It's becoming more and more common to hear that ski bikes are easier than skiing and snowboarding. What you don't hear though is that there are different types of ski bikes. While each type has its advantages and disadvantages, the Type III variation is the most evolved iteration, offers the most technologically advanced engineering, and some like the SNO-GO bike come with features to ensure resort compliance and easier chairlift loading. Before diving into how ski bikes work, it's important to understand the basics of all snow sports.
Here are five main components to sliding on snow:
- Balance and stability
- Setting an edge
- Stopping ability
- Initiating a turn
- Motor functions
Balance and Stability
Snow sports are performed on a slope of cold icy snow where gravity is the element that propels a rider forward. For equipment to be effective, there must be stability both forward and aft as well as side to side. Additionally, a lower center of gravity enables greater balance. Without getting too nerdy about leverage ratios here, let's just take the example of a family favorite game "Jenga." Let's assume there are 3 players. Picture a full tower of blocks and the two players before you pull the two side blocks from the very bottom leaving only the middle block. You know immediately that you're in trouble.
In another scenario, you decide to use a half tower so your nephew can play dominos with the other blocks. The tower is half as high and you get to go first. The center block at the bottom is loose so without hesitation you set it free knowing each side block will bear the weigh and keep the tower steady. Now imagine playing the game on a tilted icy slope...
The takeaway here should be that a wider platform and lower center of gravity increases balance and stability.
Setting An Edge
All skis, snowboards, and adaptive skiing equipment such as mono-skis involve a metal edge that allows a rider to engage with the snow. The more engaged this edge is with the snow, the more control of the movement the rider has over their own bodies as they slide. For the most part, the edge has a 90 degree bevel or corner. When the ski is flat, the edge does not engage so the rider can slide freely down the mountain. As the edges are tilted up on their side, the square corner digs into the snow providing grip and friction which the rider can use to slow, turn or stop. Furthermore, the more weight the rider can apply to the edge, the stronger it can engage to apply the necessary action.
The easiest snow sports equipment therefor would be those that are easiest to tilt onto their edge while applying downward pressure.
The ability to stop while your body is barreling down the mountain affects every new winter participant differently. There's a spectrum from "Oh no, I'm going to die!" to "This is awesome!" No matter where you might fall, one thing is a constant. You need to be able to stop. And, the quicker, the better, -for everyone else's safety on the mountain depends on it, not just your own.
The ability to stop quickly comes from both stability and the efficiency of setting your edge. If it's challenging to stay balanced or tilt your edges, your ability to stop quickly will be reduced.
Initiating a Turn
Like stopping, being able to turn your snow sports equipment helps you navigate the slopes, other participants and maximize your enjoyment of the sliding experience. Here's where things get interesting. Imagine a long cargo ship plowing through some boat waves. It hardly bobbles right? A small rowboat on the other hand bobs up and down with each passing wave. Yet, the cargo ship might take a few hundred yards to do a full U-turn while the rowboat can basically spin in place. The point is that longer skis and snowboards are harder to turn for new skiers and riders. Long equipment increases stability but decreases the ability to turn. Shorter equipment reduces stability but is easier to turn.
In the last 25 years, the parabolic shape of skis and snowboards have exposed a new factor into the ease of turning as well. Creating a radial sidecut where the narrowest width lies at the center allows a person to turn more sharply when the equipment is tilted onto its edge. To initiate turns, equipment thus needs a proper balance of short length and sidecut while being long enough to provide balance as the rider tilts the equipment.
While the first four components to sliding on snow are equipment based, the fifth and final piece is our own motor functions. Humans are naturally dependent on our hands for many tasks. The opposable thumb and degree of rotation of our arms provides more control than possible with our legs and feet. This is why we play tennis with our hands, create art and play instruments with our hands, and of course steer bikes, cars, and airplanes with our hands. Snow sports however, have always been equipment that attach to our feet. Sure we can all walk but it's no secret it takes lots of practice to juggle a soccer ball or perform any kind of true skill with our legs. In summary, learning to ski or snowboard is like playing Jenga on an angled icy slope with our feet. It's just flat out difficult for most people.
If only there was way a way to control snow sports equipment with our hands and motor functions 99.9% of us are already familiar with...
Enter Ski Bikes
All types of ski bikes immediately solve for 2 of the 5 basic components of sliding on snow.
- You can use your hands for added control! Motor Function = Check!
- Shorter skis used in front and back of a long base. Initiating Turns = Check!
How about the other aspects of ski bikes? Let's get into the details.
Balance and Stability on Ski Bikes
It's true that by using your hands, you're already gaining additional stability. However let's look at how this is applied in Type I, Type II, and Type III ski bikes.
A Type I bike allows for the lowest center of gravity, four points of contact, and a seat. Errrr... what?! Despite the prior advantages, the moment you sit, you offset the weight applied to your feet and hands into a function that's hardly effective at balance and control. The front ski and two skis on your feet then become loosely connected rudders for high speed sled.
A Type II bike offers great stability forward and aft with its long ski base but poor stability side to side. Like a bike or motorcycle, speed and forward movement is needed to create balance that otherwise hardly exists. With your arms out to the side and a single ski underneath, you can picture a triangle on its point. Additionally, a rider must place their feet on pegs or pedals on the frame roughly 6-12 inches off the snow. This greatly raises the riders center of gravity making for an even wobblier experience.
A Type III bike however, such as the SNO-GO ski bike marries the benefits of each. A long base is created forward and back while two rear skis keep the base of the triangle on the snow. For further stability, the rider stands directly on the skis lowering their center of gravity.
Setting an Edge on Ski Bikes
A Type I ski bike rider must constantly balance between setting an edge with their loose feet or leaning the bike. Sometimes the motion can be applied throughout but this is usually only seen on a low angle predictable slope with a more experienced rider. Weight is challenging to apply when you are sitting down.
A Type II ski bike does have the ability to set a good edge but it does take some practice and comfort with speed. However, there are a few challenges with this skill.
- For most people, going fast while learning can be scary.
- To apply downward pressure on the correct inside edge, the rider must apply weight into the inside foot or uphill peg of the turn. This is the opposite motion to skiing and mountain biking where the rider applies weight to the outside foot in a turn. Applying weight to the outside foot at the onset of the turn releases the bike from its inside edge which is needed to make the turn or stop. It's a counterintuitive motion at the least.
- With the rider's feet 6-12 inches above the ski connected through a frame, there is less direct connection to the snow. All skiers and snowboarders feet on the other hand are within an inch or less of the snows surface to help maximize contact and performance.
A Type III bike, again marries all the benefits. As the three skis pivot from the frame, they can be easily set on edge while the rider uses their arms to balance the body while tilting the bike putting its skis on edge. SNO-GO ski bikes offer the most impressive technologies taking this many steps further. SNO-GO developed the S.L.A.T. system, Synchronized Lateral Articulation Technology and a responsive front ski mount. In total, a SNO-GO bike has 13 pivot points to increase the ability for the rider to keep ski edge in contact with the snow on command. The SNO-GO riders feet are also positioned directly over the skis to ensure direct pressure can be applied to the edge. And finally, with this articulation and direct contact, the SNO-GO rider can apply a majority of their weight to the outside to set the edge and control the equipment with as much proficiency as an advanced skier.
If stopping ability comes from a combination of stability and setting an edge, I imagine you can already tell where this is going after learning about the shortcomings of a Type I and Type II ski bike in this area. Let me reiterate, it's not just that you have the ability to stop but what is most important is the ability to stop quickly and efficiently on a moments notice. On the mountain, there are lots of variables like fluctuations in terrain, icy spots, oncoming riders, and hidden features. While skis and snowboards are challenging to learn, the do offer the incredible ability to stop on a dime much like a hockey player hurling towards the glass.
A Type I biker often finds a long wide section to make a long sweeping turn (almost back up hill) to come to a stop as their weigh distribution across 4 skis is not sufficient enough to engage and stop quickly. You will also see these riders do short quick small S turns to drop speed. Still this is not an effective way to stop when heading downhill fast and a young girl learning to ski sweeps in front of you.
A Type II biker can make decent stops after some practice. A setup turn or drifting motion with the rear ski helps kick the bike sideways if too much speed has been earned. Once sideways, the rider can aggressively tilt the bike while pressing down on the inside of their thigh and handlebar at the same time. Often times this will mean taking your inside foot off the bike. The problem here is that a setup drift or turn as well as taking your feet off of the bike can result in a slower than anticipated stop and you can't immediately set an edge like a skier or snowboarder can.
A Type III bike offer the most efficient ability to stop. A ski biker simply leans the bike via the handlebars while pressing down to stop. Because the linkage allows the bikes to immediately articulate onto their edge, there is no need for a setup turn or removing your feet from the bike. This results in a fast efficient stop as the rider can place all available weight into the edges of the skis.
That's a lot of info. Help me make sense of it.
Type III ski bikes like a SNO-GO bike offer multiple advantages in the learning process over skiing, snowboarding, and other ski bikes. This includes:
- The ability to use your hands for balance and steering
- Low center of gravity for more stability
- SNO-GO S.L.A.T is the most advanced system to make turning very easy
- Stopping is easier and just as efficient.
- Maximum ability to set edge equals more control and performance
With these qualities SNO-GO ski bike announced it would be the first ski bike manufacturer to be recognized and taught by the Professional Ski Instructors of America and American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI). SNO-GO continues to be the leading organization in ski biking instruction and safety with a full E-learning course available online at thesnowpros.org.
Enough of us telling you how easy it is, just listen to what these riders have to say.