VAIL - The black-and-purple boots with sole-length skis were on. The headlamps were positioned. The beginner snow-bikers shuffled toward the awaiting banana seats of their yellow bikes."I think I'm going to be laughing a lot," said Lori Hennessy of Eagle-Vail.That turned out to be a good prediction. Ski biking is goofy, but it's fun. The contraption has handlebars and a seat just like a normal bike. But instead of wheels, it has a ski at the front and a ski at the back. Rubber balls provide a suspension that bounces you through the bumps.
You can go fast. You can carve. You can slalom through trees. You can catch air."They rip in powder," said Russell White, manager of Vail Mountain's Adventure Ridge, which runs ski biking tours every day from Eagle's Nest.The guides start you on groomers. If you're a precocious ski-biker, your guide will take you through trees or moguls.You have to be at least an intermediate-level skier or snowboarder to go ski-biking at Adventure Ridge. Ski biking isn't allowed during normal operating hours of Vail Mountain, though an exception is made for Earl Eaton, the discoverer of Vail Mountain and a dedicated ski biker.
Hennessy and her fellow ski-bikers sat on their bikes beside Eagle's Nest as guide Trevor Buringrud gave them a tutorial.Lean into your turns, he said. Keep your weight back. To slow down, use your hips to slide out your back ski. Or, simply dig your heels into the snow."Your feet are pretty much there as training wheels," he said.Buringrud led the group down the seemingly steep slope beneath Eagle's Nest. He then took them down a catwalk and gave some pointers on form.Hennessy and her fellow ski-biker, Lindsay Krueger of Eagle-Vail, were immediately laughing as they carved down the slopes. He took the group into a kids' area in the trees off of the Ledges trail, where the bikes bumped up and down."Any human-tree contact?" Buringrud asked when the bikers regrouped after the trees."It's like riding a mountain bike singletrack," Hennessy said."One turn is harder than the other," Krueger said. "I can't remember which one."
Buringrud can take his ski bikers anywhere that leads to the bottom of the gondola, with two exceptions - Old Nine Line, a bumpy black-diamond run, and the terrain park under the gondola. You can launch off a kicker if you find one alongside a trail, but the halfpipe is off-limits.
Buringrud took the group to the intermediate Born Free trail. "This is a section up here where you can really get some speed," Buringrud said.
The bikers red-lined down the trail and across the skier bridge and they headed back up the gondola for their second run.Groups get between one and four runs during the ski-bike tours, depending on their proficiency."I thought it was really fun," Hennessy said on the ride up. "Much scarier than being strapped into skis."On the second run, Buringrud led the group down Simba. After unanimous consent was obtained from the group, they headed down the black-diamond moguls of lower Simba.Buringrud's mogul advice? Take a few turns and then stop to rest. But can you just bomb them like Toby Dawson? Yes, that works, too, he said.While Buringrud took a relatively straight path through the moguls, his group members did a lot of traversing.For Krueger, the bumps were her favorite part of ski biking."It was really scary," she said. "But the flat parts were scary, too."Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.