Steamboat Ski Area requires all snowbike users to take a lesson. The cost is $45 for a one-hour lesson and half-day rental.

Larry Pierce/courtesy

Steamboat Ski Area requires all snowbike users to take a lesson. The cost is $45 for a one-hour lesson and half-day rental.

Johanna Hall: Give a new experience for the holidays

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— I try to be original with my gift giving. Lately, I’ve started to give the gift of fun and memorable experiences to those special people in my life.

Last year, I gave my boyfriend — who is a total bike geek with two of everything he could ever need for cycling — an experience with a snowbike. I learned to ride a snowbike when I worked for a ski area in the Northwest before moving to Steamboat. They are really fun, easy to learn and something everyone should try.

Steamboat Ski Area requires that all snowbike users take a lesson. Reservations are required. They offer half-day and full-day programs. I bought us the half-day rental just in case the experience wasn’t as fun for my boyfriend as I thought it might be.

We started the lesson at 8:30 a.m. at the ski school. They fitted us with our snowbikes and the tiny skis that attach to your boots. These are so you can unload a chairlift and glide down the ramp. They also help to balance and steer the snowbike. Within a very short time, we were out on snow with our instructor and getting a feel for the bikes.

The concept is simple: You steer the handle bars of the snowbike like you would a bike with wheels. As you sit on the snowbike, your feet and your knees help to balance and steer the bike. The biggest difference is that snowbikes don’t have brakes. You stop like you would in skiing or snowboarding — by simply making a turn.

Snowbikes have comfortable seats and rear shock absorbers. The handlebars control a front fork that has a ski independent from the rear ski, which supports most of your weight as you sit on the elongated seat. The front ski pivots for the turn and the rear ski simply follows.

Did I say it is easy? Everyone in our lesson group had it nailed in the first several tries. Within 15 minutes, we all loaded the lift and headed up the mountain.

Our enthusiastic instructor gave us pointers, and once he felt we were proficient on the snowbikes, he signed us off as independent riders. We are now able to rent snowbikes without a lesson, and we received a laminated ID card that allows us to rent snowbikes and any Colorado ski resort that offers them.

After saying our goodbyes to our lesson comrades, we headed for the top of the mountain. The snowbikes go everywhere! We biked on the groomers, in the powder, did the bumps on Three O’Clock, the trees on Twilight and just about all of our favorite ski runs. The ski area stresses, however, that the bikes are not to be used in the terrain park.

It was a great experience and a successful gift and one that will be remembered. It is reasonably priced — $45 for a one-hour lesson and half-day rental. For my money, the snowbike experience tops any ill-fitting sweater or useless trinket you might otherwise buy a friend or family member. All cyclists will have fun on a snowbike — I guarantee it.

Johanna Hall is an administrative assistant for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association in Steamboat Springs and a grant writer for Routt County Riders bicycle club. For more information about Routt County Riders, visit www.routtcountyriders.org.

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