“Skibiking is really a lot like snowboarding was in the 1980s. It’s relatively new and not very common, so many mountains aren’t sure what to when someone shows up with a skibike,” explained Winter Park Skibike instructor Bryan Redding.
My family and I were at Colorado’s Winter Park Resort on a January morning. It was cold and we were out of our normal element, off of our skis and on skibikes. The good news is that we were with Bryan and we were at Winter Park, a mountain that definitely knows what to do when someone shows up with a skibike.
Although virtually unknown at many mountains, Winter Park has allowed skibiking for 12 years. Interest in the sport has grown and five years ago Winter Park started offering a licensing class. This was the class we were taking. Participants learn four basic skills: the Skidded Traverse, Garland Turns, Fish Tail Turns and Hockey Stops. If participants can demonstrate each of these skills at the end of a 2 hour lesson, they earn a license. The license shows a basic understanding of how to turn and stop and proves that the holder has taken a class. A license is needed to rent a skibike from Winter Park and to skibike at other mountains that require licenses (such as Durango Mountain Resort in Southwestern Colorado).
We Ski, We Bike. This Will Be Easy!
At the beginning of our lesson, we were all fairly confident that skibiking would be easy. We ski, we bike, we’re not totally unathletic. But we also had some misperceptions. For example, we mistakenly thought that skibiking would be a combination of skiing and biking. WRONG. Skibiking is its own discipline with its own set of unique skills. While the stance Bryan taught us was similar to mountain biking or motocross, that was about all that was familiar.
When it came to moving, our initial impulse was to balance and carve. Again, WRONG. Skibiking uses skidding friction for speed control and this friction comes from shifting the weight of the body away from the turn and letting the bike drift uphill. If we tried to steer the skibike with the handlebars and carving with the skis, we did okay on flat terrain, but on even the slightest pitch we were out of control.
Gravity Helps Pull It Together
Like anyone learning something new, we took several steps backward before we moved forward. But as Bryan transitioned us from super-flat beginner slopes to a bit more pitch (but still on the green runs), we began to get it. A little gravity went a long way, but it gave us a taste of fun on skibikes. With more forward momentum and speed, we were linking skidded turns on steeper terrain (again we’re still talking greens!) and using fishtail turns to slow our speed on straighter, more flat terrain.
We made two runs with Bryan, and on the second one the focus was on having fun. We asked Bryan to show off a bit, make some quick turns, takes some jumps. His skibiking was beautiful and inspirational (check out the video below to see “real” skibiking). At the end of the first run, we’d been tired and a bit discouraged. By the time we reached the base the second time, we were smiling, laughing and having a darn good time. We’d also earned our licenses.
No More Skiing?
Am I going to give up skiing for skibiking? Probably not. But for people who love bikes, who are looking to broaden their skills and experiences, or who are looking for another way to enjoy winter, skibiking is an exciting challenge, and really, not so hard. In the span of two hours, we learned the basic skills and were having a blast going downhill. We’d been humbled, frustrated, elated and invigorated over the course of the morning. And now, we’re licensed skibikers. That’s a pretty good morning on snow.
When You Go…
Interested in learning more and trying skibiking? The best place to start is the Winter Park website. In addition to the half-day lesson that our family took, the resort offers nightbiking with evening dinners at the Sunspot Lodge.
Winter Park allows two types of skibikes on the mountain. Type One bikes are sometimes called “ski bobs” and are sit down bikes that are used with foot skis. We learned on Type Two bikes which have suspension and are more similar to a downhill mountain bike with skis instead of tires. Riders stand on foot pegs and use their weight to maneuver the bike. Winter Park rents Type Two bikes made by LenzSport. You must have a Type Two license to rent a Type Two bike.
Finally, two challenges I didn’t mention above. Getting on the lift is tricky at first, only because you have to avoid hitting yourself with the handle bar. Getting off is easy. Learning how to load and unload is the first thing covered in each lesson. The second challenge is avoiding the skiers and riders who will stop to watch and ask questions. Skibiking is unique and it looks really cool when someone good is riding. Other mountain guests were fascinated by what we were doing, despite our novice skills. Be prepared to be a superstar.
Portions of this post originally published at Liftopia.com.
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