Snowbiking for Peace
Guy Riggs is up before dawn. His customized Brenter Snowbike strapped to his back, he kicks toeholds with his ski boots into the bulletproof snow of Pepi’s Face, beginning his long, arduous trek to the top of Vail Mountain.”I always start on Pepi’s,” explains the recent Vail transplant, “because it best duplicates the snow conditions I’ll encounter in the ‘Death Zone.'”Riggs is referring to the elevation above 26,000 feet where the human body begins to break down from oxygen deprivation. And though his training climb at Vail on this cold March morning will take him only to 11,250 feet, Riggs has been mentally adapting to life and survival in the Death Zone for months.”I have to push myself to my limits and beyond,” Riggs says between short, quick gasps as he works his way up the sheer face of Pepi’s ski run, “because this goal and this cause is so worthwhile.”Riggs, a 31-year-old dotcom millionaire who cashed out just before the Internet bubble burst in 2000, has established a foundation called “Snowbiking for Peace.” The new Cordillera resident plans to snowbike the Seven Summits, the seven highest peaks on each continent, and bring awareness to the sport sometimes called ski-biking or snowbobbing while raising funds for global peace.”What I am doing is not only incredibly daring,” he says, “but it is also incredibly dangerous. And that’s how I think it should be. With great risk comes great reward, and I am trying to train a white-hot spotlight on the hypocrisy of the American war effort in Iraq.”No one will be shooting at me on my way up, say, Denali, but in a way I wish they would, because I am willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for my country and for a cause as glorious as snowbiking instead of fighting an unjust war.”Riggs is a passionate young man who acknowledges that his ideas may be hard to swallow for some residents of largely conservative Eagle County, but he also expects a broad base of support.”I think there are a lot of closet liberals up here, and I think people in the Vail area should be doubly opposed to this war because of its potential impacts on the tourism industry, which is the lifeblood of this community,” Riggs says.While he is bankrolling a large chunk of the projected $1 million “Snowbiking for Peace” project himself, Riggs wants to sign up individual and corporate sponsors to raise funds for global peace and to promote snowbike awareness.He says such cash commitments will draw people and businesses out politically in a way they might not be comfortable with otherwise.”I think this is something the Vail Valley Foundation and Vail Resorts, with their emphasis on winter sports, would get behind,” Riggs says, “and I hope wealthy benefactors like Alberto Vilar, although he’s having a little trouble lately, and Merv Lapin, who I hear once supported an assault weapons ban here, will also back this with their checkbooks.”Riggs says he has yet to personally contact any of the valley’s philanthropists, but hopes this article will serve as a general call to action to both monetarily and philosophically support the expedition, scheduled to begin this summer.Another possibility for fundraising is a major television network deal. Riggs says he has been in contact with television executives in the hopes that they’ll buy into a reality-TV series about his exploits.In an effort to spice up his adventures, Riggs says he would be willing to bring on female snowbiker Yvonne Kjusta of Finland, who could be billed as a possible love interest for Riggs. With the addition of a few more snowbiking personalities, Riggs says his group could have the kind of dramatic, sexual appeal necessary for a juicy reality program.”Hey, if (locals) Brad Ludden and Ryan Sutter can do it, why can’t I?” asks Riggs, referring to kayaker Ludden, now pitching an around-the-world river-running reality show, and Vail firefighter Sutter, star of the recent “Bachelorette” show on ABC.What is snowbiking?Originating in the Alps more than 150 years ago, snowbikes know in Europe as skibobs were primarily used as transportation in the early days. In the 1940s, Austrian Engelbert Brenter patented his Sit-Ski, with skis for runners and skis on the rider’s feet, launching the modern and primarily recreational snowbike.Also sometimes called a skibike, the contraptions have enjoyed varying degrees of popularity in Europe, South America and North America over the years, culminating in a mini-wave of success at some U.S. ski resorts in the mid to late 1990s.Vail only offers guided night tours on snowbikes, with riders wearing headlamps, starting from Adventure Ridge atop the Eagle Bahn Gondola and descending over 3,000 feet to the bottom of the mountain. But it is not an open-access mountain, where enthusiasts can bring their own snowbikes and ride anywhere during the day. Riggs hopes to change that.”This is like snowboarding in the 1980s,” he says. “In the beginning, resorts openly discriminated against riders, and now there are only four areas in the country that ban snowboarding. I hope Snowbiking for Peace can start the same sort of movement in our sport.”But Riggs admits he feels a bit like a criminal on his early morning training sorties, when he starts up the mountain in the pre-dawn hours so he can ride down before the lifts crank up at 8:30 a.m.Because Vail is located on leased Forest Service land, Riggs says he is well within the letter of the law if he bikes the mountain before it opens, but he adds that he has to watch out for snowcats grooming the trails.”Snowcats win in a head-on collision with a snowbike,” says Riggs, a handsome 5-foot-11, brown-eyed outdoor adventurer who concedes a snowbike is an odd choice for a natural athlete who briefly played Division I college football before blowing out his right knee.”I was a hell of an alpine skier before the knee injury, but then the pain became too much,” he says. “So I switched to snowbiking.”It’s a blast; the most fun you can have in a sitting position almost,” he laughs, flashing a rebellious grin.In Europe, snowbiking is the last downhill refuge of the aged and weak of knee, but Riggs defends his mode of descent.”Look, I’ve never conformed to societal norms, whether it’s starting a software company no one thought would succeed, riding snowbikes or opposing my country’s criminal and unprovoked attack on another sovereign nation.”A pioneering spiritRiggs’ latest venture, snowbiking the Seven Summits, is therefore very much in character for this iconoclastic son of ’60s hippies who participated in campus sit-ins in Berkeley to protest the Vietnam War.”I like to blaze new trails,” says Riggs, who claims his Seven Summits bid Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Vinson Massif and Carstensz Pyramid will not only be a collective first, but will include first snowbike descents of each of the individual peaks as well.Riggs also claims to have successfully landed the highest recorded cliff jump on a snowbike, a 75foot plunge off a 90-degree rock formation in the backcountry near Jackson, Wyo.But not everyone in the extreme sports community, particularly climbing purists, is impressed by Riggs’ Seven Summits bid.”I heard about the guy (Stephen Koch) who’s trying to snowboard the Seven Summits, and I thought that was pretty silly,” says veteran Himalayan climber Reese Clausen of Boulder, “but this stunt takes the cake. I mean, what’s next? Cafeteria trays?”Riggs scoffs at such criticism, pointing to Clausen as a perfect example of the kind of high-altitude elitist who drives him even harder in his quest to snowbike where no man has gone before.”Yeah, maybe I will do cafeteria trays next,” Riggs says. “Without oxygen. Clausen would never dream of a summit bid without a bottle nearby. In fact, he probably supports the war in Iraq.”For the record, Clausen has summited Everest from the north and south sides, both times with supplemental oxygen, and he tentatively backs the Bush administration’s Middle East policy.”I support our troops, and hope this war ends soon, and with a minimum of bloodshed,” Clausen says, pointing to Maoist guerillas in Nepal who have threatened expeditions during recent climbing seasons. “Maybe we need a few U.S. Marines in the Himalayas.”Riggs acknowledges he’ll use supplemental oxygen and high-altitude porters on some of his Seven Summits climbs, but maintains he will in no way exploit native populations.”All of my Sherpas will be very well-paid, and I’m going to bring extra snowbikes to give them as bonuses,” Riggs says. “That’s one of my goals, in fact, is to spread snowbiking to indigenous cultures, much the way the Snowboard Outreach Society bridges cultural gaps locally.”Residents of third-world countries, such as street children in Mexico, have their horizons expanded by being exposed to snowsports.”For more information on the Snowbiking for Peace Foundation or to sponsor the Snowbiking for Peace Seven Summits expedition, e-mail Guy Riggs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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