"Ski bob’ is good, clean fun | VailDaily.com

"Ski bob’ is good, clean fun

Cliff Thompson
Earl Eaton shows his demo ski bike that can be taken up the chairlift.

OK – What’s a “ski bob”?

It’s the ultimate sit-ski, ridden somewhat like a bicycle, Eaton says. Instead of tires, however, it has skis.

Eaton, 78, says he’s been riding ski bobs for more than 40 years.

Now that the lifts have closed for the season once again at Vail and Beaver Creek, Eaton’s reflecting on the season of skiing – mainly on a ski bob of his own design.

As many may recall, Eaton is the man who convinced Pete Seibert in the early 1960s that Vail Mountain would make a hell of a ski hill. Eaton has pretty much defied convention most of his life, in fact, by chasing dreams ranging from ski bumming to running the Colorado River all the way to Las Vegas to prospecting for uranium and gold.

Now he’s on a quest to improve the ski bob to where it becomes as common as snowboards on the hill.

It’s “easy’

“It’s fun because it’s so much easier,” Eaton says. “You could take a beginner and start him at Eagle’s Nest and by the time he got to Lionshead, he’d be an expert.”

Ski bobs aren’t new. They’ve been kicking around European ski resorts for nearly five decades. Their downfall, Eaton says, is their inability to be used on chair lifts.

“People were afraid one of them would be dropped off a lift and would hit someone. That’s what stopped ski bobbing,” he says.

Many of the lifts in Europe are trams or surface lifts, whereas in the states most are chairlifts.

“Ski bikes,” meanwhile, are available for use at Adventure Ridge on Vail Mountain, but they aren’t as versatile as the contraption Eaton has developed.

A fellow ski bum from Aspen, George Garcia, imported some ski bobs from Europe in the 60s and eventually manufactured some in California. It was called the “Sitz Ski,” Eaton recalls, adding that nearly 5,000 were manufactured by Garcia, who also operated a line of ski shops known as Spectra Sports.

At one ski bob race at Squaw Valley, near Lake Tahoe, Eaton was able to ski with French skiing great Jean Claude Killy.

In the mid-’70’s Eaton and John Jaquet ran snow cat tours for ski bobbers on Meadow Mountain and on Bald Mountain up Spraddle Creek.

“In all those trips we never did have anyone ride the snow cats back down,”

he says.

Two years ago, Eaton and Paul Testwuide of Vail Resorts decided to refine the ski bob to make it easy to use on a chairlift.

“They’re not much good if you can’t haul them on a lift,” he says.

Eaton now thinks he’s got the solution.

Heart of skis

Like all ski bobs, Eaton’s ski bob is has a short, steerable front ski controlled by handlebars and a longer rear shaped ski for carving turns. He wears small skis on his feet to provide extra balance. The frame of the ski bob is made of old metal skis, providing a springy suspension Eaton says is perfect for the rider. When he stands up, a spring lifts the seat so it is the right height to be picked up by a chair lift.

Eaton believes his device is the greatest invention since Lycra.

“It’s a great change of pace from skiing. You can take one of these things for a day and it makes a world of difference,” Eaton says. “You can use it in all conditions. Ice, crud, slush. It’s great in the trees. You can get through some wicked stuff.”

Eaton says he even occasionally uses his feet as brakes when the terrain becomes tricky. The versatility of the device, he says, lies in the ease of operation.

“It’s probably easier than a snowboard. I can do stuff on that that I never could do on skis,” Eaton says. “I can start at Eagle’s Nest and the first time I stop is at the bottom of the hill. It’s so easy, it’s effortless. You don’t stop for fatigue.”

Skiing, by contrast, is difficult, he says.

“A lot of people go skiing,” he says. “They roll around in the snow and find it’s not that much fun.”

Eaton should know. He’s been skiing for 70 years.

“I had more fun this winter on this than I’ve ever had on snow,” he says.

70 years later

Eaton’s first skis were made of pine slats obtained by his father at a lumber mill in Bachelor Gulch long before it was eyed for its real estate development potential. Turns on those primitive skis were made by dragging one end of a long pole carried for that purpose.

Eaton is not sure what to call his ski bob. He’s trying to decide between “Sit Ski” and the “EeZ Ski.”

The aging Baby Boom generation and its accompanying knee injuries, aches and pains would find the ski bob a blessing, he ways, as it takes stress off the joints and major muscle groups, injecting fun without the pain.

Families with little children can enjoy the slopes much easier, says Eaton, who has often put a child on front of the seat holding on to the handlebars to descend the mountain without difficulty.

Take it anywhere

The ski bob’s versatility is appealing, too, Eaton says.

“I can head straight down a hill and make short little turns without difficulty or effort,” says Eaton. “On skis, it would kill me. I went to the Back Bowls the other day. It was pretty well tracked up, but this makes it so easy. I let out a “yahoo!’ or two.”

Bumps are easily negotiated by steering through them, he says.

To make the ski bob easier to transport, Eaton folds it by removing a pin on the front headset. He then can stow the contraption in the ski/snowboard holders attached to the outside of gondola cars. If he’s riding chair lifts, he says, he merely stands up and the spring loaded seat extends to where the lift fits beneath the bottom of the bob’s seat.

What now for the ski-bob?

The device’s future remains a mystery, but Eaton remains optimistic.

“This things gonna catch on,” he says. “There’s a market for this ski bob.”

In the meantime, Eaton says he will be heading to the hills this summer, where he will prospect for gold on some of his mining claims. When he’s not doing that he says he plans on building some ski bobs for the coming ski season.

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