Though we occasionally write stories for EasternSlopes.com, we are also loyal readers of this publication. We enjoy looking at the many different ideas for getting outdoors and having fun. Some of the things other people do hold little interest for us. But surprisingly often, we find ourselves inspired to do something we thought we had given up, or even to try something totally new and different.
Now, neither of us are skiers. Warner has done some cross-country skiing in the past, but very little in recent years. Edie has never really skied much. But we still read the stories about ski gear, and downhill ski resorts and, when we read Tim’s story on Snowbiking, we both thought that looked like FUN! Most things that fit in the fun category are illegal, immoral, fattening – or dangerous! However, snowbiking looked like it might be interesting and FUN, without being any of those no-no’s listed above. Well, the jury was still out on “dangerous.” FUN or not, taking into account our advanced ages and with our limited ski experience, we both also questioned whether or not we could try snowbiking safely. But one thing EasternSlopes.com has taught us is to never say “never.” So we contacted Tim, who responded with his usual enthusiasm, saying “Yes! Of course you can! ” And, suddenly, we were committed to a snowbiking adventure.
On a warm(ish) day in late March we found ourselves at Pats Peak in Henniker, NH. We’ve visited a few downhill ski areas before in winter, but only as spectators. This was our first time as participants, and we both have to admit we were feeling some trepidations. However, we found it hard to hold onto any nervous feelings, given the atmosphere we found on the hill. They were celebrating spring with a Hawaiian-themed weekend, and the place was a madhouse. The staff was running around wearing Hawaiian shirts, grass skirts and leis (and some had on shorts!). A little chilly for us, but whatever floats your boat! Everybody was having such a good time. Everybody means a TON of people. Seemed to us that it was much more fun than actually going to Hawaii!
Our first stop was to get fitted for ski helmets. Neither of us had ever had one on our heads before and to our utter amazement they were truly comfortable. Well, that was a nice surprise! Now we understand why both Tim and David insist that everyone should wear helmets on the slopes. They are so comfortable you quickly forget you are wearing them, and with other people whizzing around you on skis and snowboards, there’s a definite safety benefit.
Then we got fitted for rental ski boots. Different story entirely. Miserable things! We saw people actually walking around in the them, and a couple of kids were running! We, however, could just barely walk, and we mean barely. Warner likened walking in ski boots to being a robot with stiff legs and iron boots. However, once the clunky things got buckled into the little tiny “footskis” you wear when snowbiking, they were fine and we (almost) forgot how clunky and miserable they felt when walking.
Suitably attired, we went outside and met our wonderful instructors, Ben and Dave. They were so nice to us! First, they fitted us to the Snowbikes–which look exactly like kids bikes with skis where the wheels would be. There’s a front ski attached to the handlebars so it pivots like a bike wheel, and another one under the heavily padded seat. As already noted, you wear little “footskis” so you can use your feet to stabilize yourself as you slide. Sitting on the flat snow without moving, the whole incongruous setup felt surprisingly stable and comfortable.
Of course in order to have FUN we had to move, and that meant learning how to steer and stop. The instructions for learning a snowbike are very simple, and the movements natural and comfortable. As a result, we learned the basics very fast. The obvious and instinctive way to steer would seem to be to turn the lead ski with the handlebars, but that’s not how it’s done. Instead, you steer by turning your head to look in the direction you want to go. The body naturally and instinctively leans very slightly in the same direction without you even having to think about it, and the bike goes in that direction, almost like magic. To stop, you simply turn your head farther to look backwards up the hill. It’s that easy! Snowbiking turned out to be safe, comfortable and, yes, FUN! With both feet firmly on the snow on their little footskis, and seated comfortably on the snowbike, there’s little chance of falling. In fact, neither of us took a spill while coming down the hill. Even if you did fall while going down the hill, tipping over onto the soft snow from a low sitting position is hardly something to be concerned about.
The hardest part of the whole experience was getting on and off the carpet lift. It’s like a flat escalator, or those moving walkways in an airport and it conveys you slowly and comfortably at ground level up to the top of the gentle beginner slope. The only problem we found is that the “moving carpet” is quite narrow and you absolutely have to remember to get your footskis on the carpet part. If you don’t, you fall over—which can be a little embarrassing with people watching. Edie fell once on the durned lift, but even she admitted it was more funny than scary–more of a slow-motion tip-over than a real fall.
Like anything else, snowbiking requires a bit of practice in order to get the hang of it. Warner found it difficult to remember to keep both arms extended straight rather than bending his elbows. However, after a few runs he found himself doing better at that, and correcting himself whenever he realized his arms were bent. You also have to remember to keep both knees clamped firmly against the padded seat of the snowbike so your feet and their little skis don’t splay out to the sides. That was far less difficult to remember than keeping the arms straight.
With Ben’s careful instruction and watchful guidance, in a few minutes we were making swooping turns down the bunny slope, getting right back on the carpet lift and riding up to do it all over again. It was both exciting and exhilarating and, yes, just plain FUN.
As we were learning on the bunny slope, we had little kids whizzing around us having a great time. Watching the kids was part of the fun. One little girl in pink (she looked to be about 5) went flying straight down the hill with her father chasing after her yelling “Wait! Wait!”. She arrived at the bottom, stopped neatly, and turned around to look back as he was racing after her as if to say, “What is your problem?”
By the time our hour lesson was over we had both made a goodly number of runs. We could have stayed longer, but we were both tired by then, and felt we’d made a good start on learning to snow bike. In fact, we even got a license that says we can do the bunny slope without supervision! Aren’t you impressed?
It’s almost December now, there’s snow on some of the ski hills and we’re looking forward to getting down to Pats Peak again, refreshing our snowbiking skills and wooshing down the slopes again. Maybe this time we’ll even take another lesson and go up on the chair lift! Since neither of us has ever ridden a chairlift, we definitely want an instructor along for that. By the way, if you think you are too old to try something new like snowbiking, keep this in mind… Warner is 77, Edie is 76, and if we can do it so can you. Really, you will have a wonderful time, even if it isn’t Hawaiian weekend!