SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Grächen Snow Bike Race Week 2

Posted: Thursday, 31 March 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

After an early breakfast in an empty restaurant I went back to the Tourist Office to register for racing and collect my lift pass.
The races were to be held on the Furggen runs above Hannigalp. A leisurely 10 minute gondola ride takes you to Hanningalp but after that it is T-Bar access to the top. I can ride a Poma button lift pretty well with the skibike at my side, but doing the same on a T-bar, on your own, without someone else to counter weight, is a major balancing act.

The snow was hard and icy to start with, not the best suited to my skibike with its parabolic carving skiboards, but I felt I could probably get down the hill without disgrace. Other entrants began to arrive, eyed me up suspiciously, then carried on their practice. I was expecting them to be fast down the hill, but it was a whole order of magnitude away from the speeds I could obtain; I was impressed how they kept their skibikes permanently carving from one edge to the other at around a 45 degree angle.

What have I got myself into?

After a particularly nasty moment with the T-Bar going its own sweet way and causing me to painfully twist my legs to the point of collapse, I switched to delightful run back to the village and accessed by gondola. This was much less tiring, although I had to keep removing my front ski each time to fit in the gondola.

I steadily built up speed in the desperate hope that I hadn't completely lost my mountain mojo in my two month absence from the Alps.
Around 3:30pm with the run becoming increasingly slushy I had a spectacularly big tumble. The skiers I had just overtaken, helped to gather up the resulting yard sale and asked politely "Are you in the race tomorrow?" I put in just one more run, then called it quits, feeling more than a little battered and bruised by the day's practice.

Having showered and doused my aching legs with Deep Heat. I wandered back to the Tourist Office for the selection of race numbers. I met up with Richard Platt from the SAGB and the 3 French competitors who had all arrived that evening. After speeches by local dignitaries and even a blessing from the village priest the selection process began. I was expecting names to be drawn from a hat, but no, a slack line contest would determine your start place, those who got the furthest would start first. Having received my race vest, Richard Platt explained that he would be given lift passes later that evening for distribution at lift opening the following morning at 7:30.

I thought I had better get an early night in, but my legs were now stiffening up from their earlier punishments and I needed to take a stroll to unwind and loosen up a little.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Grächen Snow Bike Race Week 1

Posted: Wednesday, 30 March 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Like me you have probably never heard of Grächen (also spelled Graechen) before. But you will hopefully know nearby Zermatt and the Matterhorn mountain that gives this Swiss valley its name.

The Matterhorn - the perfect image for Swiss chocolate boxes

In summer Grächen has a reputation as an outstanding area for walking. Passionate hikers utilise the 250 km network of walking trails which cover the forest, lake and the entrance to the snout of the glacier. The Hannigalp (2,100 m) is the heart of the hiking region: it links the mountain path to Saas-Fee with the Europaweg (Europe Trail) between Zermatt and Grächen.
In winter it has a modest 40km of pistes, but they are good runs, immaculately maintained and in the right conditions there are plenty of off piste opportunities too.
The town is situated on a high plateau on the side of the Matterhorn valley, accessed by quite a narrow road. It is a little quirky and individualistic and as I was to find out later in the week, they really know how to throw a party.

I had booked a room at the Turm Hotel Grächerhof using the HRS website purely in the hope that for the reasonable cost (for Switzerland) quoted, it wouldn't be a flee pit. On arrival in Grächen I located it very quickly, it looked very small from the doorway I entered, which turned out to be the original hotel entrance and now a back door to the car park.

Turm Hotel Grächerhof - Room with a view

Once unpacked and settled in, I headed for the Tourist Office to make sure that my information was correct and there was indeed a skibob snow bike week taking place. I was introduced to Sylvie Margelist, the administrator for the event; she couldn't have been more helpful, but was surprised I hadn't registered for racing. She explained that tomorrow would be a practice day, I could go where I pleased, but that skibikes were currently banned from using the chairlifts in Switzerland.
I went for a long walk to limber up and reflect on what I might be letting myself in for. There can't be any other sport where you can just turn up and enter a race against the best in the world; it would be like turning up for the Grand Prix at Silverstone in your Ford Focus.

London's Other D.I.Y. Skibikers In Austria

Posted: Tuesday, 29 March 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels:

Wayne Richards reports on an ill fated trip to Austria.

Had a really highs and lows time in Saalbach. Four started out and within an hour we were down to two. One with a broken wrist and the other with a pulled back muscle necessitating a two night stay in Hospital. All very sad and disappointing as the two who the trip was specifically aimed at were the two who were injured.

Both accidents were just that, accidents, the wrist a simple over the handle bars at speed and the other he was skiing across a traverse and said “oooh that hurt my back“. We stopped in a bar and by the time we had drunk a coffee and a beer, we had to get a taxi back for both. By the time evening came, his back had really seized up and by the morning it took an ambulance to get him out of bed. The wrist was swollen and looking black, mmm self diagnosis was a bone broken, attended the local clinic and sure enough a small bone had been dislocated and broken. Both are up and walking wounded at the moment but never the less it was not we wanted. Having sustained a further “superman ejection” the following day we realised just how much loading is on the wrists just as you are ejected from the cockpit and both of us bought snowboard wrist guards which seem to work well, highly advised.

As to the two survivors, a real blast, skiing an easy ( soft snow ) but quite steep black run on the last day and both amazed at how far we had got in the space of 6 days considering the poor spring snow conditions which ranged from ubber icy in the morning to soft corn snow in the afternoons.
Both have evolved different riding styles, one sitting easy rider style and the other standing on the pegs in true MX or Enduro bike style. Either seems to work but both have very different methodology in getting down. The Pegger style is straight down the fall line like a skier would, edging side to side with the rear ski and the other is more like a beginner skier linking traverse turns. Both seem to get there but the Pegger seems more able to handle the very short narrow bits better and even was able to follow a local skier for long periods in quite difficult ( more like wet concrete ) powder snow. We evolved a method for getting on and off the lifts which seemed pretty successful as well, as we could be ready at the same time as the skiers to drop the safety bar. The “lifties” were intrigued as one of the shops in Saalbach was selling the more conventional Ski bob and they hadn’t seen the Peggers before.

Saalbach, is a stunning resort and one I would put in my top 2 of the World that I have visited. The atmosphere is very friendly and the lifties perfectly used to skibikes.

Saalbach - Skibike Friendly

We flew out but the bikes went out with one of the guys car who drove. Our DIY skibikes pack down into a suitcase and we had planned to fly them out; two bikes plus a few spares, in one case including ski’s came to 24kilos ( the case is about 4 kilos on its own ) which put it into the oversized baggage category and hence the taxi was cheaper.

Get rid of the foot ski’s, at no time did we feel we needed them plus you will feel so much more comfortable on the pegs. I stand on the pegs the entire time ( that’s just what I am used to on Enduro bikes ) and developed a technique of just slightly weighting the downhill handlebar until the bike turned downhill and then transferred the weight into the inside peg, you can carve quite a nice turn. On steeper stuff it was just having the balls to almost go straight down the fall line unweighting both feet to unsettle the rear ski, weight ( slightly pull ) the down hill bar end and then steer the rear ski across the fall line with your feet, ending up with most weight on what has become the uphill peg ( angles the bike into the hill a bit AKA a skier ), as soon as the ski has scrubbed off a bit of speed, repeat the process the other direction. What I have described is exactly a “ short swing “ in skiing terms.

The other guy simply sat the whole time, he would traverse across the fall line, move the downhill foot forward and downhill, steer the front ski down hill, dab what is now the inside foot, skid the rear out to scrub a bit of speed off with his arse, foot back onto the pegs and off across the traverse. On about day 3 -4 he was no long having to dab his feet and could simply steer / weight transfer turn from traverse to traverse. He does struggle a bit more though on narrow paths and icy surfaces.

10 – 15 mph is really cool in the mash, simply blast through using long radius turns ( the total ski length is over 2 metres so you will not be able to do small radius turns ) works really well and we could stay on the slopes longer than our ski buddies.

The bikes although very different seem to have got through without breakage and both performed without fault, shame about the riders.

Injured Ex-soldier Takes To The Slopes – On A Bicycle!

Posted: Saturday, 19 March 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

From the Salford Advertiser with thanks to Sharon S:
A soldier who lost a leg while serving in the army has taken to the ski slopes.
Ex-serviceman Simon Khan, 33, had his left leg amputated above the knee eight years ago.
After a difficult period struggling to come to terms with the loss, Simon became a member of the British Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association (BLESMA) – a charity dedicated to helping servicemen and women who have lost their sight or a limb.
Simon, from Weaste, has just completed a gruelling six-day rehabilitation programme of ski bobbing – a sport which sees competitors negotiate pistes on a bike – in Soelden, Austria.
He went on the trip with 16 other ex-service people from across the UK, some of whom had sustained during recent tours of duty.
Read the full story here

Skibike Week In Grachen, Switzerland

Posted: Wednesday, 16 March 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

I've been invited to the Snowbike fun & race week in Grachen, Switzerland from the 27th March till the 2nd April. I had been hoping for a last minute end of season break and this sounds intriguing.
A whole week in celebration of skibikes, snowbikes, skibobs or whatever else you choose to call them.
I think my next adventure beckons....I'm going to have to find myself a better paid job.

Les Contamines Facebook Photo Contest - Please Vote Now!

Posted: Tuesday, 15 March 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels:

Vote for the skibiker!

I have visited Les Contamines a few times this year, it is one of my favourite places to skibike, it is also the place where I took one of my favourite photos of all time.
I found myself drawn back to the image repeatedly and eventually made a version to have as my desktop background. Recently an acquaintance at work complemented me on it and the same day I found out that Les Contamines were having a photo competition, this spurred me on to enter. If you are on Facebook and want to vote for it, please do by "liking" it, to see the other images in the contest go here voting ends on the 18th March.

Here's how the image came to be...
The short ride up the Aig. Croche chairlift takes you to the highest point in the Les Contamines Hauteluce domain at 2487m. There are two pisted routes down, the steep Aiguille red run or the treacherous Croche mogulled black run.
As is customary, I stopped and snapped a dozen or so overlapping images with my Sony Ericsson phone with a view to merging them together to make a panorama that evening, the sun was blinding and I couldn't see what I had taken and hoped that the images would be usable. A lot of people rushed past me, eager to start their descent and uninterested in the surroundings. A man and boy, stayed the while, surveying their options, perhaps apprehensive of the knee breaking icy mogul field below them.

Later, in the calm of the flat, I downloaded the images from the phone, they were well exposed but with nothing immediately special about them.
I opened Autostitch an excellent freeware panoramic image maker and loaded the selection, the computer worked away for a couple of minutes merging together elements.
The final result was startling, all the people who had rushed past me became a vague blur, the man and boy quietly surveying the slope became more sharpley defined, yet with a little motion blur, but the mountains remained starkly defined by their indomitable nature.

I love this juxtaposition between the dynamic and static elements of the picture, it says much about humanity:
The rush of humans missing the awe inspiring nature of the place. The Mont Blanc in the center of the image, highest peak in Europe, our own Everest.
The shed, this structured man made object, dropped into this place of otherwise pure unspoiled natural beauty, with it appears a discarded 19" server rack behind it!
The permanence of landscape and yet the mercurial temporary nature of seasons and weather.

The man and boy waiting, perhaps father and son; will the boy become the man who leads his own son down the same route in years to come? or perhaps the strong father will become the weak old man who's son will guide him in his infirmity....

I cropped the edges to square it up, and made some smaller versions for use in the blog.

Old Skool Skibikers On The Piste

Posted: Monday, 14 March 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

As if to prove the old adage that there is nothing new under the sun I recently came across this lovely clip in the Pathe News archive.
"Berchtesgaden, Germany. MS Various pans with ski-bobbers as they race downhill on the first artificially frozen track in the world during the German Ski-Bob Championships. (Two crash on hillside). The Swiss silver medal winner at Grenoble, Christa Schmuck, wins the championships. CU New German champion, Leonhard Nagenrauft being congratulated.
Note: Date on original record: 27/01/1969.."
There are even some riding pegger style!...

I also found an even older clip at Videosurf
"New ski thrill, the ski-bob makes its debut during a skiing competition on snowy mountains of Bavarian Zugspitze in Germany. Skiers ride ski-bobs and start a race. Few skiers crumble in between the race. Spectators watch the race with excitement. A woman skier laughs during the event. The winner of Ski-Bob race crosses the finish line and crumbles on snow."
 Embedding isn't allowed, but you can watch it here

Geezers On Snow (on skibikes)

Posted: Friday, 4 March 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Another excellent vid from Maynard Schweigert unusually titled "Geezers on Snow". I thought only Cockneys used the word "Geezer" which the free on-line dictionary defines as "An old person, especially an eccentric old man". Spot on there then.