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.