SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - Flaine Bluebird Day

Posted: Thursday, 31 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Today had a much better start than recent days, anticipating icy conditions first thing, we enjoyed a more relaxed start to the day,  as we munched sweet breakfast waffles, the view from the balcony revealed crystal clear Alpine blue skies and dazzling sunshine. Today looked like it was going to be a good day.

We wanted to head high, back to the area around the top of the DMC cable car where the snow was likely to have remained powdery and fresh. We put in a number of runs with Andy and Carl spending a lot of time working on headcam videos.
As anyone who has worked in television or movies will tell you, such things take a lot of time to set up and a lot of time is lost hanging around. This can be frustrating if you don't "look at the big picture"and my patience was beginning to wear thin by the early afternoon.

SkiBiker Carl on camera

We headed into some new territory and made the mistake of heading down the Minos piste. A great run at the top, with lots of crusty snow, this is only my second time on such a surface and I am already feeling more confident. Unfortunately we met our Waterloo further down on the Jade piste which was steep and had the consistency of a skating rink. We all struggled (some  more than others!) and only Andy made it down unscathed. I was able to discover that the end of the handlebars can be used as a brake to stop you once things have gone decidedly pear shaped and you find both you and your skibike sliding down a slick sheet of ice.

Andy and Carl took a rest break, whilst I headed back down the same run, looking for a "Northwest Passage" off piste itinerary to reach better snow. I was successful, once I followed some well worn tracks through a charming wooded area filled with Silver Birch trees.

We then met up with two local SnowScoot riders and made some spectacular late afternoon runs on empty pistes at sunset. If you could only bottle such moments of perfect oneness for times of need!

Spectacular late afternoon runs on empty pistes

SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - Flaine Heat Wave

Posted: Wednesday, 30 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , , ,

It rained last night, something you don't expect 1600m up in the Alps in January, it's just not cricket.
The humidity had successfully turned the crisp, crunchy access road into a skating rink with a gradient. My midnight stroll back from Le Diamant Noir was quite a challenge over the laws of physics.

Matters hadn't improved this morning, Carl struggled to gain sufficient traction to make it off the access ramp to the apartment. Eager to "seize the day" Carl, Andy and I made it onto the 3rd chairlift to put in some fresh tracks on our warm up run down the Grands Vans. In such freeze / thaw conditions it was hard and icy in places. Next we headed up the DMC cable car to the top station at 2500m to see how conditions fared at altitude. As you might expect, they were better, with lots of heavy buttery snow.

Organising skibikers is much like herding cats

We had to make our pre-arranged rendezvous with Ric Platt above Les Carroz. It would seem that organising skibikers is much herding cats! We were late and Ric had managed to get himself lost, thank Nokia for mobile communications.
Ric Platt, is very much "Old Skool" and has been skibiking since the early 1970s, so has seen the heydays, then the period when skibikes were banned throughout France, to now witness a re-emergence of skibiking. He has resisted abandoning traditional footskis and heading into the brave new world of freestyle skibiking, he intends to continue skibike riding indefinitely and eagerly anticipates the generous lift pass discounts available to the over 75s!
Having located Richard, we returned to Flaine for a succession of loops up the DMC cable car and back down again. The brilliant Mephisto Superieur "monster" run was now running even better than earlier. A fine afternoon of skibiking was had, including some enjoyable off piste excursions.
Towards the end of the afternoon we headed back towards the links with Morillon and enjoyed a fine Vin Chaud before heading our separate ways.

Old Skool meets New Skool - skibikers old and new at Flaine

The day concluded with a few sublime runs in soft, slow snow, hell for the tired skiers heading for home, but heaven for the feisty skibikers.

SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - A Plan Comes Together

Posted: Tuesday, 29 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

One of my favourite lines from the TV series "The A Team" was "I love it when a plan comes together". Yesterday, I made the trip down from London in near perfect conditions and even "Uncle Fester" my worn out Ford Fiesta behaved himself impeccably.
After a brief overnight stop in Geneva to rest and collect my skibikes, I was back on the road to Flaine, just under two hours away, to meet up with Carl Day.
Carl has been skibike riding since Sunday along with the local crew Mel (English) and Fabrice (French).

Meanwhile, Andy Apsolon made the 12 hour drive from the East of Germany, arriving around 5pm. To my great surprise Richard Platt from the SAGB rang to say that he was in town for a visit too. So without the chance to unpack, we shared a beer, talked skibikes and planned the routes for tomorrow's group ride.

Later we carried out some essential skibike maintenance and pondered on how the wonders of the Internet can bring together such a disparate group.

Wayne's Austrian 2013 Skibike Trip - Part II

Posted: Wednesday, 23 January 2013 by Waynemarlow in Labels: , ,

Ski Amade is ski biking Nirvana or what?
So imagine... what seems no lift company restrictions on skibikes, endless blue and red runs perfectly groomed everyday, almost an interest in anything new and innovative, restaurants that are reasonable value, busy bars and cafes, young barmaids wearing Dirndles serving the beer, new high speed lifts, snow making every where, Ski Amade is ski biking Nirvana or what? Imagine turning up to a lift on your custom ski bike and the liftie, not bothering to slow the lift, says “ interesting machine, will it fit on the lift “ a quick nod from me and he says with a nod, we’ll see then. No fuss, no drama, just welcome to my world and we’ll see if you fit in and the lift just carried on at its normal pace.

In a dedicated ski bike bar at Bad Hofgastein
Cool attitude or what? I have been pleasantly surprised at just how laid back the Austrian people are toward ski bikes, its like ski bikes have always been here ( I guess this is Brenter land and yes you can even hire them at the base stations rental outlets ) and in a way they have. At the base of the Bad Hofgastein funicular is a bar dedicated to ski bike racing with a shelf of gold and silver cups like you have never seen before and a wooden ski bike on the wall which the bar owner seems to think is about 1940 vintageand has been in the family at least since 1940. Check out the self levelling front ski mechanism.

"Olde Worlde" charm, as original as it was in 1960 at Pischl
So where to next, the Gasteiner valley, Bad Hofgastein, an old Spa town now updated with a 1500sq metres of water pools in the new Hallenbad centre ( spa world to you and me and yes most of the Wellness area, the saunas and steam areas of which the town is famous for, is strictly a nude zone, so be prepared to drop the inhibitions and join in ) along with Dorf Gastein, Bad Hofgastein and Sport Gastein.

Lots of contrasts here, a series of resorts which updated some years ago, but now left trailing in the wake of other parts of the Ski Amade. A Funicular and a large 80 person cable car up from Bad Hofgastein ( which are to be replaced with a 8 man gondola system in 2015 ) takes you to the top in a pretty scorching time but crowded space. Great great off piste and stunning reds and blues. 14 kms of run from top to bottom, bikes no problem.

Big powder day at Dorf Gastein
Bad Hofgastein town is like an Edwardian street in London, high very solidly built very large houses which are now hotels, showing its past as a Spa town and prior to the ski world in the winter it has become. It’s nice, different and very quirky, but worth a visit and by the noise of the merry drunks passing our hotel at 3.00am there are a bar or two somewhere. The off piste at Dorf Gastein has to be some of the best, most easily accessible from the lifts I have seen at any resort, vast areas just waiting to be explored. We had a really good day there skiing some 300mm of fresh powder in minus 14 in bright clear skies, the bike just took second priority on that day.

And so the last valley, the Hochkonig valley. Muhlbach at one end and Maria Alm at the other. With a flavour all of its own, up one side of the valley and down and then back up the next and down the other, a series of linked small villages and some long long runs. Old slow two man chairs with folding inward safety bar, remember them? to almost new 8 man chairs with a sprinkling of gondolas thrown in, it’s a pot pouri of runs and lifts. It’s nice, has almost exclusively Austrian clientele, very traditional in the mountain restaurants and different to the other valleys. Is it worth a visit, why not, its how skiing was 20 years ago with a modern mix of piste grooming and snow cannons. Off piste would have to be a touring skiers Nirvana with stunning wide open back country bowls without too much climbing at Hintermoos and Hinterthal.

Cool Ski School Iglo - "Ice Age"characters embedded in ice

And so another week of ski biking and a week or so of skiing over new territory, new friends met along the way, a lot of kilometres under the skis, put on a few kilos around the girth, some new experiences, a few tales to be told. What an enjoyable journey this has been.

So where will 2014 lead us then? We have heard about a new area south of the Hochkonig hotel bar that is being proposed with new linked in resorts, ah well we could always go there.

The Ski Amade - Wayne's Ski & Skibike Tour

Posted: Tuesday, 22 January 2013 by Waynemarlow in Labels: , , ,

Old or new, this Restaurant was built about two years ago
It's interesting reading Mark's adventures in typically French small resorts, some years ago I abandoned French resorts for a number of reasons, principally they no longer seemed to jingle my bells, pricing in the mountain restaurants and the typical lack of French hospitality in the Alps, had finally done for my sense of wanting to continue what had been fun times in France. The days of packing the car with all the young uns favourite bunnies and their favourite game for the then 12 hour journey to the Portes du Soleil, has since been replaced with a quick Easyjet or Ryan Air flight out to Austria or Italy.  In this year's case with 3 sets of skis and two ski bikes plus 2 1/2 weeks of kit, it was a 15 hour door to door car journey.

Not knocking French skiing as I have had some really great times there, but life moves on and in particular Austria really has invested heavily in new lift infrastructure and snow making equipment, its almost become a race between areas to have the latest and greatest architecturally designed lift, the fastest uplift, the most number of seats on a chairlift, the wackiest competition or a first for me, seeing a ski in massage service whilst on the slopes. I would guess that the Eco warriors of the world have now stopped any further development in the mountains and there fore to attract paying guests to your area you must have the best facilities.

So this year we made a trip to "Ski Amade" ,4 large valleys just outside of Salzberg, that were basically small local community lift companies and for whatever reason, seem to have invested zillions of Euros into the lift infrastructure. 830 kms of largely interconnecting runs, where they don’t meet up they have a free bus service between lifts, over the top and down the valleys they have replaced old lifts with new, gondolas, chairs, new cable cars, new restaurants, new bridges and most importantly over 75% of runs now have snow making equipment. To visit has simply been truly an eye opener to see what wise investment can do. Now one can do modern things pretty awfully architecturally, but the Austrians seem to have put a lot of thought in and kept traditional wood buildings, kept the traditional food and ambiance in the restaurants, even the loos are almost works of art with there marble and painted mural walls. But and here is a big but, they seemed to have moved the game on as far as positioning of the lifts and maintenance of the runs.

 So we began our 2013 adventure in the Salzburger Sportwelt Valley.  Wagrain linking Alpendorf one way and to Flachau the other, lots and lots of easy reds, lots and lots of new lifts, pretty stunning to say the least. The new interconnecting cable car between the two sides of Wagrain when completed is going to be truly one of the highest cable cars around, what a bungee jump from the middle that will be. Flachau Winkl and Zauchensee where I had a memorable day on the bike on some pretty tough reds and blacks. Irony though at Zauchnesee, I had to for the first time, take my skis off the bike to get it into what reminded me of an elderly Fiat 500 but speedy 4 man gondola, something to consider if you plan to tour resorts such as I do. Long long runs from mid station to the villages, 20 minute runs at a fair lick are not uncommon, despite the piste map showing some pretty small ordinary runs. I have to say I was impressed with this valley, it has a lot going for it and I’m sure for that 2 week a year skier, it will become one of the worlds best areas to visit once people become aware of its potential and the traffic then generates busy villages. The slopes can handle it but apart from Flachau and the mountain restaurants, the Apres Ski is pretty quiet. Saalbach it’s not yet, but it could one day be a rival.

Onwards, to the Schladming Dachstein valley. Schladming with its stunning massive two churches, an old Brit town in the 60’s but now full to over brim with Ruskies and Eastern Block clientele, who said the old soviet states don’t have any money, they really have replaced the Brits, Danes and Cloggies of old, these guys are the new kids in town and boy do they have some money to spend. Haus Ennstal with its fabulously long blues and red runs down into the village from the Hauser Kaibling peak, the other direction to Rohrmoos with what has to be the best dedicated toboggan run right from the top of the highest peak Hockwurzen down to the village, Pichl and Gleiming, really poor cousins at the end of the line with old old lifts and really “Old Worlde” charm but stunning slopes on the Reiteralm range. We ski- ed  here for 4 days and for the first time travelled over the same area as our friends who met us here, liked the Hauser Kaibling runs and link back to the Planai area and wanted to revisit it on the last day of their trip. Big wide open well groomed Blues and reds through  tree lined avenues, not my ideal but for the two week a year skier, sheer joy. Before we had even reached base we could hear our friends excitedly discussing whether they could fit another ski trip in this year. Yup skiing is like all good things in life, the more you do it, the more you want to do it. 

Read more in part 2

SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - Urban Skiing

Posted: Monday, 21 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

It's been eating away at me for years now, I have skied and skibiked all over Europe, but when I get home I look at the slopes that surround my home and wonder to myself, what would they be like with enough snowfall? Luckily, this time last year, there was enough snowfall for me to SkiBike on Riddlesdown on the other side of the valley, where I live. In the last few days we have had quite a few inches of snow, but no more was forecast and there is the strong likelihood of a thaw soon. Irritatingly, I have left all my skibike stuff in Geneva for safekeeping and even my trusty SnowBlades are at Finches for a well earned trip through the belt sander.

But I do still have a pair of ski boots with me and some footskis, that I made a year ago, which have only been used once. If you haven't read some of the older posts on this Blog, you may not know what they are. Footskis are very short 60cm skis used with ski boots as support outriggers when skibobbing, the pre-cursor to modern freestyle skibikng and still common and popular in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, footskis can be used to scoot around on, just like a very short SnowBlades, although there isn't much ski behind your heel, you do need much more finely tuned balance skills than the average lazy skier.

Footskis - needs finely tuned balance skills

Today I had to attend a meeting, make phone calls and do numerous other chores. I did manage to squeeze in a quick 6 mile ride into Croydon and back, but the imminent thaw had been bugging me all day. At the same time, in spite of having skied many red and even black runs within the last month, I had no idea how tricky it would be to ski a London street. At 10pm the urge could no longer be resisted, I decided there was only one way to find out, I donned the added protection of knee and wrist braces, slipped into my ski boots and walked out into the unknown.

Well meaning neighbours had successfully cleared swages of pavement of snow, rendering them unskiable, so with my baby footskis grasped in one hand, I headed higher up the hill to Wattendon Road, the one road that never gets cleared of snow, is never salted and is always a great road to test your ice driving skills.

Wattendon Road - great to test your ice driving skills

15 minutes later I was at the junction of Wattendon Road and Firs Road, surrounded by quiet bungalows owned by curtain twitching retirees, here, the chances of meeting an oncoming car were slim. The end of the road provided a gentle "green run" gradient for the final 30 metres where it meets Firs Road.
I clipped in and stepped onto the road, slowly skating towards the junction abruptly I was off, barely moving above walking pace, but skiing on a road in Kenley, London. The cars that had successfully negotiated the road had compressed the snow into slalom competition levels of slickness. It wasn't a pleasant experience but with my primary target completed, I headed back down the hill. There were some steeper roads nearby, but they were sheltered by trees, what little snow hadn't been cleared had already melted.

Clomping along the road I began to appreciate how much snow really falls on the mountains to sustain the runs and also how carefully it is managed and augmented by artificial snow making on delicate sections. Of course in the Alps you won't find many runs below 1000m or 3000', here in Purley we are just 95m or 300' above sea level, even 500 miles further North in Scotland the runs don't start until 300m or 1000'. An ideal snowfield needs to be on a North facing slope, to avoid the melting effect of the sun, be clear of overhanging trees, have a level, rock free surface and a reasonably constant gradient.

Clomping along the road

Not 100m from my house I passed just such a slope, the local kids on plastic trays had done a very effective job of compressing the snow, yet unlike the road it hadn't been turned into hard ice. Sneakily, I popped back into my foot skis and lined myself up for a run, in my head I could see the headline in the local paper "Must have been piste... local ski enthusiast found dead on the railway tracks", but this was time to think positively.

This was time to think positively

The first run went well, no unpleasant surprises, time to up the ante, I sidestepped back to the start and with each descent started to get a little more dynamic. How weird, I was really enjoying this little slope within spitting distance of my home. I found it was less effort and quicker to Herringbone back up to the start, then turn around and see if I could get in another 4 or 5 turns before I reached the road at the bottom. Within 10 minutes I had broken into a sweat, I took off my hat to expose my steaming bald head.
A few late night walkers passed by discretely without comment, they must have thought that I had broken out of a mental unit. "Oh look at him, bless, he seems to be having so much fun".
After 45 minutes I realised that all that uphill climbing in heavy ski boots was exhausting, it was midnight and I was yet to have some dinner. With a happy glow, I trudged back for some much needed sustenance; roll on the onset of the next Maunder Minimum and I had better start scouring eBay for a used chairlift this summer.

I had better start scouring eBay for a used chairlift this summer

#2 Urban RetroBike Tour Around London

Posted: Saturday, 19 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Since my recent return to the UK it has been getting progressively colder and in the last day or two the snow has started falling in earnest. Most galling is that almost all my skibike kit is stored at Geneva and even my SnowBlades are getting a well deserved pass through the sanding belt at Finches in Forest Hill.

This Saturday was in my diary for me to lead my second RetroBike tour around London, a long but relatively gentle ride around the parks, cycle lanes and canal footpaths of the capital. It looks like it will become a regular event, each ride brings in both new riders and those who have come back for another go.

With the recent snowfall it was looking to entail a fair amount of riding on snow, something I have done a couple of times before, but am still very much a novice at. The evening before the ride the forecast looked bleak and a number of  riders made last minute bail outs. I began to doubt my own judgement too, so made a 6pm risk assessment, with a quick ride up and down my street. With 2" - 4" of crunchy compacted snow on the street, the riding was surprisingly good, the one sketchy bit was where the local kids had been sledging and reduced the surface to ice.

The following morning I awoke early and made a flurry of early morning texts and calls. Tim, facing a long drive up from Bournemouth,  whilst hung over, wanted hard facts, I gave it a 50% chance of crashing out at some point. Dan, from Guildford had similar conditions, but was keen to carry on regardless. Whilst Andy, from the posh side of Purley, was still keen to go, providing it wasn't going to be some macho endurance race.

Andy - the posh side of Purley

On this cold, grey day amidst occasional flurries of snow, we gathered at East Croydon station and headed once more into the snowy wastes of South London. Luckily the riding was still good with crunchy snow under the tyres and not the slush over ice that you might have expected. Luckily all our bikes were shod with knobbly tyres and we all seemed to be keeping well without any spills.

The snowy wastes of South London

Heading out of Catford, the cold got to Tim and Dan, who's socks were not up to the task of holding in warmth whilst riding, so a detour to Lewisham was needed for an emergency sock stop. The High Street provided a TKMaxx, but no Millets or similar outdoor type shop. A fellow cyclist recommended one of the market stall holders who had tog 2.4! socks available, the pricing of which involved some new form of mathematics that even Stephen Hawkins may have had trouble with. A quick sock fitting session ensued, the sartorial results looking like a hybrid between Leroy Johnson from Fame and Nora Batty from The Last of the Summer Wine.

A fellow cyclist recommended one of the market stall holders

Hypothermia averted, it was time for a quick slog up the hill to Blackheath, where we were greeted with some fairly unpleasant driving snow. Hastily we made our way to the statue of General Wolfe, overlooking Greenwich for the obligatory photo opportunity.

The statue of General Wolfe - overlooking Greenwich

Before we cooled down too much, we made a downhill run for Greenwich and the lure of pie and chips. Fortified it was time to head over towards Stratford for a glance of the Olympic stadium. The local drivers displayed some pretty psychotic behaviour (wouldn't happen South of the River) which met with a robust and assertive response from Tim.

As the general consensus was to get off road as soon as possible, we headed West and joined the canal network for a bleak but fun ride up the Regents Canal tow path towards Islington. We whizzed past the groovy hipsters, strollers and sundry tourists, clearing a path with my quacking front brake.

As darkness fell we took a quick coffee/chocolate rest stop thanks to Andy, sir you are a gent. Whilst we warmed up, it was time to award some prizes:
"Furthest distance travelled" was picked up by Tim, who had driven over 120 miles in foul weather to take part. "RetroBike du Jour", was a close call between Tim on his Diamond Back Axis 94 and Andy on his Marin Pine Mountain. Tim pipped Andy at the post, just because the Diamond Back looked almost new, with just a few scratches on the lacquer. To take such a nice bike out onto filthy, salt covered roads, shows an inspiring level of commitment worthy of reward.

We had hardly left the rest stop before we lost Dan, who had suffered his first puncture of the day. In the fading light a quick repair was made and we returned to street level. What seemed like 5 minutes later we had already passed St.Paul's Cathedral and were heading up The Strand and onto The Mall. Tim sprinted past me to do the "both arms raised" Tour de France finish line glide through Admiralty Arch. We had a few minutes break at Buckingham Palace, but with the onset of night time it was getting distinctly colder and simply had to keep moving.

Dan - first puncture of the day

We upped the pace through South London to warm up and give "the youngsters" a chance to stretch their legs out a bit. On a bit of head down climbing towards Crystal Palace, the word came through that we were Danless once again, a phone call and some back tracking found him with a second puncture. There were no obvious signs of glass in the carcass and as he was running top quality Schwalbe tyres, we began to wonder if the cold had got to the valve seals on the inner tube.

We upped the pace through South London

With the home straight in sight we completed the climb up to Crystal Palace for a beer in the snow, courtesy of Tim. Refreshed, there was a bitingly cold, but wonderful, flat out descent from Crystal Palace back to East Croydon. Tim was dropped off at his car which, surprisingly for Croydon, was still there, then Dan at the station, leaving just Andy and myself to cruise back to Purley.

Beer in the snow

All in, a great days snow riding, in good company, what more could you ask for? Better weather seems to be the general consensus, as there is unlikely to be another ride till March let's hope so.

10 Things I Truly Love About France

Posted: Thursday, 17 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

The last SkiBiker SkiBike Blog trip gave me the opportunity to consider exactly what it is about France that I like so much?

1. National Identity - America just can't get a foothold here, this means freshly made croissants from a local baker who was up preparing them in the middle of the night, just because that's exactly how it should be done.

2. The Mountains - Not just the Alps, but three, yes three, other mountain ranges to play with, how stupendous is that?. You don't believe me? OK, go look up; Jura, Auvergnes and Pyrenees in WikiPedia then smart ass.

3. The Infrastructure - Serious government investment to create the World super power of ski stations.

4. The Food - No messing about here, plenty of fresh, unadulterated, locally sourced produce and even the simplest supermarket staples items are oh so very yummy.

5. The Wine - No messing here either, perhaps not the most innovative vignoblers, but classic, delicate, affordable and drinkable. A reasonable bottle is cheaper than Cola, so why would you not drink it?

6. The Women - They are so elegant, whether 18 or 80. Why can British women only do tarty or frumpy and not the classy chic look somewhere in between?

7. The Space - A similar population to the UK or Germany but around 3 times the space, keep away from Paris and you're laughing.

8. Hypermarkets - Need snow chains, a skibike saddle, salopettes, concentrated hydrochloric acid (absolutely true) and a months grocery all under the same roof?

9. The Metric System - When it comes to engineering supplies who would ever want to go back to fractional Whitworth sizes or was it UNF?

10. The Weather - Seasons are seasons, it will be quite cold in Winter and pretty hot in Summer, except for Brittany, which is on the British, four seasons in one day, weather system.

Need snow chains, salopettes, or hydrochloric acid?

SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - Heading Home

Posted: Monday, 14 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Today I made the long haul North back to London, while crossing both the Jura and Vosges mountains I experienced only light snow showers. What I wasn't expecting was a full on blizzard that developed between Ostend and Dunkerque! The wipers and washers were icing up, snow beat relentlessly against the windows, gradually the motorway disappeared into a sea of whiteness. The lorries left such deep ruts that the snow banged on the underside of the car. I did, however, enjoy the smug satisfaction of gliding past some big luxury 4x4 lumbering in the slow lane. Small front wheel drive hatchback with skinny snow tyres trumps the bourgmobiles, yes. Fortunately, back on the English side of the channel the weather was much as normal.

The long hours behind the wheel gave me the opportunity to recall the many many little moments that made me smile on the inside on the first leg of the SkiBiker SkiBike Tour 2013.

Serge Mermillod asking if he could have his own skibike back at the start of a tricky slope, Serge you need to take some lessons mate.

Carl Day on an icy piste that ran through a tunnel, exiting totally sideways, at some considerable speed, with a huge grin on his face. Later watching him off piste getting enough air to see clear under both skis as he launched himself over a drop off.

For the very first time forming a lift queue of 4 skibikes and then having 2 SnowScoots join behind us, how far things have come from those lonely solo trips to Scotland and Andorra.

The gent with a broad West Scottish accent asking "Hey pal is that an Orange Fandabidozi you're riding?" whilst heading through Avoriaz.

Being stopped by a very serious looking French ESF teacher, who then asked if I could explain to her class (in French) what I was riding, how it worked and then give a technique demonstration. "Look" she said "You can even ride a bicycle on the snow, anything is possible".

Being told by a Russian chap that he thought a mountain bike on the snow was too dangerous. I mean a Russian F.F.S.!

Fabrice telling me that this was the first time he was about to go back on a skibike after being hospitalised riding last year. Wow, that must have taken some balls.

In conclusion, for some it is so easy to "Find your tribe", their tastes are so commonplace or they are so unselective that any flavour will do. For others, like me, an eccentric outsider, it can take a lifetime before you discover your tribe and are accepted into its fuzzy embrace without further question or judgement.

Thank you skibikers.

SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - Sa Plane Pour Moi

Posted: Sunday, 13 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Longmans Audio Visual French lesson 1 - Ecouter et Repeter... it was the summer of 1976, I was starting secondary school and dressed in oversized "you'll grow into them" itchy grey trousers and blazer combo. We were being introduced to space age teaching methods. The teacher hit the playback button on a massive reel to reel tape machine which provided the soundtrack and on cue with a series of beeps advanced a cartoon film strip detailed the fascinating lives of Claude and Claudette.
It was a novel and innovative concept that which gave me an excellent accent (for Un Rosbif) but absolutely no concept of grammar or syntax.

Anyway when would I ever need to speak French? All the cool countries, like America, spoke English and Great Britain was still the place to be. We had fantastic bands like; The Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Stranglers, Buzzcocks and Pink Floyd. What did France have to offer then? Sacha Distel and Plastic Bertrand (who was a Belgian). We had spiky pink hair, tartan bondage trousers and Mohawks, what did France have to offer a teenager filled with a lust for life Kickers?

Cut to nearly 40 years later and so much has changed, France has finally turned out some cool music, Air and Daft Punk both spring to mind. They still have the best mountains, tastiest foods and wine is still cheaper than Cola. The ability of the French to look cool in a classic style remains, whereas poor old ruined Britain has degenerated into a dirty facsimile of the worst that the ghettos of the USA have to offer us. As "The The" sagely predicted in the 1980s in the song "Heartland" now it really is "The 51st state of the US of A".
Well the damage is done, nothing will reverse it, not in my lifetime anyway. So in the words of The Police "When the world is running down, you make the best of what's still around".

Thanks to Longmans Audio Visual French, with my brazen disregard of the correct tenses, verb conjugations, use of masculine and feminine nouns, etc. I believe that I have arranged the lease on a flat in the market town of Cluses, a stone's throw from all of my top Alpine haunts. Here I will soon be holed up with my cousin Paul, freshly retired and myself now borderline unemployable, for a little Withnail and I style adventure, minus the Uncle Monty squidgy bits.

What news will February bring? "Sa plane pour moi,, sa plane pour moi,".

SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - Bernex

Posted: Saturday, 12 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

Today was a beautiful Saturday morning with no rush hour traffic to contend with on my drive through Geneva. Lake Geneva was mirror smooth, as calm as a mill pond, reflecting an image of the snow on the Jura mountain tops. By the way, if you think Lake Geneva is a village pond, be aware that it is one of the largest bodies of fresh water in Europe and is something around 50 miles from one end to the other.
About 30 minutes later I made a quick pit at the town of Saint Paul stop for fresh "Pain au Chocolate", a bit like a mixture of croissant and chocolate bits, quite delicious and only €1.80 for two, bargain. I ate one straight away and saved the other for later.
5 minutes later and a few hundred metres higher above the lake I had arrived at Bernex.

The base station is situated in a very picturesque valley, surrounded by a bowl like arrangement above. The backbone of the uplift is by a detachable chair lift. There are two further older and smaller chairlifts taking you, in stages, progressively higher. A selection of drag lifts serve the nursery area, some expert terrain and as traversing interlinks. I was able to ascertain that "Les Nouvelle Glisses" such as skibikes and SnowScoots are not permitted at present, so it was to be another ski safari.

Bernex - situated in a very picturesque valley

The snow was in exceptional condition, I don't remember snow this good since my first ski trip to Meribel nearly 20 years ago.  Yesterday's fresh snow had only been lightly prepared, was still soft and had a lot of give. It actually squeaked and crunched slightly under your weight. You could glide forward as if on Teflon, yet just a hint of edge, yielded grip. As a consequence, when I tried a steep red red, I found it to be quite manageable, I could actually get plenty of grip with my skis edges, biting delightfully into the yielding snow.
As I moved higher the conditions just got better and better. All slopes are North facing and the temperature was a couple of degrees below freezing, so little changed as the day progressed.

Around 12 I began to feel cold at my extremities, so returned to the sunny car park to warm myself up and raid my food bag for some low nutrition, high calorie snacks. Task completed, I put on my big Helly Hansen jacket, a warmer hat and gloves before heading back up the mountain. The change of costume worked well and I continued to ski until the last lift closed, such was my enjoyment of Bernex.
Everyone here skis very well, both on and off piste. I am probably the best I have ever been, skiing in a very precise and tidy manner. Skills that would only rate as average in Bernex.

Skiing in a very precise and tidy manner (and taking self-portraits too)

I got some flack for my recent negative appraisal of skibike friendly Morzine. Sorry I am an inverted snob, I despise bourgeois "noveau riche" values.

These are the things I loved about Bernex:

No rip off prices; lift pass €19.50, smart tag for the pass €1 and parking for free.
An unpretentious atmosphere, if you are here, it means that you have come to ski, not show off your Range Rover, in fact I only saw one very functional 4x4 in the car park.
Few other English vehicles, this isn't a Westfield shopping centre, this is proper Haute Savoie France, full of Gallic nuances, savour the experience, you're not at home any more.
No ugly Croydon les Alpes architecture, no massive faux environmentally friendly condos, just lots of mountain, trees, big skies and little wooden and stone chalets.
Easy, quick access from Geneva, much better than the "darling you simply must visit" big names nearer the Mont Blanc.
No lift queues at all, even on a Saturday, with lots of kids lessons.
No problems with traffic or parking, drive right up to the lift, put on your kit and go.
A surprisingly good vertical range for a ski station, probably a shade over 1000m or 3000ft.

All that remains is to get the management to allow access to skibikes and the place would be near perfect, here's hoping.

Bernex - with access to skibikes the place would be near perfect

SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - Les Carroz

Posted: Friday, 11 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Today was my third attempt to skibike with Fabrice Mercier, was it to be third time lucky or three strikes and you're out? Luckily for us both, it was the former.

Last night it began raining heavily in Geneva, the forecast was for snow above 800m. I know that Morillon base station is at around 1000m elevation, so at some point on my drive the rain would stop and the snow would begin My first clue that the snow was getting close was watching the cars commuting in to Geneva in the opposite direction. First one or two with snow on the roof and then all of them. I was almost there, I was about to cross the snow line.
Sure enough the pattering of rain on the windscreen abruptly stopped and the whole world turned into total whiteness in all directions. I moderated my speed a little to allow for the snow on the road, no longer matching the manic pace of the Range Rover behind me, eagerly pushing closer towards Morzine.

I made it to Morillon almost exactly on 9, not bad for a 7:30 departure from Ferney Voltaire. I assembled the skibike, kitted up and headed over to my rendezvous with Fabrice in Les Carroz.
At altitude there had been a serious dump of snow, about 2-3 feet of fluffy wonderful. It was amazing that all the icy runs that had so humiliated me last week, could now be rode pretty much straight down the fall line at a leisurely pace.

I made my rendezvous with Fabrice in Les Carroz pretty close to our 10am schedule. Fabrice loves his snowboard everybit as much as his skibike and was desperately eager to surf fresh powder in the morning before switching to the skibike after lunch. I was keen to tag along, but SnowBlades aren't really suitable for powder, so I would have to do my best with the skibike.

I was expecting to bimble along easy blue runs, but Fabrice's lead me tricky red runs, where he could disappear off to the side into untrammelled snow. I was a little hesitant to tackle these runs, until I realised that the depth of snow meant that, for a while, I was having to push the skibike down the fall line.

Things got a bit trickier when he lead me onto a steep black run. I was struggling to find any method of riding that would work. Eventually I hit upon an unorthodox skibike riding technique in a superman style. Leaning right forwards on the handlebars, with my belly on the saddle and my feet trailing behind. I am certain that deep powder experts would be wetting themselves if they had seen me. But I made fresh tracks down a black run on a big powder day and lived to tell the tale.

The Beast - heavy at 20kg, but pretty close to bombproof

We had a quick 15 minute breakfast/lunch break and Fabrice released The Beast. The creation began with a broken and repaired downhill mountain bike frame. He has equipped it with Marzocchi forks and Fox coil/air rear suspension. His cousin, Seb Baix made a batch of axle adapters in very heavy duty steel, the sliding element is provided by Salomon MiniMax SnowBlades.
The resulting combo is outrageously heavy at 20kg, but pretty close to bombproof. I could sense though that there was an element of weight envy going on. Especially the relative easy with which I can carry my skibike over turnstiles, into telecabins and onto chairlifts.

Luckily the afternoon's skibike was somewhat less extreme, as Fabrice's last skibike ride had left him in hospital after a footpeg pierced his back, today he wasn't out to break any records. Considering the circumstances he rode very confidently, although I have to confess Evil Mark did enjoy a little schadenfreude to see him land a couple of right proper face planters.

Soaked and frozen, we said a very quick farewell and went our separate ways. I hope we ride again, my off-piste technique has improved no end.

10 things I Absolutely Hate About France

Posted: Thursday, 10 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels:

Today was supposed to have been so very different, I was going to be taking a skibike newbie on a guided tour around part of the Portes du Soleil. Even worse, for the first time in weeks there was lovely fresh soft snow falling up in the mountains. But I couldn't, because I was expecting a pair of skibike foot pegs, sent last week to have arrived by now, well done La Poste.
So I am afraid today the gloves are off and at the risk of offending my French skibiker chums here are 10 things about France that really get my back up.

1. Je me suis desolet monsier - Actually I'm not the least bit sorry I can't help you, I just can't be arsed, plus any of the reasons listed below.

2. You can't get anything done - Because; it's too early, it's lunchtime, it's too late, it's a public holiday, it's Le Weekend, we're all out on strike, we're French and you're English.

3. People won't form an orderly queue - And there is always a huffy woman who thinks because she blessed the world with a foul petulant mini me, should still be at the front even though she's just arrived.

4. Creating French words to avoid Le Franglais - Would downloader (inf.) instead of telecharger really be so bad? And then to compound matters the French do my next next hate.

5. Using "super cool" English words - Then when I pronounce it correctly in English instead of putting on a faux Inspector Cluseaux accent, that means I don't speak French any more right? So now you have to stop and find the one colleague who can "understand" English. You lot choose to call it "Le Big Mac", "Le Flat Rate", "Le Big Potatoe" and "Le Weekend" so deal with it mes braves.

6. Charging as much to use a Motorway as the vehicle uses in fuel - I pray that the Dutch, Germans, Belgians and Luxembergers don't get any bright ideas or I won't be spending money in their motorway filling stations either.

7. Did I mention how everything stops for lunch - Well I'll mention it again, you only started 3 hours ago, what is it, are you all diabetic? And for two hours, what are you planning a Royal banquet? And why do you all have to stop at exactly the same time? How about introducing a bit of "Le Flexitime" and getting out of the 19th Century?

8. Masculine/Feminine - So a table is feminine right, ok, so where are its sex organs then, is that how you make little tables in France, just insert the knife (masc.) here Monsieur RosBif.

9. Driving like your pants are on fire - Wherever you are going will be closed for lunch, so what's the rush buddy? And if you're going to be a complete arse, just fcuking overtake me, don't sit on my back bumper with main beam on.

10. Driving without any indications - I expect French drivers to do stupid shit, so why not at least give some indication. Do you think the GB sticker on the boot means mind reader, you bunch of muppets.

I am just an immigrant in this fine country and I do really like the place

Of course I am just an immigrant in this fine country and I do really like the place. I certainly don't think that everything "back home" is superior otherwise I would spend more time there and less here.

SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - Suprise Return To Avoriaz

Posted: Wednesday, 9 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

This morning I made the morning "commute" as far as Taninges, a little market town in the Giffre valley, dating from medieval times. I absolutely love the place, it has a market square, old fashioned shops, cafes and lots of old stone buildings. It is not particularly touristic in winter, the vehicles with foreign number plates charge through on their head long rush to join the traffic on the Autoroute Blanche. Whilst I stop to take a picture, grab some freshly baked bread and today followed a sign up a side road to a "Chambre d'Hote" the French equivalent of an English "Bed and Breakfast".

Taninges - the vehicles with foreign number plates charge through

Tanninges is also somewhat of a transport nexus; Samoens, Morrilon, Les Gets, Morzine, Praz sur Arly and plenty of other key destinations are just 15 minutes away. Yet this is no sterile resort, but a proper little, living, breathing, garlic munching, community. If I can get back in the summer, I might stay a few days at the Chambre d'Hote and see whether Taninges delivers the vibe I so crave. And perhaps one day soon I am going to trade up from my semi-detached house in London suburbia, to my very own stone and wood built slice of heaven.

"Chambre d'Hote" French for "Bed and Breakfast"

I broke my reverie to call Fabrice and see if he would come out to play today, sadly he was still tied up, but has promised me a full day on Friday, this will be the last chance for both of us on this trip. My return to the UK draws ever closer, This would be sad, but I know I am only going back to pay some bills, clear a few jobs, before heading back again.

So whilst sat in the car in dazzlingly bright sunshine, cherishing the faint aromas of flint and wood smoke, I had to make a decision about where to head today? Two people involved in the chalet holiday business, have been in contact about trying a skibike session with me. Both are based in the Portes du Soleil region and obviously want to try it out locally. Decision made then, off to Morzine and scout out some good locations to guide a novice skibiker.

I haven't been to Morzine for a couple of years, I wasn't impressed then and as I arrived I was immediately reminded of the many reasons I dislike this resort. Even though it is now out of peak season, the streets appeared filled to bursting point with the sort of; Range Rover driving, designer skiwear posing, loud mouthed, fat, boorish Brits that the whole World must surely hate as much as I do. Next I had to find somewhere to park, which here you have to pay for, unlike anywhere else I have been recently. I trudged towards what I thought was the Plenney cable car station leading to some ideal learner runs through the woods.
But it turned out to be the Super Morzine telecabin that provides a life line between fat and fussy Morzine and lean, hard cored Avoriaz.

I hadn't considered Avoriaz as a begginer area, but I vaguely recalled that it did have some quiet, sheltered, nursery slopes, with a decent modern chairlift. I made my way along the ridge above Les Prodains and with each chairlift ride cleared another hurdle. The first liftie was unsure what the hell I had and what it was called. I explained and she took a picture of the skibikes AVEL label to send to the boss. The next was insistent that a skibike leash had to be attached to a leg and not around the torso, as my system does. I dutifully rearranged it to comply and another box was ticked, with smiles all round.

Before I even knew it, I was in Avoriaz, I remember most of the runs here being steep and fast, so chose to stay on the blue graded runs, such as the excellent Lac Intrets. I approached riding from the perspective of a day one skibike novice. Stayed to the side of the piste where there was snow with some give and ran through skibike training drills. The hockey stop, side slipping, the "cock a leg" turn, the drifted seated turn, etc. It was quite interesting to break down the moves you make automatically after becoming an experienced rider. I noticed how quite often on a long curving traverse, I will put in a short skid, to scrub some speed, before swinging across the fall line in the other direction. I checked my tracks behind me and the drills that I made cleanly and felt right left a trail that looked exactly like well carved snowboard tracks. Spooky, I always thought that the best lines to follow were snowboard lines. Furthermore snowboarders must crave the same soft conditions that also suit skibikes, grinding a snowboard down a rock hard piste can't be pleasurable, surely not?

Lean, hard cored Avoriaz

Finding the correct slope for a total skibike novice was of great concern. It would have to be something level with an easy gradient that would encourage the newcomer to play with the skibiking experience. Something with safe uplift like; a telecabine, cable car or big detachable chairlift. When you start to put these factors together options become limited, but I think I hit paydirt on the Proclou run below the SnowPark de la Chapelle.

I headed back towards Morzine in an odd mood, contemplative and neutral. Maybe this is how ESF instructors feel after a day of teaching the snowplough to; Rover driving, designer skiwear posing, loud mouthed, fat, boorish Brits from Morzine.

SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - Les Carroz Rendezvous With Fabrice

Posted: Tuesday, 8 January 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Plan A for today was to meet Fabrice Mercier at Les Carroz around round lunchtime and get in a few hours on the slopes, ensemble, as they would say here. Fabrice is the cousin of Seb Baix one of the movers and shakers of freestyle skibiking way down South at Isola 2000. Fabrice lives nearby at Sallanches, but had already missed out on earlier jaunts because his young lad had caught a virus.

I had just arrived at Morillon and got my ticket when the phone rang, he was now going to miss today's ride because his wife was sick. Perhaps tomorrow things will be better? The morning was pretty still chill and crisp, so following the pattern of recent days I donned ski kit and had a quick run over to Flaine to see what conditions would be like. I think the warm weather and holiday traffic has really taken a heavy toll on the snow at Flaine. To my surprise the runs down to Les Carroz and Morillon were in much better condition. I was also surprised to find that some of the "difficult" red sections were much easier than the "intermediate" blues, presumably down to excessive traffic.

I returned to the car for a snack and change of sliding mode

Having fully scoped out the routes, I returned to the car for a snack and change of sliding mode. Once this used to take ages, but now everything seems to fall into place and the process only takes about 15 minutes.
I found the most enjoyable runs and spent the afternoon fully exploiting them in what was becoming a skibiker slush fest, for the record they were; Combe (Les Carroz), Marmottes (Les Molliets) and Sairon (Morillon) all flattering easy, fun blue runs.

On my way home I made a detour and checked out the location of the flat that will become the SkiBike base camp for a couple of weeks in February, more about this later. I am very much looking forward to being 15 minutes from the ski stations and not 1 hour and 30 minutes away in Geneva.

SkiBike base camp for a couple of weeks in February