“Skibiking is really a lot like snowboarding was in the 1980s. It’s relatively new, so many mountains aren’t really sure what to do 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 cold January morning 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 resorts, skibiking has been allowed at Winter Park for 12 years. Interest in the sport has grown and five years ago Winter Park started offering a licensing class, which we had signed up for that day. Participants sign up to 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 proficiency and proves that the holder has taken a class and is needed to rent a skibike from Winter Park and other mountains that offer skibiking such as Durango Mountain Resort in Southwestern Colorado.
We Ski, We Bike. This Will Be Easy!
Starting our lesson, we were all fairly confident that skibiking would be easy. We ski, we bike, we’re not totally un-athletic. But we had some misconceptions that needed to be corrected. For example, we mistakenly thought that skibiking would be a combination of skiing and biking. Wrong. Skibiking is its own discipline requiring 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 use the skis to carve. Again, wrong. Skibiking uses skidding friction for speed control and this friction comes from shifting the weight of the body onto the front ski, leaning and letting the bike drift uphill. If we tried to steer the skibike with the handlebars and by leaning the skis on edge, 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 had to take several steps backward before we moved forward. As we transitioned from super-flat beginner slopes, to green runs with a bit more pitch, we began to get it. A little gravity went a long way, but it gave us a taste of skibiking fun. With just a bit of momentum, we were linking skidded turns and using fishtails to slow our speed.
At the end of the first run, we were tired and somewhat discouraged. Then we asked Bryan to show off a bit, make some quick turns and take some jumps. His skibiking was beautiful and inspirational. On our second run, we focused on putting everything together and having fun. No more intensive instruction. 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.
According to Bryan many of the people who sign up for skibiking are those who love bikes, who enjoy downhill mountain biking and who have ridden motocross. Others are looking to broaden their skills and find another way to enjoy winter. People with bad knees also turn to skibiking as it can be much easier on the knees than skiing.
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.
When You Go…
Interested in skibiking? Check out the Winter Park website for a description of lessons, programs and bikes.. In addition to the half-day lesson that our family took, the resort offers nightbiking in conjunction with evening dinners at the Sunspot Lodge.
Finally, two challenges I didn’t mention earlier. Getting on the lift is tricky at first, while 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.