SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Better Late Than Never

Posted: Friday, 31 January 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , , ,

If you have noticed that this blog has seemed a little thin on fresh material over the past few weeks it is because this season has been so different from that has preceded it.
I managed to source employment from a new client who kept me busy working right through what would normally be the quiet period leading up to Christmas. Then another client came up with a job in the New Year and a regular client had a repeat job towards the end of the month.

It turned out that this was no bad thing as it has not been a particularly good ski season so far anyway. The temperatures have remain high and although there has been precipitation, a great deal has been rain rather than snow.
So with some fresh funds in the bank, I set off on the last day of January hoping that, like myself, the winter weather will arrive late. Feeling a little more flush than normal, I treated myself to making the journey overland from London to Geneva in two bites.

The logical half way point is the provincial city of Metz, I have passed it so many times feeling tired and worn out, it will be a pleasure to stop this time. A short search on found me with a room at Aux Plumes de Grigy for the night.  Although it was sold as a Bed & Breakfast hotel, it tuned out to be much closer to boutique hotel standard than "Mrs Miggins Guest House". I was warmly greeted by Andre the genial host who provided; a lovely guest suite, safe parking for the car and goats! Fortunately they had their own rooms in an outbuilding.

Aux Plumes de Grigy - more Boutique Hotel than Guest House

It is worth mentioning that another reason for stopping at Metz is that it is about 20 minutes from one of the largest indoor snow centres in the World. I think when I make this journey in the opposite direction in some week's time I will stop over and finally get to pay it a visit.

Having checked in and freshened up I grabbed the Mettis psuedo tram from the appropriately named Graham Bell station, so nice to see French recognition for one of England's skiing greats and headed into town for a bite to eat and an explore.

In this area the French / German border has shifted back and forth over the centuries leaving in its wake an interesting juxtaposition of contrasting Imperial architectural styles. Having consumed some hot food and enjoyed a pleasant stroll, I began to feel sleep catching up on me and returned to the Plumes for a nights rest.

How Go Skibiking

Posted: Sunday, 12 January 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , , ,

There have been a number of fresh enquiries in the last few weeks, I usually get asked the same questions, but for once I got one from fellow RetroBike enthusiast Dylan that hasn't been asked before.

How does one go about going Ski-biking, please?
I presume you are doing most of this in France and there is nothing doing at an indoor slope?
How does one apply?

There isn't an indoor slope in the UK that has a skibike set-up, but you can try the very similar Snowscoot model, with instruction, at ChillFactore in Manchester. You can also skibike at the sister site SnowZone in Milton Keynes, but only as an experienced rider with your own skibike. There is also a wonderful indoor slope in Germany, not that far from Calais, that I have been using off season for both fun and training. I expect to be returning there on a number of occasions in 2014.

Off season fun - Bottrop, Germany June 2013

I usually go to France in winter and stick to the Western French/Swiss border, I do this mainly because I have the keys to a flat on the outskirts of Geneva to use as my base camp. There are some conveniently located hotels and B&B's in the Giffre and Arve valleys nearby and close to the most skibike friendly resorts. They are ideal for short break taster sessions and living costs at the base of the mountains are reasonable.

Learning to skibike is a quick process, you should be able to get round all but the expert runs on your first day. Mastering the skibike can take a bit longer, I've been riding for about 18 weeks and still wait for the Jedi skills to arrive.

There isn't a package holiday provider that covers skibike holidays, yet! So you really need to network with the established skibikers and arrange independent travel.
A couple of years ago I started a Facebook group, to facilitate arranging trips and meet ups during my riding season. It has blossomed recently and there are a number of group rides happening this year in both France and Austria. You will find it here it will only take a minute of your time to join and you can get access to information about forthcoming skibiking events before they hit this site.

Avoriaz - French group ride February 2013

Gallic SkiBiking - The Rules And Regulations

Posted: Saturday, 4 January 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,


It's been a busy start to the season with a huge jump in enquiries, it seems that a lot of people are excited at the whole skibike concept but are unsure about exactly where to go and what will be allowed. France is the closest skibiking nation to the UK, but unlike Austria, where you can go skibiking just about anywhere with minimum interference, this is not yet the case in France.

Do the French still hate skibikers?

France used to be skibike friendly in the 1970s, but hooligan behaviour and the resulting high profile crashes changed their attitude. It took 40 years of diplomacy to get allowed back out on the slopes, first on skibobs and more recently on freestyle skibikes too.

It took 40 years of diplomacy to get allowed back out on the slopes

Venturing behind the Glitzy website

A resort may market itself as the "Grand Valley" this or "Super Big" that, but behind all the corporate glitz are many disparate organisations that all have to be in agreement before skibikers are let loose on their domain.
The actual mountain is normally the property of individual farming villages, controlled under the supervision of their mayor. Unlike the situation in other countries, in France, the ultimate responsibility for safety stops with the mayor. An extreme example of "the buck stops here" attitude came after a fire in the Mont Blanc tunnel which saw the Mayor of Chamonix in court as a defendant.
With this in mind, you may better understand why some areas find it easier to say "Non" rather than "Oui" to skibikes.
The French skibob club organised written agreements with various resorts to simplify the process of finding a skibike friendly resort to ride at. Unfortunately they organised it in such a way that it doesn't include freestyle skibikes, indeed some agreements are exclusively for Brenter riders only. As a freestyle skibike rider you are more likely to find the most up to date information here.

Behind the Glitzy website - disparate villages and lift companies

Pedestrians and their Baggage

The second block to getting skibikes on the mountain, is the company that runs the lift network, once again there is often more than one company involved and they all need to agree on safe practices for carrying skibikes on their network.
The very first lift systems were constructed for the benefit of skiers and not for foot passengers wanting a lift up the hill to go for a stroll or visit a mountain restaurant. Therefore, the rules specified that to use a chairlift you had to be able to slide on and off. The first skibikers got around the tight regulations by wearing tiny skis on their feet, these so called footskis allowed them to ski off the chairlifts or even use drag lifts, just like any skier would.
The concept of freestyle skibiers walking onto lifts in high grip footwear and carrying a skibike as a piece of "luggage" is a novel one, especially in France's most chic and snobby resorts, some of which openly regret letting the snowboard brigade in, let alone these new veloski upstarts.
Some of the more forward looking (or cash strapped) resorts have started to change their ways and allow freestyle skibikers to use the chairlifts, there's even the odd place that is keeping the brackets on the chair more normally used for downhill mountain bikes in the Summer season.

There's even the odd place keeping the brackets on the chair in winter

Just about all these places will want you to wear a tether or leash between yourself and the skibike. This is in order to keep the risk of dropping a skibike onto the unsuspecting heads those below to the absolute minimum. Such leashes are cheap and readily available for Snowscoot or Kayak use from on-line retailers. I wouldn't recommend using them whilst riding though, as they are more likely to cause injury in a crash and to this day I have never ended uphill of my skibike, following an unscheduled involuntary dismount.

The AVEL Certification System Explained

The final block to getting your skibike on the mountain in France is whether you have the correct type approval certificate or AVEL. The AVEL system is maintained by the Service Technique des Remontées Mécaniques et des Transports Guidés, which is the organisation that represents all of the lift operating companies in France and is more commonly known by its acronym STRMTG.
One of the STRMTG's many administrative tasks, is to maintain a type approval system for "baggage" that covers not only skibikes, but a huge range of both summer and winter mountain toys.
The precise method by which one obtains AVEL certification remains a mystery to me and my friends who have managed to get one for their particular flavour of skibike are usually tight lipped on the subject. I can but assume that in the manner of all bureaucracy, it is a question of form filling (in French) and payment (in Euros).

As of the 203/14 season, the following skibikes and conversion kits are AVEL certified:
  • Brenter Snowbike
  • Winter X Bike (Now sold as Alpine SkiBikes conversion kit)
  • Firem VS
  • ATSB (Thierry Avrillon)
  • SledgeHammer
  • Gigantic (Conversion kit)
Note that there are also a couple of ski trikes and lots of SnowScoot models on the list too.

The full list in pdf format is available from the STRMTG website, as the name and location of this list changes from year to year, drop me a line, if you would like to know where to find the current one. Furthermore, it would appear that once a skibike is on the list, it is automatically included on the following year's publication.

Tignes 2011 - No AVEL, no skibike ride

Some of the smaller resorts don't check for a skibike's AVEL certificate, but it is much more likely in the large expensive resorts; it has happened to me in both Super Morzine and Tignes.  For this reason, I can't recommend you take a totally homebuilt DIY skibike to France no matter how good your engineering skills.
However taking a mountain bike converted using the kit from one of the companies listed above AND bearing the correct number on a sticker should be fine. It also helps to disguise the origins of your skibike conversion, by removing all the original bike stickers and making it look as little home-made as is feasible. Given the ready availability of excellent aluminium frames for pocket money prices on auction sites, there is a lot to be said for creating a dedicated winter skibike.


If I wasn't such a Francophile it would be a lot easier to join the majority of other European skibikers and head for the Austrian Tirol.  But in spite of it's many challenges, like a long pursued and hard won lover, France does have many rewards to offer, not least being a choice of 5 disparate mountain chains to play on. France has closest big mountains to the UK, if you live South of Coventry you can be in the French Alps in less time than it takes to get to Cairngorm in Scotland. Each year skibiking in France gets easier and more accepted, let's hope that trend continues as more novice skibikers head there to put in their first turns.

Gallic skibiking - many challenges, many rewards