted the new skiboards with self-tapping screws. They are now in a really awkward position to tighten, requiring a a combination of a cordless screwdriver bit, adapter and adjustable wrench. I would like to fit threaded inserts to the skiboards next and remount with stainless steel countersunk set screws.

By a stroke of good fortune for me London had been hit by freak blizzard conditions earlier in the week, so it was time to head to the end of my road and up onto Riddlesdown, Kenley for some quick off-piste testing.

Another item to consider is a preventer chain for the rear ski. Although the adapters are self-levelling; for deep snow, big bumps or when airborne and a physical link from the ski tip to the frame is a worthwhile addition. If you look closely you will find that most skibikes will have one incorporated into their design.....more to follow. MK.

DIY Ski servicing

Posted: Friday, 5 November 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Now is a great time of year to be checking over your gear in readiness for the start of the ski season.

You may prefer to have a ski shop do your servicing, but I find that basic servicing and repairs are not difficult and are on par with a lot of the DIY jobs any householder would have to face. There are some very useful guides like this one and excellent videos on YouTube that demonstrate the skills and techniques required.

For my own footskis and skibike skiboards, I carry out the following sequence of tasks:

  1. Degrease bases using proprietary cleaner or isopropyl alcohol (pure methylated spirits)
  2. Fill damaged bases with P-Tex candle.
  3. Level off with a sharp wide blade, then use an electric palm sander to finish off.
  4. Final sanding by hand with a block and production paper
  5. Sharpen and set edges with a Swiss file and jig tool to the following specifications; Base Angle 0.5-1.0 degree, Edge Angle 1-2 degrees.
  6. Hot wax bases using an old skool secret formula!
  7. Clean up the top surfaces.
  8. Check footski bindings for positive action and release.
This has worked well enough not to be noticeably difference from a professional service and gripped well on ice and there were no issues with glide.
I have gathered together all the necessary tools into a single "service kit" which also covers regular bicycle repairs, such as; spoke replacement, bottom bracket, or cassette replacement.

DIY Skibike - New Skiboards From eBay

Posted: Monday, 9 August 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

UPDATES: This is such an old post, yet it keeps getting hits, so if you are after cut price skiboards read on...

01/08/2014 - Ex demo, NISM skibike skiboards for sale, stocks are limited though so don't delay.
04/10/2014 - Oktoberfest price drop - now down 10% on previous prices - click to buy skiboards here
01/11/2014 - November Knockout - now down 20% on original prices - click to buy skiboards here
August is an unusual month to be buying Winter Sports items for your Skibike, but assuming you can find what you want, there isn't much competition to bid up the price!
After my 3 weeks of fun skibiking in Scotland and Andorra I was beginning to appreciate that, although cut down old skis work surprisingly well on a skibike, they do have 2 disadvantages:
  1. The stubby tail will not run backwards
  2. The lack of proper side cut will skid well but not carve
With this in mind I started my research by making a post on the SkiBike-Forum where I received  recommendations for SnowJam and Revel 8, ski boards. Annoyingly the sole Revel 8 importer in the UK had gone out of business and I wasn't interested in importing from the USA.
I had also been advised to look out for Quechua SRX400's or Quechua MRZ100's skiboards; Quechua is one of the in house brand for bargain sports shop Decathlon. Sadly no stock was indicated on their website and eBay searches drew a blank.

However I did eventually find a pair of Salomon SnowBlades for under £50 in good condition and very soon after a pair of Line X-Fly, new but ex-display, for around the same price.

I am inclined to use the Line skiboards first, as they have wood cores and not the foam construction of Salomon and  may resell them in the winter or keep them to build a spare/loaner skibike.

UPDATES: This is such an old post yet it keeps getting hits, so if you are after skiboards read on...

 01/08/2014 - Ex demo, NISM skibike skiboards for sale, stocks are limited though so don't delay.
 04/10/2014 - Oktoberfest price drop - now down 10% on previous prices - buy NISM skiboards here

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Combien Sa Coute?

Posted: Wednesday, 14 April 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Time to count the costs, once again I travelled alone by car, which is never going to be a cheap option. With advance planning you could possibly fly cheaply to the South of France or Northern Spain and hire a car locally.

Ferry Crossings: £65
Fuel: £223
Tolls: £31
Lift Passes, Tolls, Food and Sundries: £264
Hotels: £272

Total of Above: £855

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Time To Go Home

Posted: Tuesday, 13 April 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I left at 9 in the morning, which gave me up to 15 hours to make the boat at Calais. The weather was bright and clear once again, so I was expecting a clean run.

Pas de la Casa one of the highest mountain passes in Europe
The French customs officials were quite taken aback by the absence of duty free booze and fags (cigarettes for our American cousins) in the car, but nodded knowingly when I explained it was because I am a veloskier.

Then it was time to settle into the routine of burning up the miles of endless French roads, hitting the traffic of Paris around 6pm and making it to the coast around 10pm. I was able to get an earlier sailing, found a comfy chair and passed the short voyage in slumber. Once off the boat I was home in an hour.

Settling into my own bed and listening to the South London soundtrack of police sirens, it was hard to imagine that I had started the day in the peace and tranquillity of Andorra. I think I am going to miss it a lot.....I'll have to go back again.

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Fresh Snow & Whiteout

Posted: Monday, 12 April 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

After days of fine weather the BBC weather site predicted that it would snow overnight, which seemed impossible as I had sat outside the hotel around 7pm the previous evening.
However it did snow, over breakfast I asked the hotel proprietor if there would be a problem getting to Arcalis. No problem, he replied, brother in law had salted the road! He also said that there would be 2" of snow, he was correct on both counts.

I arrived around 10 and spent a few hours revisiting the familiar runs but now totally transformed by the changed conditions.

Unfortunately visibility worsened in the early afternoon to the point were it was hard work seeing the piste markers. As ever one can but hope it improves your technique.

I noticed that there was quite a lot of play in the front ski, I returned to the car park to investigate further. A quick adjustment of the "bearing cups" sorted it; this was the first attention the skibike had needed in over 2 weeks on the snow. Hats off to Marin and Alpine Skibikes.

Late in the afternoon matters improved markedly enabling me to get in some slightly more enjoyable runs on fresh deep snow.

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Arcalis

Posted: Sunday, 11 April 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I got somewhat heading to Arcalis and ended up in a loop going around Escaldes looking for the correct turning. A piste map is not the best tool for navigating by road, I realised that the turning for the valley leading to Arcalis is accessed from La Massana, but signposted for Ordino. As a result I met up with Joan later than planned, a little after 9:30.

Joan Bages - source - Facebook
We immediately headed up to Les Portelles using La Bassera chairlift but were immediately stopped by piste patrol who insisted that a leash was worn between ourselves and our skibikes. This was the first time I have had to use such an arrangement and although it might in theory save someone from a runaway skibike, the skibiker would be much more likely to injure themselves in a minor spill.
I had a length of lightweight and springy rope in my rucksack and improvised a suitable fixing.

We tried El Tunel/La Coma runs and took the opportunity to make some videos and get photographs. The nearby La Basera green run was much too flat, I was able to scoot part of the way, but poor Joan on his weightier contraption looked quite worn out after much pedalling.

Joan had to leave early to return to Barcelona so we took a quick break, discussed some ideas on how to develop a K-Trax skibike to be more downhill friendly, then parted company.

I headed back up to Les Portelles and one of the lift operators wanted to see my skibike, he seemed to be surprised at how light it was, I asked if he wanted to try it. Behind his station there was a short slope, he strode to the top, jumped on and slid back down. "How do I make it turn?" he asked, with body language I demonstrated the "English Ski Turn" which is to throw your bum out in the opposite direction to the way you want to turn. Once again he pushed the bike up the slope, jumped on, got up some speed and pulled a near perfect 180 degree turn. He climbed off wearing a huge grin....he'd got it.

Moving on, I tried the fantastic La Portella del Mig run, one of the most exciting, challenging and varied runs ever and later the La Balma run.

Back down at Arcalis, I then tried the L'Abalsetar chairlift for an exploration of La Font/El Bosc/L'Hortell and L'Estadi runs. I called it a day around 4:30 by which time the snow was heavy slush just about everywhere.

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - The Man From K-Trax

Posted: Saturday, 10 April 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Something very unexpected happened, whilst queuing for my fast run, a guy came running over to me with great excitement. I braced myself for a barrage of questions but it turned out he too was a fellow skibiker. Joan had converted a GT hard tail mountain bike with the K-Trax system. If you haven't come across these before follow the link; the rear wheel is replaced with a tank track and the front by a short ski. This enables you to pedal on the flat or even uphill, if you have the energy. It was only his second day skibiking and his first time using a chairlift. He seemed to get the hang of it far too quickly he set off on the blue run to practice his technique.

Having become more confident, I suggested that we move higher up the mountain and later across to the Pal sectors too. By late afternoon Joan was tiring, so we split apart with an agreement to meet later. I went over every combination of run at Pal before crossing back to Arinsal.

Near the end the day I threw all caution to the wind and had my first go on the Tub del Col black run. The combination of steep, narrow and heavy wet snow got the better of me, or as a friend later commented... "YARD SALE"...(there were bits of me scattered all over the hill).

The first priority was to locate my foot skis, luckily they weren't buried or at the bottom of the hill.
Then you have to get the compacted snow of the bottom of your ski boots so that you can then try to get them clipped back in, do one foot at a time, downhill footski first.
You can then side step up or side slip down to your skibike before remounting and heading off.

I had to do this twice on the one run. I had found my limit, it was time to call it a day.

Joan had dutifully waited for my return and I convinced him that tomorrow we should investigate what possibilities Arcalis would have to offer.

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Arinsal and Pal

Posted: Friday, 9 April 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I did a couple of quick warm up runs on the Port Vell to get my legs and brain started, then took the big Arinsal-Pal cable car across to the Coll de la Botella, to play on the Posellettes and Font Roja runs.

I also sampled running off piste under the chairlift and through the trees.

Font Roja is now becoming another favourite run, with some very exiting gradients and plenty of room to manoeuvre, it is surprisingly empty for such a good run. Sadly my camera ran out of juice and there is no footage of it.

I went back up to the top of the Pic del Cubil and then along the Cami Superior till it met the Coms run. It had a monster mogul field but was very slushy by this point and with just a couple of hours left to play made my way back to the Arinsal sectors. I completed a perfect day on my favourite La Pala/Tub de Col combo which had a short gully section to explore.

I ventured off-piste around the environs of the La Capa run and wouldn't stop till all the lifts were closed and the slow was totally slushy at the bottom.

I realised that unlike skiing, skibiking works well on slush and you can carves your way through the heavy stuff like a jet ski on water. You need to use your footskis as little as possible as they can get caught by the heavier mounds, throwing you off balance or worse. You need to keep up your speed, follow the fall line much closer and avoid making unnecessary turns.

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Arinsal Sector

Posted: Thursday, 8 April 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I sorted my lift pass and insurance in the morning then took the gondola from El Oriols up to Camallempla and straight on to the Les Fonts chairlift for some good warm up sessions on the blue runs of Port Vell. Why is it that you get to do your first and most wobbly runs of the trip on freshly waxed, slippery skis and when the snow is at its most icy and hardest? The weather was still a little blustery and snow blown especially higher up the mountain but became sunnier throughout the day.

I moved up to the Port Negre chair and alternated between the Tub Estadi, Tub del Col and La Pala runs. I began riding much more confidently. It was getting decidedly softer lower down the hill but still pleasantly firm at the top.

I finished the last run of the day with a gentle descent down Bony Vagues and Les Fonts. It was horrendously slushy most of the way! I grabbed a couple of well earned apres ski pints and had an interesting chat with the proprietor of the Derby Irish bar.

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Arrival in Arinsal

Posted: Wednesday, 7 April 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I began the day with a simple French breakfast, croissants with strawberry jam and coffee, outstanding! Fortified by this and a fine nights sleep I hit the road South, around Tolouse the weather began to close in, the light drizzle strengthened into a downpour. Odd new smells filled my senses, which can only be described as cats' pee, surely this can't be the smell of the Pyrenees? Perhaps my walking boots have finally achieved critical mass.
The road narrowed from dual to single carriageway, cutting deeper through a gorge, where ominous black walls of rock dripped with moisture. The signs indicated that Andorra was only 25km away, but there was no sign of snow here. Had the websites lied? Should I have brought the skibikes wheels with me? Was this going to end up as a hiking trip?
A road sign announced that this was the last spot to fit snow chains, then the switchbacks and hairpin bends began. The engine laboured and the cloud level descended to meet the road, visibility fell to 20m.
I caught a glimpse of snow alongside the road, we climbed on and upward, the pace now set by lumbering camper vans. Abruptly the climb finished, there was a customs/passport check (Andorra is not in the EU) and further on in the gloom you could see the first chairlifts at Pas de la Casa, next the vapours cleared to reveal a surreal vista of snowfields and mountains amid the clouds.
After crossing the highest road in the Pyrenees it descended slowly into the Andorran river valley floor, it connected the many small towns that I recognised from my internet research. Leaving Andorra's only main road at Escaldes the road climbed upwards once again, passing through La Massana and ending at Arinsal. The hotel L'Ayma was right next to the gondola just as described, on check in I realised that French was going to be our common language, which is just as well, because my Spanish is shameful.
I sorted my kit out then went out for local orientation, first stop next door to the Pub and its welcoming staff, a quick beer to slake my thirst and found out the location of wifi hotspots, supermarket and cash points. I headed down the hill, eventually finding myself back in La Massana and picking up piste maps from the tourist office.

Andorra - source -

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - On The Road Again

Posted: Tuesday, 6 April 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Over the Easter break I was supposed to be helping sail a boat up the Baltic from Travemunde in Germany to Aarhus in Denmark, but as the Baltic was still partly iced over and the Captain had been unwell, plans had to be delayed till June. This left me with another handy gap in my diary and ever since my trips to Scotland I had been aching to explore some larger ski domains.
I considered at the French Alps, but the price for an independent traveller was too much, so I turned my searches west to the Pyrenees and the principality of Andorra. Eventually I settled on Vallnord which, unlike Grandvalira, (boo hiss) allows skibikes. Once again LateRooms provided details of some budget accommodation right next to the telecabine station in Arinsal.

I left home at 06:00 to check in at 07:30 for a 08:30 sailing from Dover to Calais. I was lucky that I had booked to go via P&O as SeaFrance were on strike on that day.
I had a perfect crossing in bright sun and sea as smooth as a mill pond. On the French side I fitted beam converters to the car's headlamps and began the long drive South.

My route took me via Paris, why does the Perepherique run so close to the centre of Paris? I had horrid bottle necks to contend with and the worst examples of French driving imaginable.

Something odd was going on with my sense of smell, the whole of France seemed super smelly, but in a nice way; the Pas de Calais smelled of Crisps and Paris of French Fries, perhaps my body was telling me to eat more.
I intended to drive till sunset and get as far south as possible, yet still get a room for the night. Just after Limoges, I spotted a building high up on a hill side with the word Hotel on the side in faded letters. A quick double back at the next interchange found me outside the empty looking Hotel de la Malyerie in Sadroc, luckily it was open and the proprietors were having dinner. I was shown to my clean, simple and quiet room. After freshening up I sat down to a delicious Omlette with Cepes (wood mushrooms), french fries and salad, all washed down with a glass of Primus blond beer.
Tired but not yet fully sleepy I took an evening stroll around the lovely rustic town, sympathetically restored; the air was filled with the pungent smell of wood smoke and damp fertile earth. I returned to the hotel by torchlight along a country lane and slept well that night.

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Many A Mickle Makes A Muckle

Posted: Saturday, 13 March 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

For this trip I had downsized from a Citroen Berlingo to a Ford Fiesta, being much more aerodynamic and lighter it will achieve 45 mpg on a run, even at the motorway speed limit. This shaved around £100 off the fuel bill, but you have to pack things a lot more carefully and take the skis off the skibike each day. I also saved a night's hotel expenses by driving back at the end of the afternoon and taking a couple of power naps when drowsiness became an issue.

Fuel - £134
Accommodation - £190
Lift Passes - £132
Food and Sundries £80

Total of Above - £536

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Glenshee Day 2

Posted: Friday, 12 March 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

The weather closed in a little and was windy and changeable with occasional bright spells. I chose South facing runs to warm up on, then headed across the road to the Cairnwell Chairlift. It was the first single seat chairlift that I had encountered and is also unusual because it is powered by diesel and not electricity. I was a little concerned that the bike's skis would foul the suspension pylons on the ascent and checked with the lift operator who seemed unworried. I took a selection of different runs down the face, most were very icy with a smattering of bare rocks, so were not much fun for going flat out, but good from a technical perspective. The red run leading up to the Bunny Run had an uphill section, so it was better to go off piste and make some long traverses riding on the foot pegs to reduce drag on flatter sections. I wanted to try the black run called the Tiger, but in such icy conditions decide not to risk it.

In the afternoon I returned to Glas Mol to play around. Having had a great day, with lots of variety, I packed the car and drove straight home, arriving back at 5 in the morning.

Panorama from near the top of the Glas Maol poma, Glenshee - source - Steve Terry

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Glenshee Day 1

Posted: Thursday, 11 March 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I left after a leisurely breakfast and arrived in time for an afternoon session. The weather was overcast with sunny intervals and the occasional very light shower. On my previous visit due to the inclement weather had been restricted to the Sunnyside run. Eager to explore the other valleys accessible, I crossed Meall Odhar and Coire Fionn. I had some initial problems with the Glas Maol Poma which took off with an almighty snatch, lifting me off my feet. Thanks to a friendly operator was able to make some experimental runs on footskis alone, before trying it again with the skibike at my side; this ironed things out and I could make a successful take off.
There is a long red run that follows the ridge before heading back down, but beware it has a lengthy uphill section, so ride like the wind or be prepared for some pushing. I preferred the black/red run that stayed close to the Poma. I was so chuffed to have survived the black section that I tried it again to make sure it wasn't a fluke the first time! It felt the steepest run I have so far attempted and was quite intimidating due to the many bumps in such flat light.

For some variety I moved on to the Coire Fion Poma red run where the snow was lush and soft. I played at seeing just how far you could lean the skibike into a turn, the answer, more than you can imagine in good conditions. I chatted briefly with an American visitor who turned out to be a friend of Don Koski.
The blue run off the Fion Poma had so much snow cover that you could go wherever you wanted on the mountain, there were almost no other skiers about, the feeling of emptiness and peace was bliss inducing.
I spotted a pair of skiers utilising a gully as a half pipe and followed their trail, I had no idea they could be so much fun, I repeated this run a few times, on each occasion swinging up higher and higher. Inevitably I reached the point of no return and landed in a crumpled heap at the bottom, laughing like a loon. A passing skier stopped above me and waived his finger at me as if to chastise a naughty child.

At the end of the day I retraced my route back to the car park encountering a hilarious piste with moguls the size of washing machines and had great fun tracing a route through this minefield of bumps. I returned to the car and enjoyed an entertaining drive back through twisty and bumpy B roads south to Pitlochry and the quirky Cara Beag Guest House. Went for a stroll around town, downed a couple of pints of Scottish Ale and saw David Icke in the pub having a meal. On returning to Cara Beag a fire had been lit in the lounge, glasses and a decanter of sherry had been placed on the table, what a civilised end to the day.

Looking E across Coire Fionn - source - Steve Terry

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Aviemore Day 3

Posted: Wednesday, 10 March 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

The day started Sunny at first changing into patchy cloud with a light wind. I alternated between the M2 and White Lady routes, just enjoying the moment and feeling at home.

At home on Cairngorm Mountain
As I approached the West Wall Poma for yet another uplift I was told by the lift operator to report to Ski Patrol immediately.
I would have felt the same sense of unease and apprehension if they had told me to report to Father Greystone my old headmaster. I dutifully presented myself at the hut and whilst waiting chatted with a group of Mancunian scallies who had spotted me the previous day "You looked like a complete psycho going down that run" was their opinion. Bummer, was I about to be thrown off the mountain for being a hooligan? As it turned out my Poma difficulties had been noted and they were worried I might have hurt myself, I'm not sure what they needed to check, but it was all very gentlemanly and friendly, if a little odd.

In the afternoon I made a demo run down the M2 with a couple of lads who were keen to see how a skibike worked in practice, they commented that they were "impressed by the way it handled changing from powder to hard pack/ice.." and asked a question that I had not been asked before "how much effort is required?".
Then they shot off over an icy mogul field taking the opportunity to put in a few jumps, very flash lads, that put me in my place.

M2 Piste, Cairngorm Mountain

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Aviemore Day 2

Posted: Tuesday, 9 March 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

The day brought more alpine conditions, sunny and clear. The higher runs still held a dusting of powder on hard packed snow higher up with spring snow, turning softer in the afternoon, lower down.
I returned and made repeated runs on the M2, playing a game with myself to see how far you can get the back end out and still keep moving, stretching "the envelope" and occasionally overcooking it, but managing to recover well.

Feeling  confident (possibly overconfident) I rose to the challenge of some expert skiers to demo a run down the M1.
Later I tried "The White Lady", one of the most intimidating runs so far, quite steep and bumpy, very satisfying to survive the experience unscathed. Near closing time I followed the "West Wall Coire" off piste route, which was hard work but felt very rewarding to bag some "expert" terrain.

By the end of the day I had built up a lot of speed and confidence. However the greatest and most unexpected challenges can still be from the mountain infrastructure viz. Pomas.

Aviemore - Expert terrain

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Aviemore Day 1

Posted: Monday, 8 March 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I left Glenfarg around 8 and headed northwards for just over an hour, the east coast fog and gloom cleared and the weather became much sunnier. I stopped briefly in a lay-by near Crubenmore Lodge for a muesli bar breakfast and some water whilst rechecking the map to confirm my location, great I was only 20 minutes away.
 On arrival at Aviemore I quickly got my pass and made my way to the Fiaciall Poma.
I chose the Fiaciall Ridge run first to warm up and refresh my technique; for a scary moment I thought I had forgotten everything as I jiggled and scraped my way down the slope with little finesse, as it was very icy with marble sized bobbles of crud everywhere. A women came racing down the same run, skis chattering and bouncing, "oh that's horrid" she said with a big grin "conditions are much better higher up".
Following her advice I followed the "Cross Over" run to the M1 Poma and she was right, the sun had warmed the upper slopes which were covered in a dusting of powder on a hard base. I followed the "Traverse" on to the "105" then tried the "M1 Race Piste".
On the other side of the Ptarmigan restaurant I discovered the fantastic "M2 piste", a very flattering run, wide enough not to feel cramped, even gradients, lots of powder, some steeper bits to get the adrenaline flowing.
Later I had a tumble on the Poma and ended up with a sore bum and bruised ego.
At the end of a glorious day in truly alpine like conditions, I retired to my new home from home International Starters

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Scotland Again

Posted: Sunday, 7 March 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Against all odds the unexpected cold snap continued through February and into March. Going through my work diary I spotted an empty week from 7th to 13th March. Having proved that jaunts up to Scotland were feasible providing I could keep awake for the 12 hour journey, I made hotel bookings through Late Rooms, packed the car, waxed the skis and set off around 11am to avoid London's rush hour traffic.
It was an uneventful run up spoiled by a lengthy batch of roadworks on the M6 and the A74 with enforced 50 mph speed limits; needless to say, I didn't see a single person working on any of the 100 miles or so of restrictions. Bad traffic tailbacks around Stirling wasted a further hour of my time. Luckily I go to my hotel in Glenfarg near Perth just before closing at 11pm.

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Counting The Pennies

Posted: Wednesday, 13 January 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

A quick totting up of the costs involved in the trip.
My starting point was London and the overall distance travelled was just over 1000 miles. My vehicle was a Citroen Berlingo mini MPV with a petrol engine, fuel consumption was averaged around 35 mpg. Winter tyres and snow chains were not necessary but should be considered essential. If a couple or small group travelled together it would help to lower the overall costs. I was eating relatively meagrely by normal standards, mostly fruit, nuts, snacks and sandwiches, and had the odd pint or two in the evening.

Fuel - £230
Accommodation - £259
Lift Passes - £125
Food and Sundries £75

Total of Above - £689

In conclusion, those who live further north in the UK, say anywhere above Birmingham, should consider it a credible alternative to continental trips. Chose to go when the conditions are right, have your own kit and transport and expect to be flexible with your plans. You could perhaps consider a series of long weekends instead of the traditional one or two week package trip. Thanks to the internet you can keep an eye on weather forecasts and book accommodation at the last minute.

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Glenshee

Posted: Tuesday, 12 January 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

On my last day in Aviemore I was still to be denied access to its slopes as overnight winds and snow had filled the access road in once again; it badly needs a gondola or even a chairlift to run from the snow gates to the base station.
My plan B was to drive South to Glenshee, effectively shaving an hour off my return journey, I set off around 10am enjoyed an awe inspiring journey down the A9 to Pitlochry and arrived at Glenshee just before noon.

There were very high winds and near blizzard conditions, but there were a few gentler runs open for the daring. As I sat on the chairlift I could only see one or two chairs in front, anything more distant seemed to be erased by the blast of powdery snow. Is this what a polar version of Jacob's Ladder would look like? Or was it the 9th circle of hell from Dante's imagination.
Once again I worked on feeling the terrain through my feet and just bumbled around, not really able to build up speed. Once again the mittens came out of the backpack and also goggles too so as not to be blinded by the wind and snow. I snacked on a couple of muesli bars to try and keep my energy up, I managed a few hours before deciding to call it quits and return to the car park.

I opened the tailgate and sat on the back bumper, the wind swirling around me and filling the car with a rime of frost. I took off my boots, socks and mittens to change for dry items out of my bag. Doing this was taking forever, my hands no longer wanted to cooperate, I was feeling drowsy and light headed, I could just curl up and go to sleep where I was..........Frickin Heck hypothermia was setting in.
I forced myself to get into my dry things as fast as I could, chucked the bike in the back and strode as fast as I could to the cafeteria to get some hot chocolate inside me. At the till I could get my hand in my pockets but couldn't grasp the coinage to pay. 15 minutes later normal sensations had returned and I was able to begin the long drive home, I considered stopping nearby, but in the end got as far as Lockerbie before calling it quits.

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - The Lecht

Posted: Monday, 11 January 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Giant icicles at Tomintoul
In Aviemore town the day started promisingly, it was bright and clear and almost mild, but Cairngorm range is 8 miles away and the base station is half way up the hill. I drove along the access road, stopping near Coylumbridge to give a lift to a boarder waiting for the bus. He had spent a week with his buddies on the slopes and partying hard. Around the vicinity of Loch Morlich traffic ground to a halt, news filtered back that the access road had been filled in with wind blown snow overnight. The snowplough was attempting to clear a passage through the access road. 30 minutes passed, then news arrived that even if the road opened, the funicular railway was likely to be snowed under for the day.

Luckily, I had plan B up my sleeve and returned to International Starters.

The Lecht was open and around an hours drive away, I set off immediately and drove North along A95 passing the enigmatically named Boat of Garten and turning on to the A939 near Speybridge.

Around Tomintoul I paused as diggers filled an immense container with snow from the High Street. Another  longer wait was necessary by Blairnamarrow where the snow gates remained closed whilst the snow plough cleared a path.

Although visibility had been good on the road, the slight elevation at the Lecht was enough to seriously reduce visibility. The wind blew steadily at around 30mph. I decided that having come this far I would go for it regardless and use the opportunity to hone my Extra Sensory Perception skills. There were only a handful of  runs available so I took it very calmly and for the most part had to feel the change of incline through my feet! I worked at fall line skibiking with lots of short radius turns, in the brief spells of better visibility I explored what where the limits of drifting.

As the light faded around 4pm I repacked the car and headed back to Aviemore. The day had been somewhat disappointing, but I had bagged another of Scotlands ski centres and the only one open that day.

Waiting for the snow plough at Blairnamarrow

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Nevis Range Day 3

Posted: Sunday, 10 January 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

The weather started to close in and was dominated by hill fog and winds. Once again I warmed up on the familiar "Far West" run. For the first time I had to swap gloves for leather sheepskin mittens to keep my hands warm and wear a fleece beanie for my baldy head.
Mittens, essential when the wind gets up
Having established this new level of sartorial splendor I was ready to concentrate on the day's activities. My experience with the T-Bar drag lift had shaken my confidence and left me with sore arms. As an alternative to going back for more I decided to investigate how I could ascend using the Poma tow.
As a whole decade had passed since my last experience of a Poma drag and with some apprehension I chose the Lochy Button nursery slope to start with. I left the skibike next to the lift attendants cabin and went up on foot skis alone, which was actually quite fun in itself, don't lean back too far!
Having got used to the take off on the Poma, I practised holding the pole with one hand a leaving the other free to hold the handlebars of an imaginary skibike at my side, no matter what I had to remain stable with just the one hand.
Once this became comfortable I advanced with the skibike alongside me, grabbed the pole, popped it between my legs and we were off, the skibike following at my heals like a faithful and well trained dog. You do have to be careful on the initial launch that the rear of the bike doesn't swing out and knock over the lift attendant though.

Having settled in I moved up the slope to the Alpha button which gave access to the "Yockies", "Alpha" and "Macpherson's" runs, some of which gave me the opportunity to practice on moguls and bumps.
At the end of the day I returned to my car with happy thoughts of the time I had spent on Nevis Range, the friendly and helpful staff, the no-nonsense unpretentious attitude of other skiers and for the bountiful snow and relatively clement weather.
Once changed I drove on to Aviemore for the next leg of my journey. I had booked a room at International Starers through Late Rooms it is a quirky restaurant that offers simple clean and basic rooms upstairs on a b&b basis. If the makers of "Friends" wanted to make a sitcom based in a Youth Hostel, this is what it would be like, i.e. nothing like a Youth Hostel! Quite trendy by my standards, but no frills. I really liked it and was to stay again in the future.

I wanted to see how 3 days use had affected the bike and to my surprise the manager let me use an empty dinning room, I spread an old blanket on the floor, turned the skibike upside down so it would rest on its handlebars and seat, then went over it with a fine tooth comb. The skis were still perfect, the rear shock absorber was holding pressure, everything was still tight except the mount for the rear ski which took an extra half turn. I was able to leave my kit locked in place overnight for the morning.

Not feeling particularly hungry, I had a pint in the bar, then went for a stroll to check out Aviemore. It has proper alpine resort feel to it, but with the convenience of a late opening supermarket along with a selection of typical high street stores. It is slightly pricier than other places in Scotland, but still good value.

Aviemore, so quaint - source

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Nevis Range Day 2

Posted: Saturday, 9 January 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

The day was cloudy, overcast and as a result quite cold. I warmed up on the "The Fairway" and "Far West" runs and having got past the survival skibiking stage wanted to improve speed control and steering accuracy. The top section of "Far West" was quite narrow and I particularly wanted to be able to keep within its confines. I played around with un-weighting the bike to initiate turns.

By now bored with the same areas I moved across to the Goose T-bar drag lift, having read about the "Indian Rope Trick" at Skibikers on the piste I tried their technique with limited success. The front of the bike rose up in a wheelie which must have looked cool, but left my arms shaking from the effort of holding on and was sluggish to release when needed.

Sunset at Nevis Range looking North

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Nevis Range Day 1

Posted: Friday, 8 January 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

The day dawned bright and clear and although I was still tired from the previous day's drive I was filled with nervous anticipation of what the day would bring.
After a hearty condemned man's last breakfast and a refuel stop which would include the jerry can this time, I made the short 10 minute drive to Nevis Range base. I unpacked the bike, to some curious looks, kitted up and reconfirmed with piste patrol that it was OK to ascend.
Having bought my lift pass I eagerly piled into the gondola for the ride up to the Snowgoose restaurant base station. Once there I strode off in the direction of the Quad Chair, clipped on my footskis an advanced to the chairlift. "Shall I slow it down for you mate?" asked the operator, "please" I replied, somewhat surprised that here people seemed to take customer care seriously.
Before I knew it I was hoping off at the top, with the bike in my arms trying to make it look as if I had done this all my life and not just for 2 afternoons in Innsbruck.
I planted myself on the saddle and headed downhill. The day passed quickly, with a limited choice of runs accessible by chairlift I stayed mostly on "Far West" and "The Fairway" runs, going repeatedly over the same terrain focusing on technique. I had a the odd tumble and a few icky moments with the chairlift but was pleasantly surprised to survive some icy and rocky patches where skiers and boarders fell.

"I'm so excited, that I just can't hide it, I'm about to loose control and I think that I like it!"

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - The Drive North

Posted: Thursday, 7 January 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I set off before noon in bright sunshine and enjoyed a stress free drive round the M25, up the M40, onto the M6 across Birmingham. The roads were empty, some sections were reduced to two clear lanes with the outside lane a few inches deep in snow, certainly nothing like the story the media had been painting. I drove calmly and worked my way most of the way through a vintage cassette collection, stopping to re-fuel around Preston in Lancashire.

After a large strong cup of coffee I rejoined the M6 for the drive through the fringes of the Lake District, it was nightfall, I was in the far north of England and it was noticeably colder. The screen washer bottle froze up at this point in spite of a 30% antifreeze to water mixture. I had to stop every 50 miles or so and get out the car to squirt solution onto the screen from a bottle kept next to the hot air vent.

Just North of Glasgow, with half a tank of fuel remaining  and 80 miles left to go, I let slip the opportunity to refuel expecting that there must be an all night station somewhere before Fort William. Of course I had packed a huge ex army jerry can, but it was empty, what a townie!
Heading around Loch Lomond I passed a magical land scape of frozen waterfalls and was awed by the 9 foot high markers either side of the road to help assist the snow ploughs to find the road in a blizzard.

I arrived some time after midnight, with the car now running on vapours, found my hotel, checked in much to the surprise of the receptionist and tried to go to sleep, which was difficult, as I was still wired from the epic 500 mile journey.
I received a text message from my cousin Paul, it was -20 degrees Celsius and officially the coldest place in the country, what had I let myself in for!

Loch Lomond, Scotland - source Scottish Nomad

SkiBike Tour 2009-10 - Whiteout

Posted: Wednesday, 6 January 2010 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Having assembled my skibike and footskis over the Christmas to New Year break, early January brought even colder weather when an unusually strong northerly wind brought arctic conditions to all of the UK the timing couldn't have been better for me.

UK under snow photo courtesy of NASA
The mainstream media was totally useless for real information about travel conditions, nothing but banal human interest stories about people stranded in remote locations since the New Year and advice to keep off the roads. I phoned my friend Mat Archer in Manchester, about 200 miles further North for the truth, "Local roads iced up but the motorways are fine" he said, "oh and it's alpine Manchester!".

I decided book a hotel in Fort William through LateRooms there and then and take the chance to drive up the following day with a view to visiting Nevis Range first. I waxed my skis and began to pack the car with all the items I thought I might need for a week away in extreme weather, such as; an army jerry can, shovel, car tools, bike tools, spare fuses, light bulbs, anti-freeze, oil, maps, blankets, sleeping bag and emergency rations.