Skibike Review - Brenter "Fat Boy" C6

Posted: Wednesday, 27 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Its not everyday that I get the chance to test a new skibike fresh from the factory, to test one with 30 minutes to go before entering it in a World Cup competition was a unique experience. You can read the whole story here.

This is what Brenter say about the Fat Boy:
C6 - Fatboy: the evolution of the world record bike C4 with 40 mm bow frame design. We thought there is nothing we can improve on a C4 until we have written the all new C6.
Full suspension: active system, Titanal-Elastomer seat suspension and active elastomer front suspension, Frame: Bow-frame design Aluminum 1000 g powder coated weight: 7 kg class; simple Ski service: patent “Quick-Change” System Available sizes for body sizes 135 - 200 cm,

First Impressions:

Anyone who has ever been on a Brenter will feel at home straight away, as it is very similar to the older models, with the same bouncy suspension, banana saddle and familiar yellow and black colour scheme. It is supposed to be a more rugged machine, suited to all mountain and off piste use, even climb up / skibike down back mountain touring adventures.
The joints feature heavy duty construction compared to earlier models and proper adjustable mountain bike handle bars are fitted. Surprisingly all this beefing up doesn't result in a weighty behemoth, in fact, to the best of my knowledge the Fat Boy is the lightest skibike available.
If, like me, you are accustomed to telescopic forks and air shock rear suspension, the Brenter will disappoint. It has a surprising amount of give for such a simple design but lacks damping. I have been told by the UK Brenter expert that you need to adapt your technique and utilise the systems rebound characteristics to your advantage, I beg to differ.
The saddle height is adjustable with alternative shims between the frame and seat, but they will all be at a point that would only be suitable for traditional ski-bob style riding with foot skis and foot pegs are not provided.
Lastly, they still look like they were designed by Fischer Price and just don't look cool, seriously, I've been anti-fashion my whole life and I don't think they're fashionable enough! If I was given one I would have the rattle cans out straight away. For a product that seems to be marketed with a bias towards women riders, I am surprised there isn't the option for chic factory finishes.

The Good Bits: Amazingly light, highly versatile, easily transported, nice steering, quite robust.

The Bad Bits: Bouncy, bouncy ride, ugly and uncool appearance, requires foot skis to ride.

New SkiBike Forum - Time to spread the Skibike Love (but wear protection)

Posted: Saturday, 23 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

I had the pleasant surprise this morning of receiving an e-mail from Tony Thompson to let me know that he has set up a new SkiBike forum here

The old Yahoo forum is a venerable beast, but due to its age and layout isn't the easiest place to use.

He says:

I'm not focusing on any country, I'm focusing on Skibiking as a whole.  I think we all can share internationally some great ideas, and most important some great times.  There is a lot we all can learn from each other, and hopefully spread the love throughout the world about this sport. - New Skibike Forum taking shape

SkiBike Design Part 1 - by Wayne Richards

Posted: Friday, 15 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

One has to think through a little what could constitute a good frame to modify from MTB to Skibike use.
My criteria was:
  • Full long travel suspension
  • Rear clearance for a chairlift to pass over the rear ski
  • Relatively low weight
  • Ground clearance along the side of the rear triangle ( some suspension bikes have lower triangle arms that are part of the mechanism of suspension and have parts lower than the rear wheel centre )
  • Last but not essential, a cheap or older frame no longer being used.
Highly desirable attributes ( and this is only a personal opinion ) were that the pivot point of the rear suspension should be ahead of the feet to transmit body weight to the front ski, most downhill bikes have this and for me equalising the weight onto both skis was quite desirable ( this has to be a late night bar discussion surely ).
The frame we chose gives a 60/40 split. Most XC and Enduro MTB frames with rear pivot seem to give closer to 70 /30 and could be compensated with a long ski / short ski but be careful as the sidecut radius needs to be the same on both skis.
We used 99cm Blade style skis, again second hand for about £ 45.00 on Ebay.

So we hit Ebay and went looking for an older style Y Frame type, eventually locating the frame brand new for less than £ 40.00 delivered, its overly engineered, needs to go on a diet but is simple and will allow quite simply for the rear subframe to be reversed to enable the bike to go into a suitcase.
We exchanged the original cheapo shock for a longer travel unit to match the long travel front forks we had sitting in the garage and it gave almost 150mm of travel front and rear, perfect. The only other thing in the build is the handle bar height, we chose a 75mm stem extension, others use BMX bars. From an initial trial run, keep the stem length as short as possible as the leverage from the bars will overcome the front ski “ edge carve / grip “and cause the front of the bike to tuck under. The consequences of this is the ensuing “ superman “ ejection from the cockpit, when it happens and it will, you will instantly understand what I mean.

Frame - well done eBay less than £40 delivered

On the first prototype ( OK it was a second hand Y frame we paid £ 14.00 delivered ) we cut off all the cable mounts but actually you can use them for mounting all the safety straps and such like. All up with skis, the bikes are less than 10kilos and I would think a sub 8.5 kilos production / purpose built skibike should be pretty achievable.

Mounting the skis is a bit of a conundrum. You can buy WinterX style Ali triangular mounts or make up your own as we did, out of Carbon. We did this for a number of reasons, mainly I feel the ski needs to be able to flex equally along the ski, to be able to carve and more importantly, we wanted a quick release system for getting a ski off as quite a lot of European resorts still run very small “ bubbles “ as lifts, we were not sure we would be able to get a 2.10 metre bike in crossways, take a ski off and no problems.
As it happens the resort we went to had more modern style lifts and simply turning the front ski sideways as you went into the lift worked OK.

Carbon Fibre Ski Mounts
The quick release though is still highly desirable as we discovered, on more than one night we got very “ Mozart and Blist “ on the way home and our Pension was a fair distance from the Apres Ski bars, no problem for us with walking boots, but the skiers amongst us were having none of that long walk business and as there was a taxi rank about 10 very unsteady paces from the bar and only 8 Euros for the taxi spread amongst 8 of us, it was a no brainer. But a 2.1m bike is not goner fit across the boot of a VW Caravelle, one ski off and no probs, that extra work was worth every hour spent.

The design we eventually made is probably a bit too sophisticated with proper “ oil-lite “ bearings, fully O ring protected to stop water and grit getting in, made of Carbon with Ali internals, again for lightness and takes a standard quick release from your mountain bike. They work well and I could perhaps draw up some drawings or have them made in numbers if there was enough requests.

The pegs also are probably more important than what you think. Our originals were simply a reducer from the original bottom bracket size to a pedal size, it works well and is dead cheap, but here is the big but, on harder snow, the steeper the terrain, the more we noticed the inside boot hitting the snow, enough so that on very steep slopes, your inside boots do get clouted quite a bit as the suspension sinks under compression from the G force. We think that a fixed peddle in this situation would either get wiped off over time or could “ unload “ the rear ski, something to ponder and argue over a beer on. Anyway again we took MX

Pegs - more important than you may think

So that’s about it, one thing for certain to build a ski bike is not going to be cheap to get it right, but it was good fun over the winter evenings and very rewarding in the end.

Looking for parts to build a skibike? Or perhaps one ready to ride away? See our Parts For Sale page here.

You can read part 2 of this series here ...

L'Espace Killy - My Dark Secret

Posted: Sunday, 10 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

My Dark Secret about my relationship with L'Espace Killy... this is what I couldn't tell you earlier, I visited Val d'Isere for two ski holidays about 15 years ago.

On the first occasion I had a nasty twisting fall that messed up my right knee and eventually required an operation to clean it out. On the second occasion I crossed my skis and broke the anterior cruciate ligament on my left knee.

Before this trip I was apprehensive as to exactly what the Gods of L'Espace Killy would demand of me this time in the way of sacrifice. This morning I counted my blessings that they have let me go without forfeit, or perhaps they are just lulling me into a false sense of security. A quick check in the bathroom revealed; a bruise to the chest, a leg bruise, some very scabby elbows, slightly bruised coccyx (chairlift) and stiff wrists. All pretty good considering the amount of miles I've covered and the thrills and spills encountered.

Interestingly my legs aren't as tired as they would usually be, pegging seems to put quite a lot of strain on your wrists though, I think I'll pick up some wrist braces for future use. It seems to slightly work out your torso, which I have no complaints about, I doubt it would get me a "six pack" though.

It's definitely time to quit whilst I'm ahead.

The Firem VS Factory at Les Villards sur Thones

Hybrid Skibiking Day 4 - Espace Killy Skibike Safari...Pegged Out

Posted: Saturday, 9 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

I wanted to finish my hybrid pegger skibike week on a high note, so having bombed around the area with Richard Platt yesterday I formulated a challenge to test how in tune I have become with my pegger style Veloski the Firem VS skibike.

I wanted to see if I could cover the entire domain of L'Espace Killy i.e. Tignes, Val Claret, La Daille, Val D'Isere, Le Fornet and L'Iseran in a single day. It would be impossible to skibike every run, apart from the time aspect, some pistes are only accessible by drag lift or teleski as they like to call them and skibikes are not currently permitted to use the drag lifts.

I made a rough itinerary in my head and set off at 9:30 prompt. What follows is a description of the routes I followed, it is more for my benefit than yours, so I'll not be offended if you skip to the last paragraph.

Skibiking down the melezes piste I went to the Boisse Gondola
Coming out of the top station it was a minute down the slope to the Aiguille Rouge Chairlift by following the rhododendron and petit col I got myself to Tignes le Lac.
Then I without delay I was on the fast Aeroski Gondola - to the top of Toviere.
Following the creux piste got me to the Mont Blanc Chairlift, however the operator insisted that it wasn't permitted to use skibikes on it.
Thinking on my feet I realised that I could follow the diebold piste all the way to La Daille.
Arriving in La Daille I went to the amazing Funival, a funicular railway that runs inside the mountain from La Daille to the top of the Rocher de Bellevarde.
Coming out of the Funival I headed down the santon piste, an entertainig natural half pipe made a little more technical by the amount of slush and narrowness of the piste.
Arriving in Val D'Isere I got on the Solaisse Express to the top of the Solaisse and went down the slope to the Datcha chairlift.
The Datcha chairlift gave me the altitude to utilise the fourche piste to run down to the Glacier Express chairlift.
Coming off the top the leissieres piste runs down to the Leissieres Express chairlift. This is an unusual chairlift in that it crosses a high ridge, as you reach the peak you are given some spectacular and vertiginous vistas, don't look down! It is also unusual in that it has traffic running in both directions.

The vallon piste ran down to the start of the Vallon de L'Iseran gondolla, at the top, the short lac cema piste lead me to the Cascade Express chairlift. The only lift up was the Montets drag lift, denied to skibikers and the highest point at nearly 3488 metres and the farthest point in L'Espace Killy.
I made a couple of quick runs down the cascade piste to mark the half way point and ate a quick snack on piste. Checking my watch I was surprised to find it was already 1pm, time to start heading back.

Col de l'Iseran - the half way point

The lac cema and pont abatte runs get you back to the Lessieres Express chairlift, this is the "up and over" chairlift and the view coming over the ridge is even more spectacular on the way back. The leissieres piste got me down to the Datcha chairlift which gave access to the "Ski Tranquille" area on the top of the Solaise mountain.
Following the signs for Val D'Isere took me down piste M, steep, narrow and with monster piles of mashed potato to smash through.
Next I got into the huge L'Olympique cable car, with the clock ticking away I followed the easy diebold and verte pistes to the Tommeuses chairlift. Overlooking Tignes the end was nearly in sight. The piste H run went all the way to Val Claret where I was able to get some upift from the Tichot and Grattalu chairlifts.
Following the lac piste I began to get a feeling of panic, the pistes had emptied and the lift operators were starting to close up for the evening. Would I make the last 2 lifts?
Riding the Grand Huit chairlift I checked my watch, 3:35pm, I had 10 minutes left to get to the top and down the perce neige piste. I smashed my way as fast as I dared without risking a crash and just made it to the Aiguile Perce chairlift at closing.
At the top I could throttle back and cruise down the corniche, rhodedendron and melezes pistes.


I had arranged to celebrate my sucess with the Firem VS by staying an extra night in Tignes les Boisses, but as the Hotel de Dome was fully booked, I moved across the road to the Hotel Melezes.
From first impressions it is a basic but efficient chalet hotel occupied by lots of thin, active and fit people. They made me feel like the fat kid who's going to be last to be picked for the football team.....again.
The 15 Euro dinner was gourmet quality, I have eaten far worse in 5 star hotels and there was plenty of complimentary red and white wine. There were a lot of other independent travellers staying, many of whom had taken advantage of the power of the Internet to find a late season, last minute bargain.

Chalet Hotel Les Melezes, Tignes - Gourmet cuisine at budget prices

Hybrid Skibiking Day 3 - Level Pegging

Posted: Friday, 8 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

I actually overslept this morning and didn't get away till 9:30, oh the waste. I had a quick zip around Tignes but had to be back at the ticket office for a midday rendezvous with Richard Platt and his brother for a group ski and skibiking session.
Recent racing aside, it has been a while since my last skibike session in company and I had forgotten what a blast it is. I could bore you with a lengthy account of all the runs we covered, but I was being worked too hard to keep up with my guide to make any notes. In the space of a few hours we saw most of Tignes, Val Claret, the Grande Motte and La Daille.

Loading up the Skibike van
With so much ground to cover I had to throw caution to the wind and speed over the late afternoon bumps and trust the excellent suspension on my Firem VS to soak it up. As long as you can hold on there's not much else to worry about.

The start of one piste was narrow and a minefield of monster moguls, to save time I followed a narrow traverse track to avoid the worst of it. However I soon came upon a mother a child who had fallen and was able to utilise the rear brake on the Firem VS to stop myself in my tracks and avoid running over them.

Hybrid Skibiking Day 2 - Pegging Away

Posted: Thursday, 7 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

I managed to find a couple of independant hire shops in Tignes le Lac keen to see the Firem VS. So with appointments arranged for 10am it gave me the added incentive to drag myself out of bed and get showered, shaved, breakfasted and into the gondola by 9am.
The shops were interested but decidedly non-commital, skibikes have never been big in France since they were banned in the 70's after a bad accident and there just isn't the perception that it is possible. SnowScoots seem to be leading the way, even then you see many more outside hire shops looking forelorn than on or off the pistes.
The one upside is that people think I am amazing skillful to be able to ride my skibike, not knowing how easy it really is.
Appointments over, I decided to head high and find the best snow, this took a while and only around 2 did I find the best snow above Val Claret on the excellent "double M" run. I was really getting into the swing of it until I realised that it was long gone 3pm and just how many interconnections there were to get back before the lifts closed.

Tignes......Um, is this a God dam?

I am really feeling much more at home on my ride. I have adopted the linked turns approach which makes progress very slow but feels great and must look good. Perhaps tomorrow I can work out how to get the rear ski to skid sideways. Meanwhile I have been shamelessly putting in my moves under the chairlift whenever possible. I feel I am going very slowly though, probably no more than 10-15 mph as there are monster piles of mashed potato to plough through from lunchtime onwards. This is much slower than I would on my own machine, but I have seen too many people hurting themselves in the porridge like spring snow and get no pleasure from being out of control.

Oddly, I currently can't feel the tip of my little finger on my left hand (trapped nerve?) and the muscles on the underside of my right forearm about an inch up from the wrist ache quite badly (no jokes cramp!).

Hybrid Skibiking Day 1

Posted: Wednesday, 6 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

To be in some of the best and most challenging terrain that Europe has to offer on a machine you have only ridden before for an hour or so left me with a feeling of dread that I haven't experienced since the first time I came to these mountains as a novice skier. I was genuinely apprehensive as to what my first day on the Firem VS would bring and I confess I was tempted to leave it in the car and bung on some SnowBlades.
I have envied those who can ride in the "pegger" American style, but have never got it to work on steeper slopes.
I wasn't sure whether riding in soft boots without footskis would even be allowed and after the run in with the lift operators yesterday, I really didn't want to push my luck any further.

I though it through at great length and decided to aim for "Hybrid Skibiking" i.e. use foot skis and hard boots but keep them on the pegs whenever feasible. This will probably make me an unwanted half-caste hated equally by both skibiker clans.
Serge from Firem will hate me for not riding his veloski as he expects it to be ridden and the SkiBobbers will hate me for choosing the very antithesis of their style of riding with over half a century of tradition behind it.

Luckily to access the main ski area required me to follow the piste down from the hotel to the main gondola station. At least this way I could get a sneaky private run in before performing in public. I carried the Firem VS down to the start of the piste, nervously mounted and set off. Because you sit so high you can't run both feet over the snow and Serge's words "This is not a Brenter you can't ride it like one" echoed in my head.

I sort of muddled my way down to the gondola station, took the lift operators by surprise by arriving on yet another skibike. But this one had the magic certification number on it and they let me pass. Trying to be as incognito as possible on the only skibike in Tignes I headed for the nearest and easiest blue run to try and work out how to ride it my way!

Firem VS - I hope we're going to be friends

The solution I found seemed so counter intuitive but works really well if you are converting over from more traditional types of skibob skibikes.
You try to ride with the footskis on the pegs at all times, but when the gradient seems too much and you need to turn to control speed, keep your DOWNHILL FOOT ON THE PEGS and GLIDE YOUR UPHILL FOOT over the snow with as little weight on it as is possible.
This worked a treat on a number of blue runs and as the day wore on I started to move on to the red runs.

When you get pegging right it is an absolute delight, it is so smooth, almost like floating on air.

It helps to keep your knees clamped together (brings back memories of dating Catholics) and your thighs gripping the frame, which oddly feels quite comfortable and natural.
Sometimes the ride is almost telepathic and at others weird shit happens. Quite small body movements can have a huge impact and the first time you feel the rear ski wanting to overtake the front it can be a little disconcerting. I think these dynamics are at work when you ride your traditional skibob, but the foot skis on the snow negate the effects.

The beauty of my method is that when things get odd I find myself slapping a foot ski on the snow for stability and recovering rather than crashing.

I had two bad dismounts from the chairlift where the Firem's longer front forks caused me to accidentally drag the front ski on the snow, tipping me off the chair and over the skibike. I am glad I have been wearing my helmet, I had a similar experience earlier in the year and being hit by a chairlift really smarts.

With aching forearms and in very slushy conditions I chose to call it quits at 3pm, I don't like skibiking on brown snow, that's just wrong.

I haven't got it badly wrong so far and am hoping that tomorrow I could actually start to enjoy it.

Tignes Espace Killy  - some of the best and most challenging terrain that Europe has to offer

Disaster Strikes

Posted: Tuesday, 5 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

And the day started so well.... I assembled my skibike and whizzed down the hill to the ticket office at Tignes les Brevieres bright and early. Having paid for my lift pass I joined the queue for the gondola only to be pulled to one side before I could get on.
I thought I had everything necessary, in my communications with the resort office the only stipulations were that you had to have a skibike leash. However it turned out that you can only use factory made skibikes on the chairlifts, DIY skibikes like mine are restricted to the gondola lifts only. This was exactly the situation I had encountered before at La Clusaz.
I had to get my skibike back to the hotel, so I had a miserable ride up in the gondola and thought about what to do next. I hadn't planned on 5 days of SnowBlading and the gondola lift access option was going to be too limited in scope.

No STRMTG homogation label - no chairlift access

 The idea then occurred to me that I could phone Serge at Firem VS and ask if he had a spare veloski to loan me. He calmly replied "Of course Mark, come to the factory before 17:00".
This left a few hours to fill before heading off, so I got my SnowBlades on and made a quick whistle stop tour of the Tignes area.
On route to the Firem factory with 10 or so km to go and plenty of time in hand disaster number 2 struck; the local mountain road to Villard sur Thones was closed. This made it necessary to make a huge detour around the lake at Annecy; I arrived at the factory bang on 5.
Then it was another 3 hour drive back to Tignes to arrive at sunset.

Arrival in Tignes

Posted: Monday, 4 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

After the fun but exerting time I had Grächen, I badly needed a day off in Geneva to recover my strength and ready myself for part deux of this latest Alpine adventure. The weather in Geneva had been quite wet overnight and it lingered through till the morning. Driving across the Alps it closed in again and on arrival in Tignes the conditions were so reminiscent of my trip to Andorra a year ago.

A last minute Internet search had located the Hotel le Dome at Tignes les Bois a tiny hamlet next to the top of  the dam and overlooking both Tignes 1800 and Tignes les Brevieres.

Hotel le Dome, Tignes les Boisses - Simple and good value
The Hotel le Dome was built in 1953 for those working on the Tignes Dam (barrage de Tignes) which feeds a hydro-electric generating station. Some of the facilities are a little basic, but everything works, is clean and presentable; just don't arrive expecting big fluffy towels or aromatherapy sessions. It rates as excellent value for money and should prove to be a great base for exploration.

I was last in this area in the late 90s and I forgot that it has quite a wild, natural and brutal feel about it - I like it.

Nature in the raw at Tignes les Boisses

Firem Tour Of The 3 Valleys

Posted: Sunday, 3 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Meanwhile the Firem VS Factory Team took a day trip to the 3 valleys and sent me pictures from Courchevel.

Firem VS - Meribel here we come

Firem VS - the marketing department on overdrive

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Grächen Snow Bike Race Week 4

Posted: Saturday, 2 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

For the second race day we had an even earlier meeting at 7:15am. So I missed the delicious hotel breakfast yet again. Breakfast is the only meal in Germanic Switzerland that doesn't contain large amounts of inedible (for me) dead animal, I was starting to acquire the frail nervous energy of a supermodel.

For racing I was loaned the latest Brenter "Fat Boy" C6 model, thanks to Richard Platt. Am I being paranoid when I wonder if the Brenter Mafia made me an offer I couldn't refuse. The "Fat Boy" is supposed to be a lightweight, yet sturdy, all mountain machine with high handlebars. It should, in fact, have been very similar to my own DIY custom bike. And having trained on a Brenter in Innsbruck just 2 years ago it should have been a familiar feeling and not too difficult to adjust.

It was certainly light and the steering was good, but I had great difficulty getting accustomed to the undamped i.e. bouncy rear suspension. I would start a turn, then find myself ejected from the saddle if the rear ski bit too well on the icy snow. I made a couple of course inspections, including one where the Brenter successfully bucked me on to the hardpack. I quickly sneaked off to the adjacent piste and made some frantic pre-race runs to try and learn the feel of the machine.
Looking across the slope I realised to my horror that the first racers had already made their runs, I got myself as fast as possible to the top of the hill and placed myself in line.

Lining up for the start gate
Before I knew it I was at the start gate, thinking through the course and telling myself "I can do this". The race went pretty well, I got through the gates and stayed on the bike throughout. These are the statistics; the course had a vertical drop off 300 metres which is 984 feet, the course length was 1050 metres which about 2/3 of a mile.
The fastest time was 47 seconds and most racers made it in under a minute, I made it in 1 minute 37 seconds.
The fastest average speed would have been around 50 miles per hour, mine would have been 24 mph.

The French and English Teams
There was a little time for cooling down, because it was soon time to inspect the course for the Super-G race. This is a faster race with wider turns that the slalom. There was a cheeky 90 degree turn on an off camber bend and I remember thinking that it would be the most difficult part of the course, go too fast in to it and you would be off into the wild blue yonder.

Having survived 2 races, slow but intact, I was starting to feel quite relaxed about the Super-G. I got myself to the top of the hill early, laid back on a rock in the sun for 5 minutes and took some snap shots. My mentor Richard Platt, gave me tips about breathing out on the turns, warming up and sitting correctly.

Once again I found myself at the gate, focused but calm. It felt much like any other ride down the mountain almost dare I say it, slow in places. The fastest time was 41 seconds and once again all riders made it in under a minute. My time was 1 minute 21 seconds. However there was to be an unexpected surprise later when the results were processed; because 2 riders crashed in the Super-G I was now in 11th place which won me 5 points in the World Cup and am I now 31 out 33. This leaves me feeling a little sorry for Christian Glockl and Wilco Jung who are at positions 32 and 33.

After the numerous prize givings things the hill rapidly cleared as people readied themselves for the evenings festivities, in fact some had got started early.

Skibikers are not all fat baldy blokes!

You may think that I'm making the next bit up because it seems too much like a scene from a David Lynch movie but...

The evening kicked off with Moosalp a Scottish Pipes marching band,  the skirl of bagpipes and the sight of a dozen blokes in kilts under a whirling disco ball (I swear I'm not on medication) in the Swiss Alps has to rank as one of the most surreal events of my life.
This is a tradition which can be blamed on skibiker Darren Walker who hails from Scotland and used to visit complete with Kilt and bagpipes.

This is a real Scotsman
Things then settled down to various awards and speeches, my knowledge of German is almost nill, but I think I got the jist to say that everyone was thrilled and happy.
After a few numbers from the very slick function band Jargon the Swiss Carnival marching band Big Beans appeared with a more authentic Valais flavour of Guggenmusik
This was a novelty to me, a little like a New Orleans funeral band, but with frenetic break beat ryhtms and popular tunes played on exclusively brass instruments. The choice of "Maid of Orleans" by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark was an 80s throwback, I never thought I would live to hear played in public again, but a good tune is a good tune.
If have to confess rather than stick it out to the bitter end I chose to leave discretely before it all got too messy.

Some people say the Swiss are dull, go to bed far too early and don't know how to have fun, but up in Grächen they are quite the party animals.

SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Grächen Snow Bike Race Week 3

Posted: Friday, 1 April 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Myself, Richard Platt and the French team had a 7:30am rendezvous at the cable car station as we would be able to inspect the race course from 8:00am before the start time of 9:00am. Inspection means slowly side slipping your way down the course in order to plan your line and memorise the course.

Richard Platt took me under his wing and pointed out where to start your turn, where to watch your speed and lastly where the fun bits would be. He thought it was a difficult course, although this may have been to make me feel better. He reminded me that this was my first race and as I could never beat the other racers I shouldn't kill myself trying; but should concentrate on finishing the course by getting to the bottom and have fun in the process.

All too soon it was time to line up for the start. Conversation dried up and I got into "the zone" running through the course in my head, it was difficult to see much of the other competitors once they were off. Next I was at the gate itself, the Marshall asked if I was ready, I nodded, then the countdown began, 5,4,3,2,1..GO!

And I was away, I didn't care about speed, but I was absolutely determined to make it through all the gates. All went well at first, but about halfway down I swung out too wide and had to give it my all to get back on the line and through the next gate. On the results board I was last, but that didn't matter, I had completed my first race without disqualification.

The Slalom course at 8am as the hill fog clears

The next race up was a parallel slalom, with two riders, each running down their own course side by side, first across the line would win the round. There was to be qualifying round first and from this the fastest 16 would be chosen to enter.
Those selected would then race head to head and by a process of elimination find the ultimate winner.
As there were 19 or so entrants and a meaty jump at the finish line, I didn't rate my chances of making it through qualifying much and bailed out..

I could have stayed to watch but instead put in a few more runs down to the village in sublime conditions on an empty piste

As skibikes are currently banned from the chairlifts in Grächen, I was also keen to explore the "forbidden zone" not accessible by skibike. So around lunchtime I packed the skibike away and pulled out my Snowblades.

The Stafel-Seetalhorn chairlift gave access to some superb runs, one with a view of the nearby glacier's snout.
Even at 4pm a lot of these runs were still of good quality and provided a lot of fun. It is such a shame that they are not currently accessible by skibike.

Returning at 5pm the village run had become a slushy mess. I had to abandon all elegance and opt for the water skier stance, leaning as far back as possible to stop the Snowblade's tips sinking into the porridge. I finally made it down but with burning thighs.

What a day!