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An Adventure to Remember

Randy Kimball Age 37 New Mexico

 
 

They said it was the first time it had ever been done. I thought to myself, I find it hard to believe that no one had ever thought of it. Having become an adrenaline junky about 3 years ago, I had thought of it several times. Just never had the nuggets to step up and ask the question.

 
 

I talked my buddy Eugene into doing it with me. Eugene got me into Down Hill Mountain biking about 3 years ago and eventually got me on my first Ski Bike. We have shared several broken, scrapped and road rashed body parts in our adventures over the past few years. I thank him several times a season as he awoke something in me that I did not know existed. I often find myself euphoric in situations most people would stop breathing in.

 
 

If I don't get a gravity game fix at least 1x per week, my week is not a good one. Over the years, he has pushed me a bit and it was not until the 2004/2005 ski season that I was able to start pushing him a bit on the ski bike.

For the 3rd annual Durango Mountain Resort Ski Bike Festival, Roy Meiworm the lift ops manager at Durango Mountain Resort was able to negotiate a special deal that lowered the price from $185 to $120 the first ever Durango Mountain Back Country Skibike trip. As stated, this was the first time a ski bike trip had ever been done. I had to be a part of this. After we rode over from the top of Chair 1 with about 20 others to where the Snow Cats were going to pick us up it occurred to me that this is really happening. I am actually going back country ski biking. We had been told it would be intermediate terrain we would be skiing. This in itself put me at ease a bit but the only picture I had in my mind was guys dropping down chutes like something you would see in a Warren Miller film. I was hoping this was not going to be my experience. All was well as the crew from San Juan Ski Company www.sanjuanski.com gave us the 411 on the day's events and plans. I was cool until they started handing out the avalanche beacons only 10 minutes into the trip and described how they would be used and what to do in the event of an avalanche. Hey!!! I did not sign up for avalanche training! I did not sign up to search for the missing ones!! This was the internal conversation that no one could hear. It was very loud in my head.  All I could remember thinking was what the hell did you get yourself and Eugene into? I could see the same thing in Eugene's eyes at times. We had about a 50 minute ride into the San Juan Mountains behind Durango Mountain Resort. There was lots of chatter in the cab of the snow cat. Most was chatter about old events, previous conquests and the movie "Better off Dead" where there is a scene with a paper boy on a ski bike chasing after a guy screaming I want my two dollars. One of the guys had brought a Durango newspaper bag and wore it down the first run just for that scene in the movie. As I stared out the windows of the snow cat, all I could see was deep, deep snow covering everything. I remember thinking; I should have mounted my wider boards for today. My bad!!! The crew said we were headed above Tree-line. Having spent all of my life on groomed runs and packed X-country trails I was not sure what this meant. You basically go high enough in elevation that the trees stop and you are in open terrain. Once we got to our first stop of several for the day, I felt like I was on top of the world!! I have played in the mountains for several years and have never been above tree line. You could see for what must have been hundreds of miles. It really impressed upon my just how small I was in the scheme of things.  The first run was not intimidating but it definitely put me on edge, since I was ready to launch down fresh untracked deep powder snow. Now, I've been skiing for about 10 years and never had an opportunity to do this except for the occasional poach at my favorite resort or tracking up the edges of fresh runs. I no sooner pointed it down and let it go that I felt my front ski sinking lower and lower. I was carving out a trench that must have been 3 feet deep. I had made the very poor choice changing my mind and bringing my skinny X-Rails on instead of mounting up the bigger boards I had gotten just for the occasion. The front ski dipped way to low, the bike stopped and over the top of the bars I went. Deep powder makes a very soft landing. No question in that. Getting back on the bike in snow up to your waist or deeper is another thing. Each time I came off the bike, it was a 3-6+ minute effort to get my chubby butt back on the bike. I felt better seeing several others fighting with this new environment also. I am sure most of us had never had an opportunity to ski bike in powder over 4 feet deep. Once over the bars in the waist and sometimes chest high snow, I found it easiest to lay the bike flat on the snow and climb back on it like a giant snow shoe. Still not an easy effort at elevations of 12,100 ft +, no air and carrying a bunch of chunk around the mid section but it is doable. With all that said, there is something very beautiful about bombing the bike straight down untracked powder up to the handle bars.

 
 

The third run was a tree run. This is the type of run that "Footskiers" just rave about. I think it is a spiritual thing with them. I can't help but notice the way their eyes roll around when the talk about tree runs. It must be that good. My experience was not the same. Let me point out that I am one of those "Peggers". This was a new name that cropped up during the festival this year to describe those of us that do not wear foot skis. I am not sure what to think about the name. I am still mixed as is my buddy. I prefer Free Styler myself. I was able to shed my footskis years ago and will never put them back on. There was a point at the tree run that the run was so steep and tight in the trees, that my chest was on the seat, feet were dragging behind the bike in the snow and I was holding on for dear life!

 
 

The spiritual event I experienced was seeing my maker several times during that run. Most of us Free Stylers were struggling with these runs as we were not able to keep the speed in check using foot skis like the others. It was more like survival mode. I did get down in one piece hoping we never took a run like that ever again. I did not put on foot skis at any time during the trip. I needed to stand true to my equipment and my style, even if I was screaming like a girl who had seen a spider. Being able to keep true to my style of ridding meant a lot to me.  It was a personal agenda I held close inside. I was better for the experience.

We moved on to several other different runs with everyone chattering about the previous run. It was funny how in the cat cab, the snow was deeper, people went faster and endo's got larger. It was entertaining. We had a camera crew with us and they were setting up several different shots of us whipping by like a gang of renegade bikers rolling into a small town to claim what we wanted. It must have looked really cool to the camera. By the last run, the only thing on my mind was I hope they donít take us to another tree run, not with my narrow skis. I was tired, cold and beat. We headed back up to the area we had launched off for the tree run. I was ready to sit out the last run if we were going in the trees. Instead they gave us a different line to take that eventually put us onto a snow packed Cat road. They told us to follow the road down to the Cat. About 2 minutes into the road, I was letting the bike rip down the soft packed Cat road. This was my kinda run!!! Rough chop snow, soft and windy. Did I mention soft?  I began to let the bike fly down the run at mach speeds. I leaned the bike onto its edges using the snow berms to keep me in the slot. My feet planted firmly on the pegs loading them as needed. I used small bumps in the cat road as jumps and got the bike airborne a few times with some pretty cool ollies. The bike got faster and faster with each turn. I couldn't help but think I wish we had done more like this. Having spent all my ski life on groomed ski runs, it was what I was use to and knew like an old friend. I stopped at the cat at the end of the road run. Several other ski bikers showed up. I couldn't help but notice that all of us Free Stylers" were just on cloud nine. Like me, this was the type of runs we were use to and knew how to master. Comments like "How cool was that", and "I was ripping it" assured me that we were in the same space. This was my spiritual thing. 

The ride back in the Cat was a quiet one. Most us were dog tired and winding down from the adrenaline high we had been on all day. Different from the morning ride up, there was no exchange of stories or exaggerations of the events. We had all been there. We had all had our wrecks and endos. We had all experienced the mountain in a very different way that day. We all had a new respect for what back country skiing was all about. We had all done it and returned to tell others. I remember taking off my avalanche beacon and thinking it was not as intimidating as it was only hours earlier. As I tipped back a brew later that evening on the deck of my room, I couldn't help but stare up at the mountain and think about the past days event. At age 37, I had ventured out of my box into an environment that maybe less then .5% of the world ever experiences. I not only experienced it, I did it on a ski bike. How cool was that!

 
   

The 1st ever Back Country Ski Bike Trip was an adventure to remember. Even though I felt out of my element at first and I had not set up my equipment correctly. I was able to get my hands around it and have a blast. If you ever have the chance to ski big mountains, you must do it at least once. You will not be the same after it. With that said, I will do it again next year if they offer it up again. I will mount the widest boards I can find and look at a little something to keep the ski tip up from diving. I might even get some foot skis to help with the tree runs and deep powder. Not! Free Stylers Rule......Foot Skiers Drool! -rdk