Current World Cup downhill champion Sabrina Jonnier traded her mountain bike for skis and finished fourth at the Val d'Allos Urge Ski Enduro held at Val d'Allos, France, on Saturday.
The Maxxis - Rocky Mountain rider of Hyères, France, lined up on the snow with skis clipped to her feet. Apparently a gifted athlete on snow, too, Jonnier placed in the top five at her first-ever ski race and the world's first-ever Val d'Allos Urge Ski Enduro event.
Jonnier has spent the last few European winter seasons training and riding with friends in New Zealand's summer, but opted to stay at home and to spend as much time in the snow as she could this year.
The inaugural Val d'Allos Urge Ski Enduro was an easy choice for her she said."The event is very cool - it is skiing, but in a mountain bike enduro race format," she said. "Competitors left the start gate in 15 seconds intervals and nobody knew the tracks - you just had to look for the flagged course."
Each racer did two runs on the first two courses then one run on the third course. Their five runs added up to about 4500m of vertical descent at the Val d'Allos ski area.
"Most of the time we were taking mountain bike tracks so that was pretty fun for me," said Jonnier.
Jonnier was happy with her fourth place and seeing her good friend and fellow mountain biker Cécile Ravanel win the women's event. She admitted that she didn't do any special training other than "skiing whenever I could".
Jonnier said the ski race was tougher than she expected. "A few of the women dropped off during the day - it's really physical and many people just couldn't keep going - it was so hard. It uses different muscles to when I ride my bike and so my legs were burning the whole way down," she said.
Next year would be even tougher, she said. "They are talking about making the same race next year over two days with 10 runs - that will be fun. It will be very tough."
The event attracted many other top mountain bikers including Fabien Barel, Cédric and Cécile Ravanel and cross country rider Fabien Canal.
"It was mostly mountain bikers including a lot of people who race enduro in the summer. It was the first time the mountain biking enduro format had been tried on the snow," Jonnier said.
Jonnier crashed hard early in the day and said it took her a while to adjust to the new race discipline. "In my first run I crashed badly, and I fell a long way down the mountain and had to climb back up to retrieve my skis - I lost a lot of time," she said.
"We were taking mountain bike trails that I know very well because I ride them all the time in the summer, but with my bike I am not scared to go fast on these trails. On the skis, it was very different to slow down and the snow was quite icy so it was very scary. That was a big difference for me - I am not scared at all on the bike, but was really scared on the skis."
Skiing, Jonnier said, has been "good for her head" this off-season. "It's good for my legs and it's good to do something different. I have not ridden a bike for some time now."
Though she misses her friends in New Zealand, Jonnier is happy with her decision to stay home for winter. "I have now had a few years without skiing, so I wanted to make the most of this winter. My friend organises the event and I am sponsored by Val d'Allos, the ski resort where it was held, and my sponsor Urge Bike Products also support it so I was definitely doing it."
Jonnier has skied for a long time, but says she only started going outside the ski area boundary very recently. "I only started going off-piste with my friends Cécile and Cédric Ravanel two years ago, and I used to go down on my bum all the time because I was too scared with the trees. So I am proud of myself to be able to ski like that now."
Jonnier's first UCI World Cup race of 2011 will take place in South Africa at the end of April. She will contest the full UCI Downhill World Cup schedule as well as the World Championships in Champéry, Switzerland.