Ski bikers explain what it's like behind the handlebars
It took about 10 minutes for Derek Bolz to fall in love with ski biking.
Three years ago, he met a fellow Edmontonian who had built a few ski bikes, and he took Bolz out to a local ski hill to try riding a bike with skis inside of wheels.
Bolz, an avid mountain biker and BMX rider, immediately felt at home behind the handlebars, sliding down the mountain and launching off jumps in the terrain park.
"I knew I had to get my own," he said.
Riding a ski bike is not what you might imagine. According to Bolz, the manoeuvring is not so much in the handlebars as in the hips.
And there are no brakes. Ski bike riders stop the same way skiers or snowboarders do: using their edges.
"I don't think ski biking is any more dangerous than skiing or snowboarding," Bolz said.
"In fact, I think it's a little safer at times because you can actually bail off of it. You can get away from the bike whereas skis or snowboards, you're attached to that, and if you go down, it's going with you."
Ski bikes are also without pedals or gears. The frames are designed to slide down a mountain and are lighter than mountain bikes.
Justin Schwanke, a BMX rider, first tried ski biking when he was a teenager. After a long break, he returned to riding this season.
He said that ski biking offers independence on the mountain and a link to a passionate community.
"You kind of do what you want with it, but at the same time you can be connected to a broader community and it's not just a solo activity," he said.
"So it's something that you can be passionate about, share with your friends, progress together. That's one of the most rewarding things to me about BMX or ski biking is that community."
For those interested in ski biking, Bolz suggests buying a ski bike from an established company, not building one.
Some ski areas, he said, don't allow home-built ski bikes, but they do allow production models.
"You're kind of limiting yourself if you're building your own," he said.
As for getting on the chairlift, it's not too different from being on skis, Bolz said. Just wait for the chair to scoop you up with the bike and hold onto the handlebars.
"It's nice and easy," he said. "I can have a free hand if I need to."
Bolz said he's been able to ski bike at resorts across Alberta and British Columbia, including Sunshine, Lake Louise, Marmot, and Panorama.
"When I first started riding at mountains, I was worried I would get more of a negative response and people saying,
'Get that thing off the mountain,' but everyone's been awesome," he said. "People love it."