Special to The Press-Enterprise
Source: PE.com

Way back in the days before video games, Hot Wheels or even Rockem Sockem Robots, the Big Wheel was the coolest thing in any kid's toy arsenal.

An instant success when the Louis Marx Toy Company introduced it during Richard Nixon's first term as president, the Big Wheel incorporated a trike design with a narrow, oversized wheel in the front and two smaller, wider wheels aft. It had kid-friendly innovations like an adjustable seat and options like glittery tassels that hung off the end of the handlebars.

OK, so the tassels were fine for girls.

The heavy-duty plastic construction made it nearly indestructible for even the most fearless Knievels on the block. Its low center of gravity and giant wheels made it as stable as a paperweight. Still, with some frantic leg pumping or some hilltop gravity, any kid could get the Big Wheel bookin', pulling boss wheelies and brodies in no time.

Now they're back at Mountain High Resort. No, the Trikke carving vehicle may not be quite the same thing, but it's just as easy to learn and a kick to ride.

The Trikke is a trike design fitted with three skis, a wide one in the front and two narrower sticks in the back. A steering wheel moves the front ski's direction, while a rider's shifting weight helps to turn and stop. The three-ski design keeps the Trikke surprisingly stable, allowing beginners to carve the slopes minutes after climbing aboard.

Who knows if Gildo Beleski ever saw a Big Wheel. The native Brazilian came up with the Trikke idea back in the early 1990s. While Brazil had plenty of tropical sun, snow is as rare as tan lines on Praia do Pinhoa beach. So he came up with a wheeled device that riders maneuvered by using similar movements made by skiers.

He moved to the United States in 1999, started Trikke Tech, Inc., in 2000, and started fiddling with a design fitted with skis in 2001. Beleski said he shelved the Trikke Skki for a while, then re-worked it three years ago. With the enthusiasm of an evangelical preacher, Beleski will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the Trikke in sometimes-broken English, climbing aboard the contraption to act out every step.

Fred Welch helps smooth the translation. He became a fan of the wheeled Trikke several years ago. Welch said he walked into Beleski's shop in Marina del Rey (the company has since moved to Buellton) and soon sealed a deal with Beleski to start a program to teach people to ride it.

Now, it's about getting ski resorts to allow them, Welch said.

"Ski resorts are resistant to change," he said. "It took them years to accept snowboards. Getting ski resorts to accept them is the No. 1 hurdle we've had."

Mountain High is one of the few resorts to give the Trikke a try, albeit with limitations. Starting today, the resort will rent the Trikke Skki for $35 for four hours. Trikkes will be limited to the East Resort, where snowboard and skier traffic are relatively lighter than at the West Resort, and where there are no terrain features such as jibs, bonks and rails, said John McColley, Mountain High's director of marketing.

Critics may see the Trikke as a fad, something that will soon disappear or, worse yet, "dumb down" winter sports. Why should beginners suffer the many bumps and bruises needed to develop skiing and snowboarding skills when they can climb on something that nearly rides itself?

McColley doesn't buy it.

"It's a good alternative to skiing and snowboarding," he said, adding that the Trikke will allow those with bad knees and other injuries to keep hitting the slopes. "It's not going to replace skiing and snowboarding."

Welch smiled at the suggestion.

"I think entry-level-wise, the learning curve gets people riding it quicker," Welch said, comparing the Trikke to mountain biking. "But for the advanced-level riding, learning the skills is just as important as in snowboarding and skiing. There's a whole other aspect to it as you get more experience."