Ski Bike Trip January 2012 - Wayne Richards

Posted: Thursday, 19 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

A report in from Wayne Richards, former ski professional turned freestyle / pegger skibike advocate:
It’s interesting to recollect things from last year and compare them to this year. Last year was my first adventure with ski bikes and that largely came about by need, that of finding another mountain activity that could include a couple of friends who were about to hang up their skis due to knee and leg injuries. We spent a not so happy week learning, with serious injury to two of the four who started to learn within a few hours on the slopes ( don’t let me put you off, these were unusual injuries ), the remaining two becoming quietly proficient around the mountain and enjoying our time on the bikes. Since that time we have spent two visits to Sno!Zone and vaguely remembered what it is to ride a ski bike each time.

SkiBike practice session at Sno!Zone Milton Keynes
 So when my wife and I decided to spend 14 ski days in the Alps this year on an extended ski trip visiting a number of not so well known ( to the English ) ski areas, the idea was run past the good lady to see if a ski bike could be packed in as well. Now being a good lady it was agreed, yes I could but I must not embarrass her too much by looking like an old “prat” on a ski bike ( her words ). So off to the Zillertal region we went, complete with my trusty stead, looking cool in its new paint job.

The Zillertal Arena ski area is a huge ski area comprising of a number of resorts totalling over, I kid you not, 650km of pisted runs. Its huge and to the English mainly unheard of. Almost entirely red runs, lots of them, steep parts on every run and joy of joy almost entirely Austrian locals with a good smattering of German and Dutch thrown in with typical high speed modern lift systems and most importantly, very traditional restaurants . So we skied for a few days ( including some of the best powder skiing I have experienced in Europe ) and then apprehensively I broached the subject of getting the ski bike out for tomorrow, “if you must” came back the reply.

So ski biking then, it was a real eye opener to start off with, due to high winds, Zell being the only resort available to us and Zell when you look at the Piste map is all red runs with one tiny blue run. Talk about in at the deep end and I have to say the first morning was a bit of a crash and burn morning with a whole new technique of “ 3 pegging “ ( dragging the uphill foot to keep stable ) being developed for the really steep parts. Anyway when for about the twentieth time a group of kids all pointed me out and began asking questions about the bike, the wife calmly muttered something about ageing rockstars.

On day three of ski biking, the very high lifts at Zell were opened and we could access the linked resorts of Gerlos, Konigsleiten and the far end, Gerlosplatte and Walden, it was a long, fast day getting from Zell to Walden and back, by now I was really starting to get the hang of things and travelling long distances is becoming the norm. My wife is a very very good expert skier and doesn’t hang about but never the less I was never far behind. What a fantastic day, good snow, clear blue skies, good company and a series of long long runs to match. I would hate to think of the miles we covered.

Mayrhofen the next day was an interesting party resort, again very few easy runs but good powder snow thrown in, tough day but someone has to do it, lots of English and Russian voices with hamburgers and pizzas in the restaurants, but never the less some great runs.

On to Seefeld with its rickety old cable car ( where the attendant locks the door as he get out before setting off ) and its funicular, Garmisch and Patenkirchen in Germany ( actually quite a good resort ), Lermoos ( stunning small resort ) and back to Alpbach in Austria ( an old favourite for us ) where I spent a memorable day ski biking fresh powder the whole day. A totally different technique has to be used but never the less it is doable on a ski bike and quite good fun, haven’t quite fully got to grips with it but it is really really good fun.

So red runs, black runs, powder, hard pack, some ice, I rode it all and came back with an even bigger smile than before. My pegging technique is now better than proficient and I can almost dance the bike at will, some very steep black slopes still phase me a little but then would a two week skier be doing the runs neatly, probably not. I had the longest fall I have had in a lot of years, probably over 100 metres, at Garmisch on a steep point of the Olympic downhill run where neither the bike or I good stop sliding. I was doing probably 15mph when I fell, this weekend the racers will probably be doing 80mph at the same point, mmmm, not for me and it bought home just how good ( and fearless ) these guys and gals have to be.

Austria and Germany certainly is ski bike friendly with a lot of the lifties having very ancient Bretner style ski bikes outside their huts, they do seem a bit perturbed at first by the fact I ski onto the lifts astride the bike, lift the bike off on my feet under the pegs and lock the seat over the safety bar, taking up only one seat, once they see it done once they simply ignore you for the rest of the day. Zell we came across another “Pegger” on the slopes who said there were three bikes often used by locals, sadly his bike was a bit of an animal weighing in at 18 kilos and had to be sat astride him going up the lift but he was out there “ Pegging “ for all to see. All the locals are keen to watch and look and at Alpbach I was ambushed in the middle of an off piste run by 6 German lads who quickly upended the bike to see how I was skiing the powder on a bike, to be told, “ve have to build one of these”.

So what a fantastic holiday we had, do go ski biking if you can give it a go and do keep trying it if at first you feel as though you are not learning as fast as you would like, remember it took many many weeks of learning to ski but with the mountain experience / craft part out of the way, ski biking will take a lot less time to learn. Will my wife let me ski bike again, of course, even for a diehard skier / ski bike cynic like her, she is now pretty convinced that ski biking is a viable alternative to skiing.