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Skibiking? Early life experience fuels former South Lake Tahoe resident’s passion

Jeff Butcher of Gardnerville is shown skibiking during a backcountry trek at Hoodoo, Ore.

Former South Lake Tahoe resident an ambassador of sport

"I ran across Skibikes at Homewood Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe in 1971. I rented one, had the time of my life and never looked back! What a rush! It's so much fun! I had found my new passion!" — Jeff Butcher, American SkiBike Association representative

Jeff Butcher well remembers that day when he was introduced to skibiking as a teenager visiting the Tahoe area from San Jose. Now 60 and living in Gardnerville, he has not lost one bit of that passion for riding down a mountain on skis while seated on a bicycle frame.

Just call him an ambassador for a sport whose origin dates to the 1850s in Europe.

"It's a blast," he said. "First of all, if you know how to slide, like skiing or snowboarding, you have that slide factor so you know how snow reacts. And everybody's ridden a bike, so you just combine the two and that's what it is. Plus I like this feeling with the handlebars. I like to ride a bike in motocross or mountain biking."

Butcher promotes his sport as a representative for the American SkiBike Association.

"We're kind of like a family," Butcher said. "Everybody wants to get the sport clicking."

The board of directors includes Don Koski, a longtime business associate who builds skibikes, including those that Butcher himself rides.

"Don Koski, his parents (Earl and Lil Koski) actually had the first mountain bike shop in the world, the Cove Bike Shop in Marin County. That's where mountain biking actually started," Butcher said.

Butcher, who lived in South Lake Tahoe for about 20 years before moving to Carson Valley, says he rides as often as possible and that Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort (located off U.S. 50 west of Echo Summit) is his favorite destination.

Two other area resorts, Heavenly and Kirkwood allow skibiking (rentals are not available in the region). Other skibikers like to go out in the mountains — including the Pine Nuts — and ride trails on their own.

"At Sierra, they're snowbike friendly … I've been riding there for over 20 years," Butcher said. "It's always good to check with the resort before you go because sometimes you're limited where you can go on the terrain."

There are three different ways to ride, he went on to explain.

"The younger kids seem to like to ride motocross so they stand on the pegs and they use the suspension and they're just kicking out that back ski," Butcher said. "The way I ride, with my feet down and I wear Sled Dogs boots (a Norwegian company), is a totally different way to go. And the third way is to put little skis on your feet."

Skibikes do attach to a ski lift for the uphill ride at a resort. Different bikes have different ways.

"The Koski bike is built so that it sits on one side of the ski, you hook the arm of the chair to the bike and you can even pull the safety bar at that point."

His first experience in the early 1970s came on rented Brenter Snowbikes.

"The bikes were black and silver, no shocks, plastic boot skis with steel claws in the back of the skis to help slow you down," Butcher noted in his biography on the American SkiBike Association website.  

His dream, of course, is to see skibiking become a popular activity.

"Every year there are more and more riders so eventually it will take off," Butcher said. "In the 45 years I've been doing it, I don't think I've ever had anybody that I've hooked up with it that didn't find it easy to do."