Words and Photos by Danielle Baker
"We were not the valedictorians of the school; we were the guys that would have been chosen 'last to succeed.' And for some reason by doing something everyone said was just a waste of time, we ended up influencing kids all around the world."
Last winter, when the snow hit the trails, I tried to love winter and accept the void of biking by learning how to snowboard. I went through a lot of Fireball Whisky, some tears, and one boyfriend. This year I looked for a different approach to the snowy months and stumbled upon a new 'sport'.
And more Fireball.
Some of the guys at my local bike shop have embraced winter, not with skis or snowboards, but with toys made for children: GT Snow Racers. Instead of tuning up their bikes after work while lamenting the weather, they work on their sleds, adding custom parts, reinforcing the frames, bending plastic, and shimming steer tubes with pieces of beer cans. One night a week they hike up the local ski hill after it closes and hit the jumps. Only occasionally do they wind up at the emergency room with a concussed Brit who can't remember if he has medical insurance or not.
The basement at the shop is the kind of place your mom told you never to go. And, if you did go, to make sure you didn't sit on the toilet seat. I was hanging out down there like a groupie when Gee, the vegan leader of the pack, asked me if I wanted to be on their 'team'; Team WinChill. I was honored; this could be my chance walk in the footsteps of Peggy Oki and the Zephyr Team. Was adult GT Snow Racing the new cutting edge sport at the forefront of our winter bike culture? Were these guys the purple cow in a pasture of Jerseys? Yeah, probably not, but hell, I'm always up for an adventure.
Sled maintenance nights involved beer, repairs and learning. I leaned a lot, mostly about penis holes, glory holes and holes you drill. There was a steady stream of banter, and some minor verbal abuse while sparks flew and ski curves were inspected. Plastic steering wheels went in the garbage and handlebars were mounted; the basement looked like a chop shop scene from the Fast and Furious, minus the tight shirts and bad dialog. Well, almost minus the bad dialog.
On Wednesday nights we headed up the mountain, cramming into Gee's car, and filling it with the customized GT Snow Racers and bodies. The window of opportunity between the ski hill closing and the lights going off is to these guys what the California drought was to skateboarding in the 70's. We would hike up along a snowshoe trail next to the ski runs occasionally doing some very obvious hiding from the ski patrol. Down a bottle of Fireball and a few beers from the walk up, we would duck under the ropes and onto the ski run after the last patroller went by.
My first time up I didn't have my own sled yet and rode bitch on a sled rated 'ages 3 and up' and tested for 110lb capacity. It was all I could do to keep my ass off the snow and on the seat in corners. I pulled the girl card; held on tight and shrieked when necessary.
Most nights the boys sessioned drops, jumps, and rails. I kept expecting a cheesy Lords of Dogtown-esque quote; "This wave breaks 24 hours a day everyday, and you know what bros we're gonna be the first to ride it."
Instead there were exchanges of "Yewwwww", "Yeeeeeaaaah", and some high-fives. The nights offered up some successful stunts, aborted run-ins, broken parts, and one runaway sled. There is no glory in doing stuff in the dark on a mountain after close, but there are good times to be had. Being decidedly less forward thinking than the boys (read: wimp), I did not huck my meat and suffered the consequences of peer pressure in the form of witty criticism directed at my desire for self-preservation.
Is GT Snow Racing the next outlier sport for wayward youth to be popularized by the antics of Team WinChill? Regardless of its appeal or longevity it definitely filled some of the winter riding void for me. After all, what is biking about if it's not drinking beers with your bros, fixing shit, and holding on to the bars while going fast?