New snowsports help people discover fresh ways to glide, bike or climb this winter
Special to the Free Press
Skiing and snowboarding aren’t the only ways one can glide down the hill with glee, as a few new snowsports have popped up in recent years that are catching on with both locals and visitors. If you thought snowboarding was the last innovation in the field of winter sports, think again. Sports like snowskating, snow biking and ski mountaineering all take activities traditionally done in the summer and add a fresh, frozen twist to them so they can be enjoyed in the winter as well. If you’re a bit bored with the snowboard or looking to change up your ski routine, then consider crossing something new off of your ice-bucket list this season.
RIDE FREE ON A SNOWSKATE
Snowskating has been around for at least a decade, but bi-deck snowskates were not allowed on Vail Mountain or Beaver Creek until three years ago. Since then, the popularity of snowskating has increased exponentially as more people see snowskaters in action and decide they want to try it, too. Vail resident Hunter Schleper said when he started snowskating 10 years ago, he was a lone wolf and didn’t know many people locally who were into the sport. Now, some days he rides with a pack of friends who are as passionate about snowskating as he is. Unlike on a snowboard, with a bi-deck snowskate, your feet are not secured to the board, giving you a freer range of movement and more mobility. As someone who has skied and snowboarded for most of his life, snowskating is a fun new challenge for Schleper.
“(The best part) is flying down a mountain not being strapped in and not knowing what’s about to happen,” Schleper said. “You’re always in for a wild ride.”
Some may see snowskating as more dangerous or risky than other snowsports, but Nate Hoellerick, manager of Transition Sports in Avon, said this is a common misconception about snowskating.
“People see them and think since they’re not attached to your feet, you could potentially lose it,” Hoellerick said. “But they come with very nice straps that connect it to your body. You’re going to go a lot slower (on a snowskate). The risk is roughly the same as snowboarding.”
To try snowskating, both Schleper and Hoellerick recommend being at least an intermediate-level snowboarder. Most can pick the basics up in a day and from there start learning tricks and different turns.
Mark “Spike” Eiseman, manager of the Beaver Creek snowboarding school, has been a big snowskate rider for years and said a day on a snowskate will invigorate one’s affection for the sport again.
“One of the coolest sensations is when you’re snowskating in 3 to 4 inches of fresh powder,” Eiseman said. “It’s one of the more amazing feelings you could ever imagine. All of a sudden a 30- or 40-year-old turns into a child again. … It makes you fall back in love with the sport (snowboarding) you fell in love with to begin with.”
Eiseman has introduced many on his staff to the snowskate in the past few years, and now Beaver Creek snowboard school offers snowskate lessons.
“It looks difficult, but it’s easier than other people might think,” Eiseman said. “When people get on (a board) and try it in the early season when not a lot of terrain is open, it’s just so much fun.”
CYCLE THROUGH THE SNOW
If your favorite thing to do in the summer is cycle around town, then snowbiking, also known as fat biking, is a great way to ride the trails even in winter. Just so there’s no confusion, this type of snowbiking is different than the ski-like bikes one can rent at places like Adventure Ridge on Vail Mountain, which people also call snowbiking. Snow or fat biking is a specially-designed bicycle with tires made to traverse snow-packed trails. Practically unheard of only a few years ago, the awareness of snowbiking hit a tipping point last year, said Jamie Malin, owner of The Kind Bikes and Skis in Edwards.
“There are more people seeing other people doing it and trying it,” Malin said. “Now with (rentals), people can go out and try it before putting a couple of thousand dollars into a bike. It’s still a relatively new genre.”
Malin said there are many good local trails for beginners to get them pedaling through powder. Malin suggests the Miller Ranch open space in Edwards, the West Avon Preserve trails and the Nordic trail on the Eagle-Vail golf course. On a bright sunny day that isn’t very windy, snowbiking can feel like a cool cruise akin to a summer ride at sunset.
SKI MORE WITH SKIMO
We wouldn’t be living at 8,000 feet elevation if we didn’t like a little uphill climb. Ski mountaineering, or skimo, combines hiking and rock climbing with backcountry skiing. Compared to backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering involves steeper climbing and going to the top of a mountain and skiing down. Dan Brewster, owner of Haute Route Gear & Apparel, said while ski mountaineering is still a small slice of the skiing industry, it’s one of the fastest growing in terms of equipment sales — specifically alpine touring equipment.
“I think it’s the future of skiing,” Brewster said, “Especially backcountry skiing. You evolve into it. It’s great skiing in the mountains — it’s awesome, it’s beautiful, it’s easy. But there comes a time for a lot of skiers, they look up and they say, ‘Wow, I want to ski over there’. With proper training and fitness level, you can ski in the areas where there aren’t a lot of people.”
Brewster said one of the best places to go for beginners early in the winter season is Meadow Mountain in Minturn. The ideal time for ski mountaineering begins late March and can continue until June, when the danger of an avalanche isn’t as high. Will Elliott, head guide at Paragon Guides, said before braving the backcountry, it’s a good idea to spend the early winter months developing one’s rock climbing skills at an indoor gym so that you’re not trying to learn a new skill while out in the wilderness. Elliott said one way to get a handle on ski mountaineering is to participate in skimo racing.
“(Races) are a great way to get into the sport,” Elliott said. “Because (the course) is set up and in mostly controlled areas, you’re able to practice your skills and you’re using the proper equipment. There’s also support there if something went wrong.”
Even if you don’t become an expert, skimo is a “total body workout and a great way to stay fit in the winter for cyclers and runners,” Brewster said. “Dress lighter than you think you would because it’s a workout going uphill.”
Perhaps in the future, the question of “ski or ride?” many of us around here ask one another will become a question of “ski, ride, skate, bike or climb.” After trying one of these new trendy winter activities, you might have a harder time deciding where to align yourself. Until then, those moving smoothly downhill on a new mode of transportation will just have to get used to more questions.
“Every chairlift ride, I should wear a sign on my back explaining what (snowskate) is,” Schleper said. “Everyone wants to know, ‘What is that thing?’”
That “thing” is a bi-deck snowskate, and you might find yourself riding one soon.
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