Adventures in Ice Biking

Sticking to Unstickable Glare
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This is all Dave King's fault. Dave is the founder of the Mount Snow Mountain Bike Center, the nation's first mountain-bike school, and a pioneer ice cyclist. He's the most passionate cyclist I have ever met. He's also a friend of mine, which is how I let him talk me into my virgin ice ride. Dave lives for weather like this, such is his fanaticism for ice that friends have nicknamed him Klondike, after the frigid region of Canada's Yukon Territory. "There are a lot of people who have no idea what my real name is," he says. "People look me up in the phone book under 'K'." Klondike is an Abominable Snowman-size cyclist: 13EEE shoes; 215 pounds on his six-foot frame, half of it, seemingly, on his muscle-corded thighs. "Ice," he says, "is an untapped and unappreciated resource."

Dave has been doing this since 1987, when there were maybe a dozen ice cyclists in the nation. Now there are several thousand, with clusters of riders in northern New England and central Colorado and western Montana. There's even a handful of organized ice races, an official club—the Alpine Snow Bike Association, based in Denver—and several studded-tire manufacturers. But the majority of dedicated ice-cyclists, I've noticed, tend to be shy creatures, avoiding any club that would have them as a member and scrupulously constructing their own studded tires by hand. They tend to ride in small groups, on logging roads and mountain paths and alpine lakes, on days when all but the irrational remain inside.

It's like that today, me and Dave and Rattlesnake Mountain. We're an hour into our ride, not far from the top, on the most precipitous stretch of trail. I'm no longer cold. In fact, I'm sweating as if it's August. Dave's leading the way. His tires grip solidly on the ice, each rotation producing a ripping sound like that of Velcro strips being pulled apart. The feat seems impossible, an illusion of sorts, as if someone were strolling casually across the ceiling. But I'm doing it too. I'm bicycling on a trail that looks like a luge run, and the traction feels better than on dirt. I'm seemingly defying several fundamental laws of physics. I'm gritting my teeth and forcing my crank shafts around and sticking to unstickable glare ice.

And then, just like that, I'm not. My tumble starts so innocuously, it's almost a joke. No drama, no cataclysmic event, no sensational endo. Nothing like that. As we're pushing up the pitch I get a little tired and then a little more tired and then so tired my legs feel like there're about two dozen cattle prods zapping against them. I begin to lose momentum. So I simply put my foot down.

Something happens to the world. One instant the scenery is plodding past in slow motion; the next it's in fast forward. Or rather, fast reverse. I'm not moving uphill anymore—I'm going down. Fast. On my back. The trees are no longer trees; they're green bands of blur. The clouds have become contrails. I'm a human hockey puck, spinning and sliding down Rattlesnake Mountain.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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