NISM Ski Test - Less Is More

Posted: Monday, 31 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,


The British can't help but love an underdog and in many ways NISM, based in the USA, are exactly that. Their approach to skibike related design is unconventional, in a market heavily biased towards a few big names, with a conservative attitude to skibikes. So I was very "chuffed" to be asked to give an opinion of the NISM brand skis and really wanted them to perform well. That said, I have always tried to be honest with my articles and if I rated something highly across the board, you would no doubt smell a rat and question my credibility.

About The Riders

I was to be one of the riders and my friend, who I shall simply refer to as Mr A, the other. Without wanting to cause offence, it might be worth noting that we most likely weigh less than the average American rider. I am probably just a smidgen below average weight for a European male of the same age, but Mr A is definitely in the Bantam class of rider. We have both been riding about the same amount of time, we enjoy all-mountain riding and cruising. We would generally keep out of the snow park and avoid icy black mogulled runs. Below are listed our vital statistics.

About the riders

About The Skibikes Used

For the test I would be riding a vintage Marin East Peak full suspension frame, fitted with Suntour XCR forks and a Fox coil spring rear shock. The skis were mounted to a pair of Russian made Ski-X-Bike adapters, which pay great "homage" to an earlier American design. The front adapter has been modified with a link to the fork's brake arch to limit the pitch of the ski when aggressively carving turns, the system was inspired by one of America's premium skibike brands and works admirably. This skibike is neither a race winner, nor an example of the state of the art of skibike design; but is a safe, user friendly and robust lightweight cruiser that covers many miles over the season without issues. Furthermore, it is very much the sort of skibike that many people will create in their sheds and garages for simple, low cost, winter fun.

Marin conversion - the sort of skibike that people build for low cost  fun

Mr A would be riding a totally self-built skibike from the ground up, but I'm not talking about something held together with bungies, blocks of wood and glue. He is a master of artisanal metalworking and the build quality is on par with anything made by the top manufacturers. The components are all top quality too, the front fork is a modified Canondale Leftie and the rear, a DT Swiss Air Shock. It should be noted that even though it has 130mm of suspension travel, it weighs just 9 Kg. The skibike is also fitted with a "Bear Claw" style rear brake, but it wasn't employed bar a couple of emergency situations, more about that later.

ATSB - a totally self-built skibike from the ground up

About The Riding

We had arranged to spend a day at Valmorel, a mid-sized resort in the Savoie region of France which proved to be very skibike friendly. You can read more about Valmorel here. We had so much fun on day one that we extended it into a two day trip and on the third day took the skibikes on a gruelling back mountain expedition at La Turnette. We covered all grades of run and off-piste that ranged from easy traverses, through gullies to some tricky big mountain steep sections. On piste the snow varied from; European icy hard snow, through firm to buttery and finally slush. Off-piste we encountered; frozen crust, through powder to heavy snow and slush. Before we continue, I should qualify what I mean by European icy snow, as I suspect it might be illegal to ride it in the U.S.A. If you have ever stayed in a low budget hotel or apartment and opened the refrigerator's ice box, the stuff that grows on the cold metal surfaces is a bit like European icy snow, only softer and more yielding. I hope you get the picture now.

We covered all grades of runs and off-piste in all types of snow conditions

The Test

As this was a new resort to us, we needed a couple of hours to scope the place out and work out a test circuit. We could then follow the same route after changing skis and baring the effects of the sun, we would be as scientific as was practicable. We found some nice easy cruising pistes that lead to some very interesting off piste bowls and gullies. With the route decided, we headed back to the van to fit the NISM skis to our skibikes.

We found some very interesting off piste bowls and gullies for the test

Mr A got first pick and chose the larger NISM skis, running them in the "correct" orientation, I did likewise with the smaller model and we eagerly headed towards the chairlift. At the top we mounted up and had an easy first descent on a blue (intermediate) grade run down to the next chairlift. My first moments of "ooh this feels weird" soon morphed into "wow this is fantastic". Within a minute I was throwing my skibike around like never before, in the soft snow it was almost too easy, I could head down the fall line and wag the tail around like an eager puppy or rock the handlebars and carve like a slalom champion.
Meanwhile Mr A was having a lot less fun than I. He too had discovered the skis superior carve quality, but then found himself getting locked in at ever increasing speeds unable to break free and drift to loose speed. I saw him rocket off-piste and tentatively followed in his wake, I eventually tracked him down. The girth of the skis meant that he couldn't use his braking system and he just had to let gravity establish an equilibrium.

With the route decided, we headed back to the van to fit the NISM skis

Our next uplift took us to some delightful off-piste we had discovered earlier and nick-named "The Mountains of the Moon", large dome shaped hills that lead into natural half-pipe gullies. For some reason we appeared to be the first to have discovered this area and set about leaving plenty of tracks to mark it out as our own. The little NISM skis ripped through the smooth, but crusty surface making a noise like tearing calico. The gullies were a hoot to play with, inviting you to go ever higher and faster on a roller-coaster ride from side to side. There were occasional obstacles, like rocks and streams to dodge and the little skis gave the impression you were on wheels and not boards. Mr A had dialled in a bit better by now, but was still finding the long skis somewhat ponderous and unwieldy in comparison to mine.

Exploring the "Mountains of the Moon"

We then played alongside a black run with the snow making sudden changes from fresh powder, to skied out crud, to heavy and back again in moments. The skis performed exceptionally well in such situations, unperturbed by the rapid change in quality. At will I could dive out of the rough stuff, wiggle around some small moguls on the piste and whiz back into the rough.

On our final descent back to base camp. Some sections of the piste were now shaded and the snow had re-frozen into icy hardness. This proved to be both NISM skis Achilles' Heel and for some sections all one could do, was make massive slide slips and just try to hold everything together till the snow became softer again. It only needed a centimetre of scrapings to achieve a bit of grip, but without it you didn't have a hope of any meaningful control.

The following morning we followed the same circuit, this time Mr A had reversed the orientation of his rear ski to see if it would improve its ability to skid. He was pleased to report some improvement but was keen for us to swap over skis so he could get his turn on the little ones that had delivered so much fun yesterday. With my grown up skis fitted, I soon began to appreciate why you so often see SnowScoot riders with pained expressions of grim determination heading tentatively down the icier runs. It wasn't impossible, just very, very difficult to stay in control and on more than one occasion I ran out of slope and found myself thrust off-piste. A novice skibiker could really make a mess of things, flailing around wildly, in such conditions.

Back on the safety of the soft snow, there were no such problems, with these NISM skis you hardly need a piste map. You just look at the mountain to plan a route, look for the base station of the nearest chair-lift and head for it. At the top you don't need a piste, you build your own as you go, pretty much wherever the snow lies.

Our final challenge of the day was a huge un-patrolled bowl area left completely as nature intended. One again these skis made it easy, although I still found it very difficult to turn quickly in the heavy snow and had to opt for lots of wide traverses. Finishing late in the day, in order to make it back to base camp we had to make a huge traverse to a high point for the final descent. Mr A pointed out that the glide quality of these skis was poor and we lost altitude in order to make them glide forwards and had to climb about 30 meters back up the hill to compensate.

On the last day we visited a natural back country area and climbed 1400 meters on snow shoes to make our descent. Every gram counts when you have to carry it on your back to the top of the mountain. In this respect the NISM skis were the ideal choice as they are very light. We knew by now how good they would be coping with all types of unprepared snow and they delivered admirably. There were some big bumps and tumbles and the skis took it all in their stride.

Every gram counts when you have to carry the skibike on your back

Our Verdict

Sat in Mr A's comfy Alpine chalet over a glass of Anisette, we set about grading both types of NISM skis ability for the variety of situations you might encounter with them. We both gave our appraisal as a score out of ten and the results presented are the average.

NISM ski test - the judges' verdict


Both Mr A and I both preferred the smaller 90cm NISM skis over the larger version. Very little in the way of performance was sacrificed with the small ski, but the fun factor was so much higher. You could stand on the pegs and flick the tail around, sit down and carve at silly angles or head into a half pipe eager to push ever harder and faster. The large skis felt ponderous at times and although a tad quicker, you tended not to use the extra performance because you lacked the assurance that you could speed check later with a quick tail slide.
We both agreed that the durability of the skis was something to cause concern, after a few days the graphics were wearing off in places and where they had touched parts of the frame or fittings, light damage had already occurred. Mr A is even more of an anorak than I and felt that the quality of the material used for the base material could be improved, compared to our regular skis they were more prone to collecting scratches. He also noted that the quality of glide was below par for skibike specific skis at this price point.
We both concurred that the smaller 90cm ski could be beefed up with perhaps; a wood core, better base material and cap sheet protection. Providing the price stayed the same, it would be a market winner and first choice for a novice skibiker or perhaps for a more experienced one looking for a fun tool for off-piste or wherever soft snow was in abundance. It is currently such a competitive market that you will have to weigh the pros and cons carefully. That said, going into those gullies with those diddy 90cm skis was something from another universe, with those babies less really is more.

Before this report was published I let Royce MacDaniel of NISM see the draft copy, here are his comments and observations.

I talked with the manufacturer and he informed me that the top sheet damage should just be cosmetic. They were trying a new method for graphics this year, which is a direct print on graphic. They are seeing, across the board on all the skis using this method, that the graphics are not holding up and will not use it on future ski orders. The scratches will not effect the skis longevity unless you have gouges. In spite of their low weight, the skis are wood cored not foam cored. They are vertically laminated poplar cored with double layer of fibreglass for strength. There is also an urethane layer for the sidewall all the way around, to protect the wood core. The skis both have a 20m shared sidecut between the front and rear ski. The skis also have a universal hole pattern including both a 40mm x 40mm pattern which fits most current ski bikes and kits. As well as a 50 mm x 100mm pattern that will fit a Lenz Sport without any adapter plates needed.

SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - La Tournette SkiBike Randonée

Posted: Sunday, 30 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Continuing the off-piste theme of recent days, today was the ultimate dream or perhaps both at the same time. I had often wondered what truly wild big mountain back country skibiking would be like and today I found out. We left St. Jean de Sixt at the sort of hour I usually reserve for going to bed, it was made worse by the clocks having switched to daylight saving overnight. But, what the heck, this is the last skibiking day till next season, I can sleep all day when I get back to my official home.

The Alps at dawn - the sort of hour I usually reserve for going to bed

Our destination was under 30 minutes away and is a great big gnarly mountain called La Tournette, the very name sounds like the precisely the type of "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" reserved for those under going boot-camp in the armed forces.

La Tournette - the start of a cruel and unusual punishment

But don't expect to find La Tournette listed in any soft tourist guide or holiday brochure, because it is the epitamy of "Skibike Sauvage". There are no; lifts, first aid areas, ski patrols, restaurants or even rules here. It is exclusively for local consumption and proves to be a perennial hit, on busy days the route is like the "Champs Elysée" in Paris apparently. On offer is a gruelling 1400m ascent, followed by the consumption of whatever one has in one's rucksack in the way of vittles, followed by a speedy descent.
Sensible French types do it on proper off piste skis, fitted with skins for the ascent and the correct lightweight boots and touring bindings. Thierry and I were attempting it on snow shoes and pushing or carrying nearly 13 kg of skibike up the mountain. By the way Britishers, that's more than the height of Ben Nevis, don't ya know.

Ascent - all to soon my world was reduced to just the pain

All to soon my world was reduced to just the pain from the sweat dripping into my eyes, the salt water taste in my mouth, my vision swimming from the sweat dripping onto my sunglasses and all the while my heart was racing at what seemed to be around 240 bpm. Why do people do this for fun? I guess if you're fit and by that I mean really fit, like the impossibly low fat and highly muscled folk who do "Iron Man" challenges, then different rules apply. Thierry has made the same ascent in under 3 hours, it took me nearly 6.... you know you can really go off some people. At one point I asked Thierry why we had joined the French Foreign Legion, "To forget", he replied curtly. "To forget what?" I asked, "I don't remember" he replied.

As high as you can go without mountaineering kit - Anger is an Energy

I tried a number of different techniques to get myself up the mountain. First there was the Zen like "Pace Yourself and Embrace the Mountain" technique, slow and steady wins the day. This gave way to the "English Ascent", forget all this traversing nonsense, ram your snow shoes into the slope and step up the fall line like a staircase. In some respects this worked quite well, but only for about a minute. In near despair, I employed the, "Anger is an Energy" method, as originally postulated by Johhny Rotten, a.k.a. John Lydon of the Sex Pistols. This involved me loosing my rag completely, throwing the skibike up the hill and using it as a point of purchase to drag myself up, cursing all the while like a tinker. I guess this raised a few Continental eyebrows, not least of which were Thierry's, the rest must have thought it was a Monty Python thing, I had no idea I was about 50 metres from the finishing point at the time.

The view over Lake Annecy

The descent was somewhat of an anticlimax, this isn't a resort, so you have to cope with whatever the slopes offer. Thierry had warned me about crevasses and I had already witnessed a minor avalanche. Worse still, I suspect my insurance company would turn down the claim for the costs of helicopter rescue, as this was in all respects back country and not some carefully manicured resort.
All of the above reasons lead to a completely risk averse descent, with lots of very wide traverses and the odd bit of "get off and turn the skibike to face the other way" turns.
That said, wow! what a way to end the best skibike season ever; but it did also make me appreciate what good value a €30 lift pass is.

SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Valmorel Paradise

Posted: Saturday, 29 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Today Thierry and I visited Valmorel, yet another ski resort that you are unlikely to have ever heard of; it's never even made it onto my wish list of places to visit. Its close proximity to both the Three Valleys and The Espace Killy leaves it somewhat overshadowed by its glamorous neighbours. Few of the cars zooming along the autoroute turn off for the town of Aiguebelle which serves as the gateway to this resort. After that it's just a 15 minute drive up the hill to a modern faux alpine village that forms the heart of the resort. As with other more recent French developments, the style of the; apartments, restaurants and shops are very sympathetic to the environment and don't grate on the eye the way infamous concrete developments of the 60s and 70s do.

Valmorel - doesn't grate on the eye the way infamous concrete developments of the 60s and 70s do

At first glance the Valmorel trail map might be a disappointment to the intermediate or advanced skibike rider. The majority of the runs are motorway style cruising blue runs which flatter the average person regardless of whether they be; skier, snowboarder or skibike rider. But once you actually get on the modern and rapid network of detachable chairlifts a very different picture presents itself. The area has an abundance of snow bowls, even better still, the geology has created a multitude of gentle gullies that in winter become natural half pipes, a feature that is quite unlike any other I have seen in Europe.

Valmorel - an abundance of snow bowls

It has to be for this reason that we saw as many snowboarders as skiers riding the chairlifts at Valmorel. The lift operators appeared to have never seen a freestyle skibike before, but they had certainly seen no end of SnowScoots. They were unphased by our presence and most were friendly, curious and highly supportive, a couple asked us why we didn't have foot skis. Thierry's answer was a stroke of pure genius - because they are not homologated for the type approval certificate of this design of skibike; we would love to use foot-skis, but it would be contrary to the rules of the agreement.

We had some horrible ice hard re-frozen snow in the early morning to contend with, but this would be much the same anywhere else in late March. Fortunately there was plenty of full sun and the situation transformed quickly to be near ideal by 11am. There was slushiness to contend with on the lower slopes by late afternoon and the shaded runs were quickly re-freezing back into boiler-plate.

The situation transformed quickly to be near ideal by 11am

The cost of a lift ticket was around average, but above average value, due to the scale and scope of the domain. It was just €1.50 extra to access the adjacent skibike friendly area of St. Francois - Longchamps, so this option was a "no brainer". There was a price reduction for weekend visitors, free parking at the bottom of the resort with a shuttle bus or paid parking closer to the lifts. You could also use the paid for parking for a few hours for free, perhaps as a drop off point, if you felt the €4 a day fee to be beyond your budget.
The cost of a drink in the resort bars was slightly below average, there was a fair bit of change from a €10 note for a couple of small beers.

Valmorel - lift infrastructure biased towards modern detachable chairlifts

Getting around from one area to the next at Valmorel was a joy, the lift infrastructure is highly biased towards modern detachable chairlifts, drag lifts are few and far between. We were surprised to see a couple of people riding the slopes on Yooners, in most places these are limited to the nursery slopes and sledging hills. We even spotted a couple who had managed to sneak a metal toboggan onto one of the upper slopes, something I have never seen before anywhere else in France.

We spent a great deal of time exploring the bountiful off-piste, our two favourite places were the gullies below an area we nick-named the "Mountains of the Moon" and the huge bowl off to the right of the Soleil Rouge chairlift. We had so much fun we turned a day's visit into a two day trip and hope to be back next season providing it remains as skibike friendly. The thought of getting into those bowls and gullies on a powder day leaves me all a quiver.

Valmorel - the thought of getting into those bowls and gullies on a powder day leaves me all a quiver

SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - BullSkate in Sorenberg

Posted: Thursday, 27 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I was feeling bad that I hadn't paid a visit to Swiss skibike manufacturer BullSkate in over two years and had pencilled in a visit for my last week of the season. I had intended to at least make an overnight stop over, or perhaps even a two day trip, but in the end it became just a day trip. The journey is a 5 hour round trip from Geneva and back by car; thinking positively, it's exactly same as I would make in the UK if I travelled from home to Milton Keynes to use the indoor facilities for a few hours skiing.

I'm so glad I made the effort, BullSkate have been very busy since I was last here two year's ago. The rental station has seen a lot of use and the skibikes are getting tired. BullSkate have an ambitious plan to replace the entire rental stock before next season with two new models and I was to be given the opportunity to test the prototypes and make my evaluation.

My first ride was the standard model, based on a regular bike "Enduro" frame and fitted with BullSkate adapters and a new ski developed in collaboration with an Austrian manufacturer. Having been given a refresher course on how to use the archaic T-bar lift system at Sörenberg I was off up the mountain and eager to ride.

Everything on this skibike fell to hand in exactly in the right place, almost every other skibike I have tried required a period of adjustment, but this one could have been made for me and immediately felt correct in seconds. The dinky skis looked far too thin and I expected their performance to be poor on the early morning icy snow.
It was quite the contrary, they handled the boiler-plate exceptionally well and I found myself riding on the pegs on some steep sections that would normally find me seeking the safety of a seated riding style.

This one could have been made for me - everything immediately felt correct

I remember this station having some great areas of safe off-piste under the sole chairlift and having located them, headed into the rough to see how such thin skis would perform on the crusty surface. As predicted they sunk quite a lot, but with a re-adjustment of body weight they surfed along reasonably well. The impression I was beginning to gather was that this is going to be such a good all round vehicle, capable of fulfilling the needs of many different types of rider; from beginner to advanced and all levels of physical ability.
Some will ride it sitting down and it will be soft and gentle, others will stand on the foot pegs and it will turn on a dime without being nervous. It will carve and it will drift, in fact you can set up a drift and hold it there for as long as you want or till the gravity runs out.

I was struggling to find anything to fault with it; OK the aggressive foot pegs constantly chewed away at my trouser legs, by the end of the day it looked like I had come of the worse with an altercation with an ill tempered terrier. The handlebars are all going to be a standardised width and for these skis they felt a little too wide and too easy to overpower.

Next season's model - I was struggling to find anything to fault with it

I could have gladly continued on all day seeing what I could get this standard model skibike to do, but it was time to move on to the new performance model. The most notable visual cue to this skibikes credentials are the triple clamp forks and long travel rear shock. It's not something you would want to lift over too many turnstiles in a day, as it is a hefty beast. That said there are a number of similar models made by competing manufactures that I have ridden that are almost exactly the same.
On the narrow run coming off the chairlift it was a tricky job to get in a bit of braking without running out of space and this bike seemed very eager to be let off the leash. Likewise following the piste it was all a bit ponderous, a bit like taking a battleship for a ride. I immediately recalled a couple of runs made in Germany at a huge indoor centre on a well known and respected American skibike that felt exactly the same.
The revelation came when I took it to the off-piste area I had previously visited. What had seemed a bit technical on the basic model, seemed totally effortless on this one. I repeated the same run, but this time dropped in much higher at the start of a wide gully. This skibike turned it into a fun half pipe and as the speed increased it just consumed the bumps as if they weren't there. I saw one coming up at speed and thought to myself "surely it won't take this one", I put my weight back as far as I dared and in a blink I was over it and accelerating away, unbelievable.

Unbelievable off-piste performance

On the final run back to base station it occurred to me that I hadn't explored this model's sit down carving ability at all. On an easy, wide and deserted run I finally let it off the leash and wow it was good. I pulled a 180 degree carve, that left me facing uphill, rumour has it that it can do the full 360 degree loop the loop.

180 degree carves are a cinch

After lunch Martin guided me to some wonderful caches of untracked snow, hidden just out of sight of the main pistes. The real highlight was a back mountain descent, leading us through some cross country trails. The experience of looking back up this enormous slope with just two fresh tracks on it was an immense highlight of the year. I don't know why Martin has been so nice to me, last time he was more like a drill sergeant, perhaps he's getting mellowing in his old age or perhaps I have finally made the grade.

Martin has been so nice to me - perhaps I have finally made the grade.

There are further exciting plans for expansion at BullSkate, but now is not the time or place to publicise them. What you need to know is that next season there are going to be a couple of cracking new skibike models to ride at Sorenberg and if you find the one you want like, they'll sell you a brand new one to match it right down to the last bolt. If you don't want or need a whole skibike, there will be still be a range of parts for sale including the latest high lift adapters and not forgetting the unique T-bar friendly BullSkate saddle.

Available separately - the unique T-bar friendly BullSkate saddle

SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Geneva Base Camp

Posted: Wednesday, 26 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Today looked to be another stunning day for riding, but once again I was confined to barracks. This time it was for the long awaited arrival of not one, but two pairs of demo skis, sent by Royce McDaniel of NISM. The courier could have arrived at any time from 8 till 6, but the door bell finally rang in the early afternoon and after handing over an extortionate French customs fee, I could get a first look at these skibike specific skis.
My first impressions were, "whoa these aren't skis", one might call them skis, but skiboards would be a closer description. In the picture below I have included a first generation Salomon SnowBlade for comparison, no doubt you will appreciate how much wider these items are.

NISM - skibike specific boards

The first pair is an "All mountain" design, approximately 1 metre long and with a distinctive rubber tread graphic. The second pair is slightly shorter at around 90cm and is supposed to be more suited to snow park riding and those who are creating BMX framed skibikes. In spite of their girth, they appear to be reasonably light and give the impression that they will have plenty of flex.
Both designs are asymmetrical and feature wide tips and narrow tails, ironically I had this arrangement on my first D.I.Y. skibike, but only because the skis were full length items cut in half! These are designed so that the rear ski can be mounted back to front and in theory at least, give the performance of a single 2 metre ski with a shared side cut. Lastly, they feature mounts for the common 4 x 4 spacing, so should fit straight on to my Alpine SkiBikes adapters and also a longer spacing which I would guess is a LenzSport spec.

Looking forward to testing out these NISM boards

I hope to be able to test both designs over the next few days on my smaller silver skibike, as it is such a safe and predictable "test bed" that I can almost ride it with my eyes shut. Both pairs will be available for sale after testing is complete, at a special, once only, price; although one pair is already "dibbed" for an enthusiastic Frenchman I ride with.

SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Col De La Faucille

Posted: Tuesday, 25 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Having taken two days off, my kit is finally all dried out and this morning I was aching to be back on the snow. I didn't fancy high prices or extended drives and from what I could see, my local spots on the Jura mountains would have plenty of fresh snow to exploit.
This morning I left the flat and headed for Le Crozet-Lelex, about 20 minutes away by car. On arrival I was stunned to find everything packed up and shut down, there wasn't so much as a poster or notice to give you a clue as to what was the deal. It was a real let down, as there is often some great off-piste to explore at this station and it has the greatest vertical difference of all the Jura ski stations that I know of.
But as the old saying goes, "There's no point crying over spilled milk", so I jumped back in the car without further ado with my next destination, the Col de la Faucille in my sights. It is about 25 minutes down the road and was very much still in operation. The view of the pistes was a sight for sore eyes, fresh snow covered everything and the trees were laden with it.

La Col de la Faucille - fresh snow covered everything and the trees were laden with it

I had hardly had time to get my lift ticket before I was stopped by Baudoin (I hope I've spelled it right), he had bumped into Carl and myself on our last visit and wanted to know if he could come ride in the afternoon, I had no objections and we made a hasty plan. This gave me the remainder of the morning to scoot around; the pistes were just perfect, the snow had the ideal balance of grip and slip and there was no iciness to be found.
The off-piste sections even had powder on them, who would have thought that you could find powder at 1300m, in late March, in Europe. This ski station is just a few kilometres outside the ring of the Large Hadron Collider at C.E.R.N. and I began to wonder if the scientists have successfully warped the space time continuum in this area.

Clouds roiled across the summit of the mountain, periodically reducing visibility to near white-out, but in between, the piste appeared in great clarity and you had to make your descent in double time before the next cloud bank rolled in. The sun could occasionally be seen through the murk looking as wan as the full moon. All this helped to prevent any thaw from setting in and the snow quality remained the best of the season so far. Furthermore, it was most welcome to be able to ride with dry socks for a change.

Clouds roiled across the summit of the mountain

I took an early lunch and the cold forced me to eat it in the car, I didn't have to run the engine and heater, but I thought about it. Fortified, I put in a couple of runs before it was time to build up number two skibike, in readiness for my rendezvous with Baudoin. We met at his workplace, la Petite Chaumière and headed up the hill.

Making steady progress down the blue run with great style and panache

He soon took to making some steady progress down the blue run with great style and panache. It was he who asked if we could progress to a red run and he made it with great aplomb, not bad for someone with about two hours of skibiking experience. The steepness of the slope caused a few slips and falls, all part and parcel of gaining one's "Skibiking Diploma" and the ideal opportunity for me to explain the difference between drifting a turn and carving one.
Towards the end of the afternoon, we moved back on to the easy runs, Baudoin was tiring and he had a party to attend tonight, but it didn't stop him making a final descent on the pegs. Top marks for progress; don't let anyone tell you that freestyle skibiking is hard to learn, here was someone tackling red runs and riding on the pegs after just 3 hours experience.

Baudoin - final descent on the pegs

SkiBike Tour 2013-14, Geneva Base Camp

Posted: Monday, 24 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

It looks like slushy slopes are going to be a distant memory during my last week here in France. The weather has been making some ups and downs, but mostly downs. As my salopettes went into involuntary near spontaneous disassembly last week; my current riding attire is two pairs of shell suit type bottoms. It's quite a comfortable combo, but lacks the thermal properties of the correct item and also makes going to the toilet a challenge.
Oh and for those who are shouting at their screen, "Mark just go and buy a new pair of salopettes from the local factory warehouse outlet", let me remind you that I am in France. Precisely such outlets exist here, in fact I pass a couple on a daily basis, but I have never seen the doors open. Knowing how France works they are probably only open for a couple of hours a day, at which time I will be up on some distant slope freezing my assets off.

For these reasons I have chosen to take a couple of days off and catch up on the last of my domestic chores, prior to next week's departure day. Judging by the state of the Jura mountains alone, the recent switch in weather patterns has resulted in quite a dump. It is really distracting, here I am trying to focus on getting the correct type of decorator's caulking at the local D.I.Y. store and I've got a view like this to contend with.

My local D.I.Y. store - awesome view

SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Morzine Perimeter

Posted: Saturday, 22 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Kevin told me yesterday that he needed to practice his skiing this morning, so we arranged for a 10 O'clock rendezvous in (gasp) Morzine, for skiing. Having written previously about how it is one of my least favourite places, perhaps this would be the ideal chance to find something positive to say for a change.
It was raining on arrival, so that immediately put a dampener on things, pun intended. Kevin rocked up moments later wearing comfy boots and street clothes seeming surprised that I would even consider skiing in the rain, he has definitely been in France too long.

So I went for a few solo circuits, with the possibility that Kevin might join me to ski together later. Sat in the gondola with Pippa and Jemima, clad in their chic pink outfits that probably cost more than my skibike, I learned a great deal about how the other half live. Giles had committed the social faux pas of driving here from Chelsea in a Hyundai, I mean everyone knows it has to be a Range Rover, Jemima says that Imogen thinks that the new Evoque rocks! Poor Giles, I guess tonight won't be his lucky night after all. So what other pearls of wisdom did I glean from their conversation? Apparently if a man goes bald before he's thirty, he will never have a full head of grey hair, I don't know how I will manage to carry on burdened with this gold mine of fatuous information.

Feeling near suicidal, I went for a couple of runs down the face, it was horrid in the rain, but at least the snow was soft and I totally failed to top myself. I am really getting to grips with this late season "water ski stance", I could see the E.S.F. instructors shaking their heads and trying to cover the eyes of their young students, lest they learn bad habits from the nasty "Rosbif" on comically short skis. Vivre la difference I say and if you don't like it, just let me ride my skibike you stiffs.

I asked the lift attendant about skibike access and he seemed shocked at my audacity and simply barked "Nyon" at me. At first I thought he meant "Non" meaning no, but Nyon is a cable car located on the extreme edge of the Morzine domain. I am surprised that things have changed so much here, neighbouring Les Gets has never allowed skibikes but I was skibiking here in Morzine only a few years ago and using all the mountain (see Breakin' the Law).

Morzine - was skibike friendly back in 2011

I decided to ski over towards this "Nyon" area, experience a bit more of Morzine's pistes en route and get confirmation from the horse's mouth. The Vallee de la Manche is only a few Kilometres away from Morzine's; baubles, bling and gaudy displays of disposable income, but it immediately feels like the natural, rougher side of the Alps that I love so much. Jim Morrison's line "Out here in the perimeter there are no stars, out here we are stone(d) immaculate" springs to mind.
There's no charges for parking here, in fact there's not much of anything; save a few apartments, some camper vans painted to look like an Australian's nightmare and the lift station. A pair of mono skiers emerged from the gloom, wow I think I might have discovered the ancestral homeland of my tribe of ski weirdos, freaks and deviants.

Here on the outer limits, maintained firmly at arms length from the civilised folk, it seems there is a bit of a free-zone where anything goes. The regulations allowed me to use this one cable car and the single red and blue graded piste beneath, but that was my limit. OK, if that's the game, how could I spice things up a bit? It was tedious hanging around for five or ten minutes between one uplift and the next. But if I legged it out of the top station, could I make it down before the lower cable car began its ascent? On the first run, it was way ahead of me, on the second I saw it leave from the end of the piste, the next time I was almost by the station entrance and on the final run I made it, still huffing and puffing, the doors closed and I was off for my final victory lap of honour.

Later as I emptied the melt water out of my boots and packed away the last of my sodden gear, a young chap on telemark skis slewed noisily to a halt at the bottom of the same piste. He unclipped briskly and strode over to a waiting quad bike, placing the skis on the fuel tank he then sat on top of them, fired it up and rode off. Morzine, you naughty girl, perhaps there's hope for you yet.

SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Avoriaz with Mutt & Jeff

Posted: Friday, 21 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

If I had been playing slow driver bingo I would have won the prize this morning. No sooner had I overtaken the nervous learner biting her bottom lip, than I found myself behind the petrol tanker and having left that in my wake; some old codger wearing a straw hat pulled out in front of me in a decrepit Peugeot. For some inexplicable reason, as I went to overtake he began to veer towards the left side of the road.
Consequently, although I thought I had left plenty of time, I was late for my rendezvous with Kevin Dawson.

My destination was Avoriaz, about the most distant of the French resorts from Geneva that I would still consider to be local. My last visit was over a year ago, since then they have installed a high speed "bubble" gondola from the Les Prodains car park to the bottom of Avoriaz village. This has negated the bottle neck that used to occur and turned what had been a nightmare 45 minute uplift into a joyous 5 minute transfer.

Luckily skibikers are easy to spot and Kevin found me easily amongst the crowds, today was only day two of  skibiking for him and the conditions on the higher runs were very tough. On such hard snow you have to carve or fall on your derrière. He did very well for a novice and seems fearless, apparently 39 years of skiing helps.

Skibikers are easy to spot

I should add at this point that Kevin is profoundly deaf, when I ride I can hear the difference in the sound the skis make depending upon the type of snow, I can really appreciate how it must be a challenge if you would have to rely on just the feel through the handlebars and appearance of the snow to judge the surface.

We headed for the sunnier and lower slopes which made for less challenging and more enjoyable riding, I have never spent that much time on this side of Avoriaz and I would like to investigate this area further as I prefer glade runs to moonscapes any day of the week.

The low level side of Avoriaz - worth further investigation

Soon it was time for lunch and we went to one of the self catering apartments where Kevin is staying with his family. I have often wondered what they are like inside, I certainly know they're not a cheap option. As is to be expected they are compact, bijou would be the term the brochure would use. This is the norm for French slope side accommodation, but it wasn't claustrophobic feeling and the view from the balcony is to die for.  The interior décor mixed natural finished wood, concrete and stone to create a pleasing balance between cosy and chalet chic.

Avoriaz apartments - the view from the balcony is to die for

During our ride Kevin and I had communicated mostly with hand gestures, during lunch we scribbled notes on paper and passed them back and forth across the dinner table like naughty schoolboys. After lunch we returned to some of the higher runs, which had softened up greatly, but still had the odd icy patch lurking in the shadows to test your balance.

I particularly enjoyed the last run down to the car park at Les Prodains, it is narrow and steep in places and is quite a challenge in itself. The vertical drop alone is equal to the total elevation of some other resorts. It was great to meet Kevin and great to be back in Avoriaz, one of the best skibike friendly resorts in the French Alps.