SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Beautiful Burnout

Posted: Wednesday, 19 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Despite the temptation to somehow fit in a few more hours of skiing and skibiking, the grown up in me has taken over and set me a list of domestic chores.

At least whilst working my way down the cleaning checklist (and hopefully winning another invite to enjoy this awesome Geneva bolt hole) I can reflect wistfully on the past month in which I took a leap of faith into a nebulous world of clouds, ice and snow.

I took a ride sideways through time and bridged the years that have both divide and unite myself and my cousin Paul to play "Catch me if you can" on a sun kissed mountainside.

I have tackled a vicious diamond black run armed with little more than a pair of tiny footskis, a middle aged man's faltering balance on blown knees; egged on and encouraged by work colleague/client, drinking buddy and chief victim of my off-piste pork and beans based chalet cuisine, Wilf.

On the same footskis I have broken the law and found myself in the places where skibikes are forbidden. I have slid on a never ending sheet of hard snow/ice for what seemed like all eternity and lived to tell the tale; all in the cause of the "Wilf Method" of skibiker cross-training that makes you ride your skibike as if possessed by demons.

I have played with an accomplished extreme pegging skibiker and we have stopped on the mountainside and laughed with all the joy of innocents and imbeciles; a skibiker brotherhood united in the pursuit of a dazzling alpine dream with handlebars and a grin that will split your lips in the rarefied atmosphere.

To the many nameless individuals who have expressed an interest in skibiking and accepted my card on the piste; especially those to whom I have marched roughshod over your noble French language in stinky ski boots, "Je M'excuse Mes Copains".

To the old chap hitch hiker who only wants to stay in his provincial village without a proper bus service "Bon Chance" and to the bloke in Mollesuiz with a busted Achile's Tendon who needed to get to the hospital in Annemasse "Bon Sante".

To the operatives of the Remontees Mechaniques who made sure I was safe and occasionally bent the rules a little to get me to the top of the hill. Merci Mille Fois und Ville Danke.

Lastly behind the scenes; I thank the person who sponsored, without limitation, my habitation in Geneva.

I have been sagely counselled by the "Port Out Starboard Home" big brainers, shown the way by the "Skibikers on the Piste", given the green light by the SAGB and the AFVS and most recently lifted high by the once underground skibike builders of the UK who are now emerging from their closets no longer to be shamed to live the same dream.

And for those about to rock, I salute you!

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Combloux

Posted: Tuesday, 18 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Something in the Geneva flat wakes me up at 3am every morning in a hot sweat. Apparently Wilf suffered from it during his visit; maybe the communal heating system is programmed to ramp things up, or it's the cheap booze, or even a poltergeist. The bottom line is that you spend and hour waiting to go back to sleep, then oversleep the alarm.

Suffice to say that I arrived in Combloux on the foothills of Mont Blanc just in time for a cheapo afternoon pass. Not to worry my objective was not to ski the place out but to get some nice vids and get some pictures of both analogue and digital flavours.

My first priority was to fulfil a promise to Wilf, I fitted myself with a pair of Salomon SnowBlades, last used by my cousin's wife over the New Year and sat forlorn on the back seat of the car ever since.

SnowBlades - how did they get there?
In theory they should be much the same as footskis, so I purchased my lift pass, clipped in and headed for the chairlift. I planned to follow the nice easy blue just the once to complete the obligation. The first run went swimmingly, the sensation was not that much different to footskis, just a little more stable and less prone to skidding out. I thought I would try a second go and ramp up the speed a little.
I passed the red run and stopped, it had appeared empty of skiers so far, but at that moment a pair went flying down. OK it wasn't killer ice then, so without further though I dropped over the edge.

To my great surprise I found a satisfying edge, the SnowBlades locked in and ran as if on rails. These things are much better than I expected and so light too, perhaps I should leave them with a pair of boots in the car at all times!

Tempted as I was to spend all afternoon on the SnowBlades, I returned to the car, assembled the skibike and headed for the chairlift.

I grabbed some photos for the website, both analogue and digital, mounted the headcam and made a few videos. Having ridden so fast the day before with Serge, I started to turn much less and get airborne more often. Although thin, the quality of snow at Combloux was very good and called out to me to try each run again...but just a bit faster this time.

The downside of riding so quickly is that you spend more time getting cold on the chairlifts and don't work so hard turning and get warmed up.
Still it was a lovely way to wind down after a month of fun and I wouldn't leave till the last lift had shut.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Riding With Firem VS

Posted: Monday, 17 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

The day didn't start that well, I had to return Wilf's skis to the hire shop in Cluses and just about every numpty in France had arranged to hold me up. Overnight e-mail had arrived from Serge Rachel of Firem, that he would take time to skibike with me at Grand Bornand. I left a voicemail on the number he had given me and focused on the menial chores of the day.

I arrived at Grand Bornand just after 12 and expected that Serge would be waiting for me impatiently at Reves d'Hiver, the skibike hire shop. As luck would have it, somehow the voicemail had got lost, but the e-mail had only just arrived. So he rang to let me know that he would be a bit late arriving around 1:30 pm. What a result!...time for a nice easy warm up then. That meant straight on to the charming L'Abondance run to get everything working in harmony.
I then utilised the Les Fougeres traverse to get me over to Reves d'Hiver and ready for my session. Serge was nowhere to be seen, so I left my skibike there and had one quick run down Le Bois Joli in footskis alone, (think cross training).

By the time I returned, Serge had arrived, so I abandoned my skibike and ski boots and footskis at Reves d'Hiver, who were also kind enough to loan me some snowboarder boots.

They are so comfortable, just like a super high tech version of the tartan booties your gran used to wear in cold weather.

With comfy and safe footwear installed, I was assigned the top of the range Firem VS Evolution skibike and we headed for the Le Chatelet chairlift. This allows access to the Le Lac traverse leading to the expert terrain available from the Le Maroly chairlift. Coming off a chairlift "peggers" have to start running with their bike to avoid being mown down by the chair and the next wave of snow users. It's not rocket science and you adapt pretty quickly.

The excellent and unique Firem system of braking removes all fear and apprehension for a novice; but as they are keen to point out, works equally well for expert skibikers too.

Apparently they tried 40 other iterations before settling on the current design, which leaves a characteristic vertical plume of snow in your wake when in use, yet doesn't seem to destroy the piste.
The ride is smooth as a Cadillac, with long travel front forks and a very slack head tube angle, it felt strong, stately and reassuring, yet still hauntingly familiar to my own humble ride when on the pegs.
The build quality is exceptional, similar to a high end downhill mountain bike, Firem produce custom engineering fabrications in stainless steel and this expertise is evident in the many elegantly machined components.

I had a nice easy first run, I trusted the brakes and only came off once, but emerged totally unscathed and laughing about it. Tip... don't put your feet down till you've stopped!

Next we were on to steeper and much icier terrain; in the world of the pegger when it goes wrong, things happen very quickly...shit this is all happening too time to think...bollocks, face plant x 2. As I put myself back together, Serge patiently explained that you don't try to turn on icy sections, don't carve, just follow the fall line and trust the brakes and the skibike....Of course this is all totally counter intuitive for Brenter trained riders...Once again no damage was done to me, nor the indestructible Firem skibike and the lesson was quickly learned.

Continuing on to the bottom of the hill, I was now able to accelerate to blistering speeds without further mishap.

Then the gauntlet was thrown down...I would abandon the supple Cadillac ride of the sturdy Firem VS and return to my skibike and go head to head to see which was fastest.
Two riders, both around the same age, both ex skiers with blown knees, both in pursuits of the same dazzling blue and white Alpine dream; from backgrounds as different as English Breakfast with strong cup of Tea and a Croissant with Coffee and a Gauloise.
Who could be fastest downhill? the English AC Cobra with its bizarre combination of American made adapters, thrifty home-made skibike engineering and sundry off the shelf components or the French Renault Alpine; all Gallic bespoke engineering incorporating state of the art high tech carbon fibre composites and titanium.
Would the pegger show up the bobber or vice versa?

For me this represented the pinnacle of around 6 weeks skibiking, 2 years of research, development and networking; but for Serge it was just another day at the office. I considered it to be an Alpine test with a heritage that could be traced back to eccentric Brits heading down the hill on their drinks trays or riding around on carved skis with cable bindings and bamboo poles whilst being pelted with rocks and snowballs by the locals.

The moment of truth had arrived, on almost empty pistes at 4 in the afternoon the trials began...

I innocently suggested the Les Tetras run for the first round; I knew from previous visits that this would be icy and fast, a roller coaster ride of bumps and twists. I calculated that Serge would have to back off on this run, he couldn't make turns for control and would have to ride the brakes the whole way. I threw myself down the first section like a loon, I may even have taken off at one point, it was all too quick, blimey perhaps I was going to win this. I looked around, where was Serge?...bugger, he was right alongside and came sailing past at an improbable speed and overtook me by the junction with Piste 2000.
I was just about able to keep a grip on the handle bars, but he was miles ahead and still accelerating.

Next he opted for the easy blue of Les Airelles, I have done this run many times now, but never like this. We toyed with each other on the traverse, then it was hell for leather to the bottom. I could see when he was applying his brakes by the plume of snow and tried to get ahead by going straight down the fall line in those brief moments. Whatever advantage I gained, would then leave me needing to throw a few quick turns to regain some stability and he would be off in front again. He was at the lift first yet again, although I noticed that he had to get the Kleenex out for his watering eyes and nose.

I had already lost, but that wasn't going to make me give up, roll over and admit defeat. Last was the best red run on available, Les Chardon Blancs, a motorway made for skibikers.
Off we went, I can't recall much about the next 5 minutes, watching the video scares me enough! Suffice to say that no innocent parties were hurt, I somehow retained my composure, dignity and footskis but Serge was still at the chairlift first.

It was the end to the perfect day, I could have used the lifts for at least another half hour on this perfect late afternoon, but what would be the point? How could any run compare to that?

It was time for a gentlemanly hand shake and as Serge sagely pointed out, it is each to their own style of skibiking and the most important thing is to enjoy the experience.

Firem offer three models for sale:
- vs junior - 930 €
- vs evolution - 980 €
- vs carbon 3450 €

I was able to test the vs carbon and Serge was riding his personal custom model.

Hire is available from Reves d'Hiver +33 (0)4 50 09 49 07 and costs around 25 € for a half day, lift pass not included.

Le Grand Bornand are offering a selection of lifts for use by skibikers which give access to a large part of the resort on an experimental basis. This includes both "pegger" and "bobber" styles of skibikng. If it is successful they may be expanding the area next season and offer mountain biking in the summer months too. It is just over 1 hour from Geneva by car and has a pleasant, lively, yet relatively unspoiled Savoyard charm about the place.
It is very popular with families and has ESF tuition facilities for skiers. It would appear to be favoured mainly by locals and visiting French nationals, English and Germans voices are relatively uncommon; for this reason you may find it easier if you can ask for your basic needs in French. Avoid weekends and public holidays as it can become quite crowded, at other times you will have the place to yourself.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Cross Training

Posted: Sunday, 16 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

The British Army utilised skibikes to train troops before introducing them to skiing, by then they had lost all fear of steep slopes. Conversely some time spent on your footskis or perhaps SnowBlades or other short skis could move your skibiking up to a new level of understanding. Once you have got used to speeding along tough runs on tiny footskis alone, when you get back to the bike, you will ride it like a demon due to the added stability and safety that it offers. I think it might even make it back up the wire that skibikers can be "real" skiers too, but prefer the sensation and are not too fat, old, disabled or plain lazy to to ski.

You might have to start wearing goggles to stop your eyes from watering though.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Grand Bornand

Posted: Saturday, 15 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

We started our day whizzing around a number of fast runs at Grand Bornand, but found that the 3 chairlifts where skibikes are permitted, prevented access to some interesting terrain. This is very actively policed, as this is the very first season that skibikes have been allowed in the resort and still on an experimental basis. Following the strategy of leaving the skibike with the lift operators and heading into the forbidden zone on footskis alone got me into some of the more expert runs.
Les Lanche was little more than sheet ice with a sign warning you of "hard snow"; this is obviously the same type of hard snow that works wonders in your Gin & Tonic. Wilf later commented "I started to slide and had no control, I don't know how you made it on those tiny things, but I did notice that you were covered in snow by the bottom".
On such tiny skis, with no tail, you are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. You can lean back and loose all grip or lean forward and get tripped over by anything in your path.
Wilf did ask me on a couple of occasions whether I should get back to the car and dig out my pair of SnowBlades.

I declined his offer to join him on the La Noire de Lachat black run and met him further down the mountain "Well that was about as much fun as having a red hot poker shoved up your jacksie" was his assessment.

Still deep in the skibike forbidden zone, we headed down the La Duche run into some charming back-country area of and the lovely long blue run Le Col des Annes above the woods. Even in a schuss you hardly move above walking pace, but you really want to be admiring the view rather than concentrating on technique. Please can we have this area opened to skibikes it would be awesome.

We also ventured over to the Roc Des Arces and found the lovely Les Envers run down to the bottom of the Le Rosay gondola. This had some of the best snow available that day and I settled into a gentle rhythm where suddenly everything felt "right" my upper body facing the fall line and lower body swinging like a pendulum from side to side. Oddly Wilf had stopped and was looking at me in a strange way, he then told me to turn around and follow my tracks back up the hill.
I was genuinely surprised to see these lovely symmetrical C shaped wiggles all the way back up the slope.

Having hurled my self down the mountain's most difficult terrain; once reunited with my trusty skibike, the added stability made me fearless, mostly pointing it down the fall line and surrendering to the pull of gravity.
With my eyes watering and nose running like a tap I stopped at the end of the run to find Wilf some way behind me. He admitted that it was the first time in 4 days where he had struggled to keep up.

Wilf and I had just about worn each other out by then and both got to push ourselves to try things we wouldn't normally attempt; at 4pm we headed back to Geneva airport to get Wilf checked in to his flight home by 6pm.

What a blast!

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Avoriaz And Morzine

Posted: Friday, 14 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

On the drive Wilf and I debated whether to start our tour at Avoriaz, Morzine or Les Gets, in the end we chose Avoriaz as I knew I would have unlimited skibike access to all areas. The day was bright but decidedly chilly and the first few runs at Avoriaz were rock hard and icy. Wilf mentioned that traditionally you start the day on Morzine's sunnier slopes and end them on Avoriaz's sheltered ones. So we followed the piste map and made the lengthy trip over to Morzine.

Annoyingly when you arrive at the base station for the Super Morzine gondola, you have to cross town on foot or wait for a shuttle bus, we were advised to walk which takes between 5 and 10 minutes.
Once up above Morzine, Wilf relied on his prior knowledge of the resort and we played on the many runs but accidentally strayed into the Les Gets domain.
The civil and polite, but quite insistent Les Gets staff, told us to go back to the top and head back into Morzine which I did; making sure to shake all the snow of Les Gets off my skis.

Wilf was gob smacked that you can buy the ticket for the Portes du Soleil yet be denied access at certain points. I was resigned to the fact, knowing the politics of the situation, he was fuming.

With the clock ticking we headed back to Morzine and across town on the shuttle. This then broke down with a burning smell leaving us even further to walk than the first time. We were straight up the Super Morzine gondola like a shot and started the long traverse back to Avoriaz. On arrival and with about half an hour left, we revisited some of the mornings killer runs only to find that the afternoon's warm had made them quite delightful.

We finished the day with the epic run from the top of Les Haut Forts all the way down to the Les Prodains car park. At an intersection we passed a group of skiers, they asked me a few questions and suggested that Chopper style handle bars would be much better. As I left them one shouted "Pull a Wheelie" I immediately obliged and won a round of applause for the effort.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Samoens To Flaine

Posted: Thursday, 13 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Taking the gondola out of Samoens early the following morning we were disappointed to find ourselves entering quite thick cloud base at Samoens 1600m. As this has happened on each occasion I have been to this area I assured Wilf it would be better in Flaine. Arriving at the Tete de Saix sure enough the clouds rolled back to reveal the mountains.

Arriving in Flaine we took the Les Grandes Platiers gondola, going through the turnstile, I though I was about to get pulled on a technicality. The lift operator was saying something in French about helmets and I thought he was telling me it was obligatory to wear a helmet to ride the skibike. My face must have said it all; he repeated in English, "sorry pal, I was just teasing by saying "Did you know they sell helmets around the corner" those things are bloody dangerous, we're really only here to look after your name's Alastair".

So we headed up to Les Grandes Platiers on the aptly named Grandes Platiers gondola and flew down the Lucifer run. On arrival at the Col de Plate chairlift, I was surprised to find that only SnowScoots are allowed on the chairlifts at Flaine. So following our new protocol I left the skibike there with the lift operators for collection later.

We zoomed around the myriad runs exploring every nook and cranny. I was having a ball on my 60cm footskis, getting as low to the ground as possible on the turns and letting my mittens scrape the uphill slope before the next turn. Returning to the Les Grandes Platiers gondola base station, Alastair spotted me without my skibike and quizzed me. I explained to him about the problem using chairlifts and how I was making it round on footskis alone, "You're getting worse, those things are really lethal" he commented with a grin.

With time fast running out, I collected my skibike, oh bliss.

Somewhere along the way back to the Grand Vans chairlift Wilf took a wrong turning and had to do another grand tour of the Flaine bowl just to meet me at there. This gave me 15 minutes to kill, so I played on the brilliant Tourmaline run, now emptying of skiers and with soft slushy snow. I attacked it quite aggressively, enjoying every minute and acting like a complete hooligan. At one point I spotted a SnowScoot rider and played a game of pursuit trying to see if I could get past, he wasn't hanging about and for once I had to be economical with the turns and head straight for the fall line.

Eventually Wilf and I met up and with minutes to spare made the links over to Carroz and back down to misty Samoens.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Les Contamines

Posted: Wednesday, 12 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

We got out of Geneva in good time and decided to source a hire shop in Cluses to get Wilf some skis, this town is equidistant from all the resorts, making for an easy return (in theory).

Having sorted this, we were at Les Contamines and in the gondola by 11am, the valley was warm, misty and moist; but once again at top station level it was alpine blue skies from horizon to horizon. We amused ourselves working our way around the cornucopia of fast runs available at this resort. Eventually we both psyched ourselves up to try the black run, I knew from a previous visit that underneath the innocent looking fresh white snow was a daunting mogul field. I got about half way down with a lot of wide traversing but knew that sooner or later I was going to loose my precious footskis in knee deep snow; I bailed out and headed under the chairlift and back onto the easier red run.
He carried on and made it down, but was unhappy that he had to resort to survival skiing and hadn't made an elegant job of it.

At one point he heard a group call me a "Zigeuner" which in Swiss German means "Gypsy". Hopefully they meant it in the way of "Cool dude" and not "Shit here come the chavs from Croydon, better check that there's still lead on the church roof".

The weather changed abruptly and started to close in, so we moved lower and investigated the excellent and remote back mountain area of Hauteluce, just making it back in time for the final run down from Signal 1900 in failing light and poor visibility.

One very annoying thing happened during the day that I must mention; my ski pass somehow got ejected from the special pocket in my jacket. I had a receipt for the transaction and the lift attendant had spotted me going through the turnstile that morning. The staff in the ticket office, however, would only sell me a new ticket for the day. I am philosophical about such things, it's the first time it has happened to me in many days on the skibike and luckily it was a day, not a month's pass. I still feel somewhat aggrieved that they couldn't just charge me an admin fee or some such, the card could have been easily cancelled by the computer system rendering it useless to anyone that found it.

Over dinner Wilf and I had a debrief, discussed what tomorrow would offer and developed a strategy that if we found an area where skibikes were not not allowed, we would leave the skibike at that point and I would progress on footskis alone. This was to prove a very good strategy and stand me in good stead over the next few days.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - "VeloSki Intensive"

Posted: Tuesday, 11 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Today Wilf, a client and "boss" at one of my workplaces is coming over for 4 days of "ski intensive".
He likes to ski hard and fast from the lift opening till the very last minute and doesn't hang around much in between.
I am going to have to be guide/host/chalet boy/buddy/driver/translator; 4 days of 6.30am starts, ouch.

I am going to propose the schedule shown below to him when he arrives:

12th - Les Contamines - high speed cruising to warm up
13th - Samoens-Flaine grand tour - eating away the miles on a big domain
14th - Avoriaz - thrills, spills and danger
15th - Combloux or Grand Bornand - winding down to some pleasant motorway cruising

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Samoens To Flaine

Posted: Monday, 10 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

With a forecast for cool and overcast weather, I reluctantly dragged myself out to Samoens, in the hope that it had snowed at altitude and I would get to ride on some soft new stuff.

Samoens is another small low altitude town that appears at first glance to offer more in the way of walking and bike riding than wintersports. The station for the Grand Massif Express telecabines was poorly signposted, but a little help from my satnav located it a few minutes drive from the town square. It is at the opposite end of the "Grand Massif" domain to Flaine; there was more English spoken in the car park than you'll ever hear in Croydon, but these weren't typical package holiday tourists. My guess is that the combination of a short and level drive, no switchbacks! and access to the less busy end of the domain is a winning combination for savvy British ex pats and independent travellers.
There was free parking, no queuing for tickets, the attendant spoke English to me and almost no queue for the Grand Massif Express Gondola, which lives up to its name, rapidly getting you 700 metres up to Samoens 1600m resort height.

Ascending into the cloud base visibility was poor and it was still lightly snowing. My plan was to try and rise into clearer air higher up and leap frog over the peaks to Flaine and back.
In the murk it was difficult to get your bearings and I floundered around the hill top riding a selection of short lifts till I got my bearings and found Chariade Express to Tete de Saix.

Skibiker in the mist at the top of the Marmotte run
 I took the Marmotte run back to Samoens, visibility had improved, there was lots of fresh natural snow on a hard base, but with bad light in places it paid not to be too over zealous. I had spotted the Dahu blue run from
the chairlift and it appeared to have been unskied, it turned out to be a disappointment though as it was uphill in places. I followed a group of older skiers taking a shortcut off piste and ended up knee deep in snow, advancing cautiously, not wanting to hit a rock or loose my footskis again. They kept egging me on to head straight down the fall line, I obliged for the last 15m and received a cheer, I thank you... We chatted briefly about the reason I was on a skibike, mentioned the benefits for those like me with creaky knees and then moved on.

On my next visit to the Tete des Saix there were signs that the sun was coming through, I was able to let off the brakes a little and use the Silice and Dolomie to Vernant chair. There were a good few inches of lovely floaty fresh untrammeled snow and for the first time on this trip, my fancy new skiboards were in their element and feeling good.
Using the Vernant chair to get over the Grand Vans I followed the Tourmaline run down to Flaine, much better this time now that the sun was fully out. At one bliss full point everything came together in a strange floaty/flying out of body, someone else must be doing this, zen like was spiritual. Needless to say I tried the run a few times more it was so enjoyable.

Flaine, sort of bowl shaped

Sadly time was fast running out, the inter area linking lifts close at 4pm and I was 3 resorts away from my starting point. Reluctantly I used the Grand Vans chair to access the Perce-Neige and rushed down Marmottes to Les Mollets overlooking Carroz. Heading back up to the Tete des Saix via the L'Airon it was now minutes to closing time and with the clouds starting to reform rapidly. Not wanting to get stranded miles
from the car, I had a lovely last run back down the Marmotte to Samoens 1600 for the Gondolla run back to base station.

I conclusion, an exciting day covering lots of terrain in ideal conditions, once the sun had broken through. The convenience of the low altitude starting point may lack the romance of skibiking back to the car; but saves the whole faff of a long drive through switchbacks, possibly on snowchains, etc. I can see why this would appeal to the savvy Genevois. There isn't much ambiance around the Gondola station itself, it is very much a terminus only, but the nearby village centre has plenty of eateries, shops, small hotels, tourist office and ice rink. I believe there are ski buses from Geneva and local shuttle buses, so even without a car you can utilise the neighbourhood's potential.

DIY Skibike - Making A Skibike Safety Leash

Posted: Sunday, 9 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

It is becoming a requirement of many areas to wear a restraint to stop the (perceived) risk of out of control skibikes finding their was down the piste without a rider and causing chaos. I think it is an unlikely scenario, but if it keeps the slopes open to skibikers it is a small concession to make.

I picked up a "Jumbo Carabiner" off eBay for a few pounds, these are not serious climbing accessories but lightweight items sold to hang up extensions leads in sheds and carrier bags off prams. However as my skibike only weighs 10kg it is sufficient to do the job.

To allow for some shock loading I bought an inexpensive 1m bungee cord of the type sold for securing luggage to car racks. It is in a lurid shade of yellow that catches the eye of lift attendants and shows that I am being a good skibiker.

To secure either end of the bungee I used a sailing knot called a "Bowline" which has the advantage that the greater the loading, the tighter it gets.

The carabiner hooks into a belt loop on my salopettes, but could also go through the shoulder straps. There is always the danger that in a really bad spill I could loose my trousers! There is nothing like the threat of riding down the piste in your pants to focus the mind on careful risk assessment!

When not in use the ensemble neatly stows by wrapping around the head tube and back on to the skibike frame.Given that the investment was around the price of a cup of coffee in a mountain hut, I am rather pleased and wanted to share the idea with you.

Skibike Leash - All stowed neatly and ready for use

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Car Wash

Posted: by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Sunday and it rained all day in Geneva, I could but hope that at altitude the precipitation would be white and fluffy not grey and wet. I spent the day catching up on a number of outstanding chores.
I sauntered over to the excellent garage "Auto Secours" where I have been loaned a parking space and was surprised to find they were open on a Sunday.
I asked politely if I would be permitted to use their water tap to wash my car and received the reply "non...c'est pas permits... desolee" literal translation "no, it's not allowed... I'm distraught with the grief of it" in other words "on yer bike skibiker".

Time for some lateral thinking... what do you need to wash down a car? Water, bucket and sponge.

I drove car from the garage and down to the a spot by the lake where, in summer, boats are prepared. Next bucket goes in the lake, sponge goes in the bucket and the car gets weeks of accumulated salt washed off.

I probably broke 1000 Swiss regulations by doings this and it almost certainly isn't permitted; nobody has taken the trouble to regulate it, only a foreigner would even think to do such a thing. Even the local Somalian drug dealer, who was hanging around the quayside humming a jaunty tune to himself began to shuffle about nervously at my audacity.

I couldn't help but notice a raised eyebrow from the garage kiosk when I returned half an hour later with my gleaming motor.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Crest Voland

Posted: Saturday, 8 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I have had Crest Voland in my sights for a while, it is a Skibob World Cup venue, when I mailed the tourist office about access for skibikes, the reply almost expressed surprise that I should even ask.
It is home to Berod Sports, a Brenter Agent with a large hire stock and is also the epicenter of the French Skibob Race Team.

I followed a familiar route to La Clusaz, then climbed over the Col d'Aravis, a favourite of classic car rallies to check whether your pampered MGB can tolerate the climb, my chav Ford Fiesta got over it with the aplomb of a South Londoner hitting the Purley Way to go shopping at IKEA.

The Crest Voland website depicts a cowboy leaning against a shack smoking a cheroot and there is a frontier feel to the place, although adding a cactus was definitely taking an artistic liberty.

Crest Voland - Welcome to the Wild Wild West

I can imagine that there is strict planning control, there is very little advertising, one chalet had a "for rent" sign carved in wood, there a few shops and no big corporate McDonalds or Starbucks presence.
I have made the comparison before with the criticism of France offering soulless supermarket skiing and would have to say that if Crest Voland is supermarket skiing, then it is Waitrose in Stratford-upon-on-Avon (that's a compliment by the way).

In the recent heat wave, it had rained on Thursday, even this high up. I sought a nice easy easy blue run for a gentle warm up, the Logere chairlift took me straight to the peak of Mont Lachat and onto the La Criee run.

An easy arse, it might as well been black, it was classic Scottish snow, the most crusty and hard I have encountered so far.
I was deafened by the sound of my edges grinding on ice, I'm sure I heard Dogs down in the village howling in response to the cacophony of sounds I was making.

Following the skiers code, I stopped on the piste where some poor kid was crying her eyes out, helmet half off, whilst mum tried to calm the poor tyke down and work out whether it was concussion or just the shock of a nasty fall. I quietly retrieved a ski and pole and offered my assistance, together we got the girl up and mobile; skibikers might go for the mean look, but the Hells Angels had a reputation for helping little old ladies to cross the road.

I moved around the hill to the La Gentiane run served by the Cernix chairlift, this West facing side of the hill had softened to a lovely buttery consistency and provided the most consistently enjoyable runs of the day.

In the afternoon it became relatively crowded and I moved to the North East expecting conditions to have softened, unfortunately the pistes had acquired a schizophrenic quality, what wasn't ice in the shade was slush puppy soft where the sunlight had reached.
I followed the signs for the Chardons run and found myself suddenly alone, oh dear not a good sign, stopping half way down I couldn't believe how narrow and steep the next section was, then realised the piste went to my right through a gully.
I don't know what happened next but my left footski detached itself and in spite of the built in ski brake (so much for them) slowly disappeared out of sight down the piste.

At that moment, for the first time in 5 weeks of skibikng, I felt well and truly screwed...I had a quiet moment to reflect on what to do next...

I attached the skibike to a piste marker with the leash (I knew it would come in handy sooner or later) and dispensed with the other footski. I walked down the side of the piste slope, aggressively stomping the heel binding flange to bite into the snow. I was constantly reminded that this was serious grown up terrain by seeing the bits of crud disappear down the fall line and into the wooded abyss below; finally I located and retrieved the missing footski.
Shit there go my footskis!
Carefully turning around, I now re-ascended the slope, this time kicking the toe bindings in to make a diy staircase back up.
Not wanting to repeat the whole "shit there go my footskis" expedition down the fall line, I found a level surface, to re-mount the skibike and advanced cautiously further down the piste; gingerly picking a line between ice, exposed rocks and vegetation.

I think that the Chardons piste should have been closed, or at least marked, if you can't get down on a skibike then for a non-expert skier it could really be dangerous.

Overall it was not the best of days, as I was opting for survival skibiking and not the elegant style I seek; but at least they didn't have to call out the helicopter; one poor skier was in a stretcher on the piste for over an hour whilst Mountain Rescue did an exemplary job of keeping them safe.

My poor old Sarf London Fiesta deserved a break from the endless hairpins and gradients of the Col d'Aravis and subsequent twisty run down to Bonneville. I took a flatter, but much longer 2 hour drive home via the beautiful lakeside town on Annecy.

I listened to France Inter (much like BBC radio 4

I picked up a forlorn looking hitchhiker 10 miles outside Geneva on the route home, a sweet old boy with failing eyesight, who could no longer drive, but wanted to continue living in his provincial village with little to no public transport. He cradled a baguette in his arms, dinner perhaps and trusted a totally mad foreigner to get him home safely.

We discussed the reason why the UK drives on the left and France on the right. Ploughing on in French, I tried to explain about medieval knights carrying swords in their right hands on horseback riding on the left of the road and Napoleon's left-handedness causing him to want to ride on the right, etc.
I made a detour to his village to drop him off, whoever you were French bloke, "Bon chance mon ami".

Heading into town I crossed the leaky Swiss border at least twice; I must have crossed it twice a day since I arrived, perhaps I have "Carte Blanche", I don't know what terrifies me more, the machine guns the Border Police wear, or their surgical gloves.

Crest Voland where the Wild West meets the Haute Savoie

Build a SkiBike - Alpine Skibikes Assembly

Posted: Friday, 7 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

Step 1 - Place the skibike upside down on a level surface with some grip, avoiding slush and muddy puddles!

 Step 2 - Mount the front ski on the forks, note that with twin tipped ski boards it is easy to mount the front ski back to front, so use the graphics on the top to guide correct orientation.

It helps to hold the tip between your thighs whilst you adjust the nuts with a 15mm socket.

Make sure that the large washers fit next to the springs not outside the forks for the correct self levelling action. Tighten each side progressively to a moderately strong hand tight fit.

Step 3 - Mount the rear ski in a similar manner to the front. Note that there are 4 washers on the back axle which fit each side of the chainstays.

Step 4 - Fit the retaining strap between the rear ski and the frame (if you have one).

Step 5 - Keep a lightweight 15mm socket wrench in your day pack, just in case you want to dismount the front ski for easier Gondola travel or make fine level adjustments.

Step 6 - Enjoy your mountain bike now it has been transformed into a skibike.

A final comment once you have fitted and removed the skis a few times you should be able to complete the task easily in under 10 minutes. You may need to use light hand pressure to pull apart the frame to allow the adapters to slide into place, no further tools should be necessary.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Time To Reflect

Posted: Thursday, 6 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

My Christmas guests have departed back to the UK and the weather has turned warmer and wetter. The Jura mountains are starting to loose their snow and revert back to dark green. Even at resort heights the temperature has gone above freezing, I was hoping that it would bring the monster dump of snow forecast by the BBC website, but the only precipitation has been rain.

Still it has given me the opportunity to rest my aching bones and send out thank-you messages to those who made it possible to get this far.

I have updated this blog and will be updating the resort and manufacturer information at too.

From the blog statistics I can see that there are a lot of potential DIY skibike builders out there, so whilst the current heat wave continues I will prepare some technical articles for you and day dream some more about skibiking.

La Clusaz - Turn To The Dark Side

Posted: Monday, 3 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

The last resort I wanted to visit in the current tranche was La Clusaz, just up the road from
Grand Bornand, it too potentialy offered restricted access to skibikers. An e-mail from the tourist beareau suggested that there were a number of chairlifts on offer as well as plenty of telecabines. Having located Le Fernuy where there were two telecabine stations offering uplift, as a precautionary measure I waived to one of the lift attendants and he confirmed that a veloski could be used on the chairlifts higher up.

I chose La Balme telecabin first, a small 6 seater, mounted the rear but not front ski in order to make it all fit well. Coming out at the top I was keen to get even higher and headed to the Col de Balme chairlift, sailed through the gate and positioned myself ready for the chair to arrive, the machine slowed, I thought the operator had done this to make it easier for me but instead the motor ground to a halt.
He stepped out of his cabin and explained that velo ski was not permitted, I could use telecabins but not chairlifts because mine was not homologated? I sauntered back to the top of La Balme run and decided that it would be good to warm up on a nice easy blue blue and make the most of it.
I found myself on a narrow mountain access road, that doubled up as a run in winter season.

Ah sunlight!
It was in a shaded area and the ambient temperature was -9 degrees, icy was an understatement but hey at least there were stones and rocks poking through to slow you down! Having survived this once I went round for a second go just to prove the first wasn't a fluke.
My next option was to take the Fernuy telecabine up to Cote 2000. At this point you emerge from the gloom into full sunlight and lovely buttery snow, but don't expect it to last if you follow the Fernuy run, as it soon "turns to the dark side" and the terror can begin.

You follow another narrow mountain access road for a while, to your right is a wall of ice, to your left a vertiginous drop and you do your best to skid your way along without running down nervous skiers pulling a snowplough in front of you.

The road ends at the top of a slope that at first appears vertical, but in reality is probably 30 degrees at the top. It is sheet ice in the middle and icy moguls at the sides, so don't even think about easy traverses.
I started my slide across this slick surface seeking out tiny patches of scraped snow to change direction on, knowing that this had to happen before I reached the ball busting mogul field.
I had quite a few quite terrifying moments sliding on the ice waiting for the laws of physics to return to the equation. Lower down artificial snow was being made and by sticking close to the snow cannons things became a lot easier. The run ended when it met the Acces Balme green run and I was able to get my feet up on the pegs and glide the last kilometer.
I made a 2nd run and filmed the result but after that decided life was too good to loose and chose not to test my limits any further.

I met up with my cousin who had found a natty combination of L'Aigille then Le Dahu then Louveteau to return back to base station. This was slightly uphill in places, so I had to get off and scoot, but it did give the opportunity to ride pegger style, which was blissful at slower speed. Pegging feels much more like true skibiking and could well be the future for me.

In conclusion, not a bad resort if they could see sense and let skibikes use the chairlift system and get access to the full gamut of slopes on offer and not the ghetto of shaded icy killer slopes accessible for the gondola system. I'm not being sarcastic, if anyone from the La Clussaz lift system reads this, please, please contact me, The French Skibike Association would love to open a dialogue with you.

Till then it is best avoided for skibiking unless there are no other skibiking options available.

La Clusaz by skibike - the gloomy side of the mountain source -

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Les Contamines

Posted: Sunday, 2 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Taking a day trip to join "The Contaminated", what could it be? a French nuclear waste dump right next to Mont Blanc, no not possible, it is a small village, with a single telecabine offering access to a huge skiable area. Best of all skibikes can be used on all the uplift systems, except drag lifts (of which there are few).

I arrived on a gloomy cold morning at the base station, at the end of a narrow valley swathed in mist and clouds. According to their website, 1000m above us there was a day of Alpine Blue sky on offer and many miles of brilliant white snow to be enjoyed.

In theory it is possible to skibike at Les Contamines, The French Skibike Association, (Association Francaise de Skibob) have "L'Attestion de la Station" that it is permitted, but having assembled the bike and my bits yesterday, only to be denied access at Megeve, my paranoia was at an all time high.
Having checked with the lady at the telecabine turnstile that it was possible to "velo-ski" by showing a copy of "L'Attestion de la Station" downloaded from The French Skibike Association and recieved the reply "Oui, si vous achat le forfait...Yes, if you buy a ticket"...I headed for the ticket office poste haste.

Next I climbed the stairs, went through the turnstile and waited for an available 6 person telecabin, I piled in solo and got myself and the bike to just fit but the door jammed on the rear ski on departure. The attendant stopped the system and refitted the bike and me so the door would close, he was remarkably polite and said (rough translation) "I don't know what this things is, but we'll make it work, it's our job".
On reflection, the next time I use this facility I will carry the frame up and mount the skis at top station level to save fuss. There is the mid station "Etape" where you leave the first telecabin and enter a second stage Signal".
Note: having studied the map, it is possible utilise the nearby Montjoie chairlift then ski down the jonction run and utilise the jonction chairlift to arrive at Signal 1900 avoiding the second stage telecabine.

I chose the Montjoie run for walming up, using the Montjoie chair lift for uplift. This simple run follows the line of the ridge and offers some nice easy gradiants to find your footing before moving on to more challenging terrain.
It proved to be an excellent opportunity to meet and chat with other visitors who were curious about my skibike and skibiking in general. One, an avid mountain biker, recommend I move over to the Auiguille Croche side of the mountain and exploit its sunnier pistes, especially the Coins run.

Dutifully, I headed down the Jonction run and up the Jonction chairlift. The end of the coins run got me to the Nant Rouge chairlift and the pleasant and surprisingly fast full coins run.
Moving on to the Tierces chairlift, got me on to the excellent and fast Tierces run, this was so good, that I had quite a few goes. It had some interesting and varied combinations of steep gradients, roller coaster ridges and odd bumps to keep you entertained and on your toes at all times. Having taken it as fast as I dared, I then played with controlling my speed and keeping it in control on the icier sections which were somewhat slick to say the least.

It all gets a bit surreal when the air gets thin - source

I also took adjacent the run through the X Zone terrain park, trying out some fun banked curves and jumps, the snow was pretty skied away, which was my excuse for not "larging it" too much.

Unable to desist any longer I took the short Aiguille Croche chairlift to see the view from the nearby Aiguille Croche peak of 2487m, which is equivalent to 7200' . This has just 2 runs down to choose from; the Croche-black and the Aiguille-red. The Croche was a monster icy mogul field, whereas the aiguille was steep but flat.
I opted for the red run and got down where one poor skier had broken his knee (been there and done that it sucks).
I felt I could have done better and went back for a second and third run; by sticking to the sides of the piste where some snow still remained it was actually easier and safer than trying to exploit the full width.

For the first time since early that morning I meet up with my cousin and we made the run from the top of the Aiguille Croche all the way down to car park at Les Contamines an awesome descent of around 1500m, passing through thick layers of hill fog on route.

In conclusion, Les Contamines offered a dazling selection of runs from what, at first, appeared to be a very small village ski station. Riding a skibike presented no issues with niether the lift operators or the piste patrol.
Queing was almost non-existant, the pistes were well groomed, many, extensive and varied.

You would be hard pushed to cover the whole domain in a single day and thats before you venture into the adjacent back mountain area of Hauteluce, did I mention the views and the 1500m end of day run back to town?
If you aren't put off by the dodgy sounding name, this could be the next great undiscovered alpine ski domain.

Up where we belong? - Skibiker heaven at the top of Les Contamines - source

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Combloux

Posted: Saturday, 1 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

In the immediate sector of "Les Portes du Mont-Blanc"...The Doors of Mont-Blanc only Combloux offers easy access for skibikes and skibikers.
Note: Not nearby Megeve, Jaillet nor La Giettaz. This is very important, as I wasted a hour trying to get access at the wrong ski stations and you could easily ski down to one, only to be denied further uplift. Message ends, you have been warned.

Combloux is easily accessed from the nearby A40 Motorway "La Autoroute Blanche". And there are easy inclines on departmental roads up to the village, which took under an hour from the centre of Geneva.
Once in the follow the signs for the "Domaine Skiable" which take you to the ski station, don't drive through and carry on to Jaillet or Megeve as I did.Skibikes are allowed to use all the chairlifts, but not the drag lifts, fortunately this has little impact as there are few of them once out of the nursery area.

I took the long Beauregard chair up which rises up from the valley floor and follows a gentle incline along a wooded ridge and came down the Gentiene, Cabri and Marmottons runs for a warm up. All were pleasant runs through the forest with some icy patches here and there to watch out for.

Later I tried the Grand Tetras run that follows the fall line close to the chair lift. It was quite steep and very icy and I found myself traversing most of the piste higher up, further down it became a very enjoyable fast section and an excellent opportunity to practice skibike carving. Next up was the Melezes run down to the Pertuis chair, ascending and returning via the Rhodos and Papa runs.
Both the Jorace and Plaine Joux runs went down into a cold and shaded back bowl with the long Jouty chair to return. At 3:30 these area were deep into twilight and becoming bitterly cold, so it was joyful to re-emerge into sunlight and head back to base via the Melezes and Roitelets runs.

In conclusion, a very pleasant village like atmosphere, but with access to a great interlinked domain, which could be greatly improved if only the other local mayors would all agree to open up their slopes to skibikers.
Phenomenal views of Mont Blanc, which give the place a big mountain feel yet most runs remain below the tree line.
Easy, stress free access from the Motorway, just an hour from Geneva. Thank You Combloux Je t'aime.

Combloux - you just don't get views like this everywhere - source