Mathilde Giard - 2013-02-12
Developed by an artisan of the Haute-Savoie region, ski-biking is gradually gaining in popularity on the slopes of the Alpine resort of Grand-Bornand. In this famous place of winter sports, there are even courses to learn the new discipline amidst the surfers and skiers.
It’s symbolic that this is taking place in a winter sports resort that’s both a mountain biking mecca in the summer and one of the stages in the forthcoming Tour de France. It was in Grand-Bornand itself, in the Haute-Savoie, that the Vélo-Ski (VS Ski-Bike) took its very first tracks down the slopes. Gliding down snow covered slopes now takes place with bum on the saddle, hands on the handlebars and feet on the brake pedals. Licensed by the French Ministry of Transport, this strange machine was created by Serge Mermillod, an artisan boilermaker along with his two brothers in the nearby village of Les Villards-sur-Thônes. "A friend found a prototype that my father had made. We tried it out. I found the skiing very pleasant, but the brakes weren’t up to it. I envisaged something a lot more secure!" the enthusiastic craftsman recalls.
Other models exist in Austria, the United States and Sweden. The Savoyard trademark consists of two skis replacing the wheels at the front and rear, and two foot rests located on each side of its mountain bike frame, with a brake pedal to the right. Ideally you should wear after-ski boots. As with a real bicycle you put your feet on the ground when you stop!
Having made its debut on an experimental basis three years ago, this UFO of the pistes is now making its mark this season in Grand-Bornand. Above the hamlet of Chinaillon, three chairlifts have been specially adapted with hooks. The ESF (French Ski School) offers courses. According to the newly ‘addicted’ instructor Jean-François Exertier or "Jef" the attraction is "A new experience of skiing that’s easily accessible to non-skiers."
Between motocross and carving
The slopes of Mont Lachat are host to the introductory sessions. "To brake, you keep going straight on. It’s the opposite of skiing!" Jef advises. Whilst on the first run, we tend to focus on this vertical trajectory (even into a wall covered in bumps) then we move on to the slaloms in the second. "I wanted to recreate the experience of motocross in the snow, taking deep turns, leaning over the side, a bit like carving where you make wide curves," says Serge Mermillod. Helmet on head, standing on the pedals, he speeds off into the snow. The cohabitation seems fine with the skiers and snowboarders, who keep an amused eye on their new companions gliding along at the foot of the Aravis mountain range.
Variations exist in other resorts. The snowbike, which differs in that it has mini-skis hooked under the shoes, is emulated in the Val d'Arly (Savoie). As for mountain biking on snow, this takes place in the evenings, on pistes hardened by the cold, which give better grip under the tyres. Launched as an alternative in case of shortage of snowflakes, this discipline has made its mark on all the mountain areas of Avoriaz, Saint-Gervais and Val Thorens in the Alps and Gourette in the Pyrenees.
* Hire: 25€ per half day at Chinaillon.
* ESF Lessons: 38€/hour.