By Kim McHugh
Remember your first bike? Mine was a candy apple red Schwinn and I wish I could have ridden it year round. But I grew up in Illinois, where the long winters meant trading my bike for skis, ice skates or a Flexible Flyer. Had I been more imaginative, I would have invented the snow bike, the device that is now transporting me down the mountain in a “laugh-out-loud-fun” fashion.
Now in my AARP years, and after more than 40 seasons on skis, I thought I would try a new way during my visit to Telluride to go from point A to point B. A snow bike was just the ticket.
Sport Invented in the 1940s
Austrian Englebert Brenter is credited with designing the first snow bike in 1949 in his factory in Hallein, Austria. Fashioned in the spirit of a bicycle, a snow bike, instead of having two wheels, a chain and hand brakes, has a front and rear ski. Ridden similarly as a two-wheeler, it has the rider sitting on a seat and steering primarily by turning the handlebars, and assisted by short skis attached to each ski boot.
This gives you the ability to cruise the trails controlling your speed and direction by keeping your feet and the bike’s skis on the snow, leaning right or left to steer and stop. Resorts like Breckenridge, Telluride, Copper Mountain and Purgatory/Durango have been offering snowbiking for years, but Crested Butte is hopping on this season.
“We want our guests to have fun on our mountain, whether it is skiing, snowboarding or snow biking,” said Nick Herrin, Assistant General Manager, Crested Butte Mountain Resort. “Snow bikes allow you to get out on intermediate and beginner terrain and really have fun with the family.”
Easy As Riding A Bicycle
I started my day gripped equally by enthusiasm and trepidation, not convinced that my skiing expertise would translate into snowbiking mastery.
My instructor, who, equipped with identical gear, shared the basics of the sport with me as we walked to a virtually flat slope with a 500-yard face, soon vanquished my fears.
Having ridden a bike for more than fifty years, it seemed plausible that I could get the hang of this new sport pretty quickly throughout the course of my 45-minute lesson.
At first, every action felt foreign and I envisioned roaring toward the bottom and crashing like a bowling ball into the unsuspecting people below. But after 20 turns, the feelings passed, and I gained more confidence, slowing to a stop 100 feet from the lift.
What followed was what I feared would be the hardest acts of all; getting on and off the lift. Shuffling through the line was a little like walking on a tile floor in bare feet covered with olive oil.
Next, I had to hoist the 17-pound bike on to the lift, worried I might drop the darned thing. However, boarding went smoothly, and I was headed back up the mountain relieved. That changed as we approached the summit. Worried about a finger-pointing, laugh generating fall, I asked my instructor to review the departure instructions.
Her coaching paid off and I got off the lift without incident on my way to making my descent on Double Cabin. On this, the first top-to-bottom trail, it quickly became clear as to how snow biking was so easy.
Didn’t Want the Adventure to End
I leaned left; I leaned right, repeating these moves with increasing confidence, even picking up speed as I made my way to the bottom. My instructor and I made another six round trips, graduating to slightly steeper and longer runs with each journey.
Appreciating that I wasn’t yet skilled enough to tackle a black diamond, I stuck to the blue runs as I buzzed from side to side. With each turn, I sent long plumes of snow from under my skis as I snaked down the mountain chasing my instructor in a game of cat and mouse.
On Marmot, we took a side trail through the trees. About 30-feet wide, it was covered with small moguls and about five inches of new snow. The combination was just right to create the sensation of being a kernel of popcorn in a popper, as we bounced and floated along. I ended my inaugural snow bike riding morning with another run down Sundance, hesitating to return my newfound toy to the rental shop, but making a promise to myself to do it again. Laughing out loud all the way.
Where to ride: Snow bikes are permitted at these resorts:
- Arapahoe Basin*
- Beaver Creek*
- Copper Mountain
- Crested Butte
- Winter Park
- Big Sky•
- Angel Fire*
- Crystal Mountain
*Snow bikes are not rented and lessons/certification aren’t offered at this resort; personal bikes and bikes rented elsewhere are allowed; the bike must have a leash and riders must adhere to resort guidelines for riding. If the resort you’re visiting isn’t listed, find out if it allows or disallows snow biking.
Note: At resorts like Sundance (UT), Sugar Bowl (CA), Boyne Highlands (MI), Telluride and Crested Butte (CO) and Giants Ridge (MN) you can go fat biking. Riders pedal what is basically a mountain bike with wider tires then generally ride on groomed XC trails.
Lessons/Certification: Depending on which resort you visit, you can take a lesson, get oriented or be certified. Crested Butte, for example, offers a two-hour certification starting at $110, plus bike rental and lift ticket, while Keystone’s lesson and rental costs $49, plus lift ticket. Once a guest is certified via the lesson, they can rent a bike for $40/day. Telluride’s two-hour certification costs $160 and includes a lift ticket, plus use of the bike for the day.
Intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders can enjoy riding at Vail’s Adventure Ridge. Cost is $70 for a full day rental, $50 for a half day; a lesson is included in the rental price. Guests can also do an evening guided snow bike tour at Vail’s Adventure Ridge; cost is $80 for the two-hour tour. A helmet, while not required, is recommended. www.skicb.com/snowbike. Rentals range from $35 to $89, depending on where you rent and whether it is a half-day or full-day rental.
Rental Sources: Breckenridge and Copper Mountain, www.rogerssnowbikerentals.com; A-Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, www.highcountryactivities.com; Purgatory/Durango, www.durangosnowbike.com; Denver Metro (serving most CO resorts), www.rentsnowbikes.com. Salt Lake City Metro (serving Brighton), www.outlawunion.com