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.