Have a seat on the slopes
KEYSTONE – “What in the world was that?” is not an uncommon thing to hear from people on the slopes as you scoot by waist-high on a snowbike. “It’s like honey to a bee,” Keystone Adventure Point snowbike instructor Clark Stoneback said of the interest a snowbike garners on the slopes. “When people see you on a snowbike they always want to know two things: Do you ever fall, and how do you stop.”Despite being seen at only a handful of resorts in Colorado, snowbikes are nothing new. In 1949, Englebert Brenter invented the “sit ski,” which is now considered the first snowbike.A snowbike has a bike-style frame, with skis where tires would be. You sit on a long, soft banana seat, and stay upright by using your feet for balance, with short skis attached to ski boots with non-releasable bindings.Brenter is still the leading manufacturer of snowbikes, and Keystone recently purchased 25 new rental Brenter bikes with shaped skis.
Brand new feelingAfter retiring from 41 years with J.C. Penney, Stoneback, 64, moved to Summit County to live the mountain lifestyle. He enjoyed skiing, but after trying his first snowbike two years ago, he’s never gone back. “It’s so relaxing,” Stoneback said. “I can make 30 runs down the mountain and not be tired at all. It’s great for someone with knee problems that’s looking to extend their mountain activity.”The snowbike isn’t just for folks Stoneback’s age, though. Younger skiers and snowboarders are finding a new way to explore the mountains as well.Chris Marriott, a shuttle driver and snowbike instructor at Keystone, said he gets the same feeling from snowbiking now that he did from snowboarding in the late ’80s.”Everything feels brand new,” Marriott said. “You’re sitting at a lower level, a different vantage point.”Marriott blew out his knee snowboarding in the Breckenridge terrain park a few years ago. But now, he can ski any type of terrain the mountain has to offer without risking further injury to his knees.
“I’ve enjoyed these snowbikes down every slope I’ve ever taken skis or a snowboard down, even the terrain park,” Marriott said. “It’s much easier on your body.”Marriott also found some unexpected rewards from sitting down.”When you’re skiing through the trees, you don’t have to worry about getting hit in the face with those head-high branches,” he said.And here come slopecyclesKeystone, Durango and Telluride are the only resorts in Colorado that rent snowbikes, but others, including Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin, allow snowbikes on the slopes.At Keystone, a $49, two-and-a-half hour lesson and tour is required before a snowbiker can ride a lift on their own. After the lesson, competent snowbikers are given the proper credentials to receive a Keystone snowbiking ID card. Snowbike rental is $25 per day, not including ski boot rental or a lift pass.
It could be perplexing to some why they would need a license to ride a snowbike, which can be mastered by the average person in just a few hours, while completely inexperienced skiers and snowboarders have free reign after just purchasing a lift ticket. Marriott says Keystone may be on to something.”It’s a liability issue,” Marriott said. “I don’t want to try and tell the future, but if resorts started requiring lessons before beginner skiers and snowboarders are allowed all over mountain, it would make it a much safer place.”Snowbikes aren’t the only alternative for the skier or rider looking to grasp onto a new mode of mountain travel; slopecycles are a newer option Keystone offers.A slopecycle is a split snowboard with a seatless BMX frame, and a wheelie bar on the back. Slopecycles are geared toward freestyle riding. Riders wear snow boots instead of ski boots, and their feet are not attached.”It’s a little harder than snowbiking,” snowbike and slopestyle instructor Skylar Hurley said. “It adds the element of being able to do tricks. They welcome slopecycles in the park.”Vail, Colorado