“To skibike, forget everything you know about skiing and everything you know about biking,” explained Bryan Redding, a Winter Park Resortskibike instructor. My family and I were sitting on skibikes part way down a broad, green beginner run on a part of the mountain we’d never visited before. Ski school was in full swing around us. We were surrounded cute, roly-poly four-year-olds in eye-popping ski suits. Some were laughing and some were crying and some just looked confused. I knew exactly how they felt.
We Ski. We Bike. Sure, We Can Skibike!
At the beginning of our lesson we were a bit nervous, but confident that we could learn to skibike in two hours. We all ski, we all bike, and we’re generally athletic. “How hard can it be?” we asked ourselves. But we also had some serious misperceptions about skibiking. Mistakenly, we thought that skibiking would combine our skiing and biking skills. We anticipated steering with handlebars and carving turns. We were wrong. Immediately, we discovered that skibiking has its own set of skills. The stance Bryan taught us was similar to mountain biking or motocross, but that was about all that was familiar.
Skibiking uses friction, not brakes, for speed control. This friction comes from skidding and skidding comes from shifting weight onto the front ski, balancing against the turn and letting the bike drift uphill. Steering the skibike with the handlebars and putting the skis on edge, we could turn. But we were only safe on superflat terrain. On just the slightest pitch, we were out of control.
License? Or Learners’ Permit?
At the end of the first run, we were tired and discouraged. Bryan was too. In the course of a two-hour lesson, he’d been charged with teaching us four basic skills so that we could qualify for our skibike licenses.
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 introduced a licensing class. Participants learn four basic skills: the Skidded Traverse, Garland Turns, Fish Tail Turns and Hockey Stops. If participants can do each of these skills at the end of a 2-hour lesson, they earn a license. A license is also required to rent skibikes at Winter Park and to skibike at other mountains that require licenses (such as Durango Mountain Resort in Southwestern Colorado).
Our Good Friend Gravity
So here we were, stuck on the flattest slopes we could find, moving so slowly that snails could have bested us in a race. We were frustrated. Each of us is a lifelong accomplished skier and the snow was mighty fine. At one point, my oldest son came up to me and said, “I can’t take this anymore. I have to go ski.” Bryan could sense this and on our second run, he focused simply on having fun and let up on intensive instruction. He also cut himself loose and started demonstrating his skills. This was inspiring. By the time we reached the base the second time, we were smiling, laughing and having a darn good time.
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, skibiking began to get easier. A little gravity went a long way, but it gave us a taste of fun. Instead of being frustrated with what we couldn’t do, or shouldn’t do, we began linking skidded turns and using fishtails to slow our speed. Just like that it all came together.
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 for a new winter sport to add to their repetoire.
For us, skibiking was a challenge, but in the end, it wasn’t 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? 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 in conjunction with evening dinners at the Sunspot Lodge.
The minimum age for skibiking lessons at Winter Park is 13. The bikes are heavy and hefting them onto the lift is a challenge, even for people older than 13. I was quite happy to have my husband’s assistance. Getting off the lift is much easier and my younger son and I could do that by ourselves.
Kristen Lummis lives on the Western Slope where the powder meets the red rocks. While she is passionate about skiing, her true passion is for her family. She blogs at braveskimom.com.