My tender, beloved knees have said No más to skiing, and I’d rather just throw myself down a flight of stairs than snowboard. So by what miracle did I recently find myself effortlessly gliding down long, groomed runs at the Hoodoo Ski Area? And then taking the chairlift back up Hoodoo Butte to do it again?
This may be the best-kept secret in winter sports, especially for those of us who’ve given up on the idea of ever swooshing down snowy trails—it’s easy to learn, there’s zero pain quotient, and powder hounds of any age can do it. Only a fraction of domestic ski areas even allow snowbikes (or ski-bikes, or snowbobs, as they’re known in Europe), much less promote the activity. But in Oregon, four ski resorts—Hoodoo, Mt Hood Ski Bowl at Government Camp, Mt Ashland Ski Area in the south, and Ski Anthony Lakes in Eastern Oregon—welcome snowbikers.
Mt Hood Ski Bowl has a few rentals, but Hoodoo, with about thirty-five bikes plus an April snowbike festival, may be the capital of US snowbiking. “On a slow day, half of our customers will be on snowbikes,” says Matthew McFarland, general manager of Hoodoo Ski Area. “And when we find a kid in the lodge who is upset and bummed out because he can’t ski or board, we’ll put him on a snowbike and he’ll want to stay all day.”
A snowbike has a lightweight bike frame with handlebars and a seat, but no pedals, gears, or brakes, and tandem skis instead of tires. The rider wears short foot-skis for balance. Unlike skiing, which can take hours to learn, snowbiking takes no time: you can take a snowbike all the way up the mountain during your first lesson and learn how to turn and stop in about ten minutes. The bike’s low center of gravity and four points of contact with the ground make control a snap, and your knees and ankles suffer no torque. You can race, jump, mogul, or, like me, just blissfully glide downhill. Damn, it’s fun.