Snowbikes seek access to slopes
An invention that was first designed to give paraplegics a chance to slide on the slopes has evolved into a recreational alternative to skiing and boarding. With the rise in popularity of such spectator events like extreme skiing and the X Games, there is indeed the possibility that snowbiking will find its niche within the ski industry.
Mike Fahmie, a Kirkwood employee who happens to possess one of the few bikes in the area, explained the bike’s evolution.
“Rodney Love originally manufactured it for a paraplegic. What happened was that he made a few, adapted it to where it was more recreational and that’s how he got it (to this point). And what wound up happening was that a lot of people who don’t ski or snowboard, but wanted to get out on the mountain started using it. They’ve had it out in Colorado, test marketing there for about a year and a half and this is what they’ve narrowed it down to. They’ve brought the weight down; they use a higher grade composite material for the skis so it’s about 22 pounds. It’s super-lightweight for the lifts. It has a mechanism built into the seat so that if you fall off, the device will stop it. It has a foot braking system and skis, handle bars and seats are all available as accessories.”
Fahmie and some of the Kirkwood crew took it out recently for a test drive and the reviews were positive. Test pilot Mike Thonus has worked the past three seasons at the resort and he thinks the bike has a future on the mountain.
“Yeah, definitely. I can see people renting it, taking it out,” Thonus said. “You wouldn’t want it on anything too steep, but I could see it going on some mellow terrain. It was really fast; we took it on a pretty steep slope and it was fast. It was definitely luge-like.”
Fahmie is well aware that he faces a huge obstacle in obtaining lift access for the bikes. It may be a headache that resorts are not quite prepared for. But he is hopeful.
“I think it’s on the evolution chain of the ski/snowboarding winter thing. It’s next, but the mountain is already crowded so it’s going to take some convincing to get it on the mountain, getting the lifts to get it up there, that kind of thing. The few resorts I’ve talked to was about having a few dedicated lifts for the Snowbike so that you’d be able to run the Snowbike on at least one or two lifts.”
One area resort was asked about the possibility of the bikes being allowed on the lifts and although the marketing representative didn’t say “no,” she did allow that it would entail a lot of research.
“It is not a small question,” she said, before running down the list of things that must be done before the vehicle would be allowed. The first stop would be the resort’s lawyers. She pointed out that this was a big reason that it took snowboards so long to be allowed at resorts. But she did admit that she could see the bikes being allowed for a demonstration or exhibition day during special events.
Besides convincing the resorts, there also is the possibility of skiers and snowboarders not wanting it on the mountain. Snowboarders now account for almost half of all lift ticket sales and as a result, there are more people on the slopes. Diversity in vehicles has proved to be a great boon for the industry and that is what Fahmie hopes will provide a door of opportunity for his bike.
“You’re creating an opportunity to get more people interested in the (ski) industry, whether it’s on a Snowbike, skiing, or snowboarding,” said Fahmie. “Expose them to a lot of different things and let them go from there.”
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