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Scootin’ down the mountain

Modified scooters, or Digglers, are taking off at Brian Head Ski Area

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BRIAN HEAD — Try 'em. You'll like 'em.

It's a challenge routinely made in the cycle shop at the Brian Head Ski Area. Lock up the mountain bike, strap on a helmet and ride down the mountainside on a scooter.

In most cases the response is the same: "Are you crazy?"

No, not at all. It's the latest introduction to a mountain experience.

"They're not as bad as people might think," says Ginger Bradshaw, with group sales/marketing at Brian Head. "In fact, we've had a lot of people turn in their mountain bikes and finish their vacation on a Diggler."

That's what they're called — Digglers. What they are is a modified scooter with big wheels, a big baseplate and brakes — front and rear. Still, they're just a scooter. They're a grown-up version of the scooters kids ride down driveways and sidewalks.

The manufacturer says they're stable, even on the roughest mountain trails — and they are. It also says they can go down anything a mountain bike can — and they will. And, it says they are easier to ride than mountain bikes — and for some, they are.

"With the lower center of gravity — in fact, the baseplate is lower than the axle on the wheels — it is much more maneuverable than a bike. Also, the wheelbase is longer than on a mountain bike, which makes them more stable," said Peter Berridge, director of communications in the Diggler offices in Petaluma, Calif.

Apparently the inventor, Rob Freuchtenicht, grew up riding skateboards, bikes and, of course, scooters, and wanted to enjoy the experience in the mountains.

He took the knobby wheels from a mountain bike, the design of a scooter and the platform from a skateboard and snowboard. What he got was a mountain scooter.

They were introduced at Brian Head last year and added to the inventory of rentals this year.

"At first, people are a little leery," said Bradshaw. "They figure there's no way it will go over the rocks and ruts in the trails. Once they try one they find they're a lot more comfortable, especially if they haven't ridden a mountain bike very much. If they get uncomfortable — going too fast or in rough terrain — they can simply step off. They're only a few inches off the ground."

But one advantage a mountain bike has is that it can be ridden uphill. Digglers must be pushed up inclines. They're designed for downhill use only.

At Brian Head, chairlifts carry riders and Digglers uphill. Mountain trails then lead back to the base. The ski area has six downhill trails open to hikers, Diggler riders and mountain bikers.

There are also a number of shuttle trails well-suited for scooter riding.

Like the Dark Hollow ride, for example. It starts near the summit of Brian Head Mountain, at around the 11,000-foot elevation, and finishes seven and a half miles later in the town of Parowan. There, a shuttle will pick up riders and return them to the ski area.

The trail is a blend of mountain roads, switchbacks and single-track trails through meadows and stands of pines and aspens.

In all, there are more than 100 miles of mountain trails and roads in and around Brian Head targeted to mountain bikers but well-suited for scooters.

To every rider, especially new ones, the crew at Brian Head offers a few simple suggestions: Keep your weight in the back to get better traction on the rear wheel; lean into the turns; always feather the front brake and, if you don't like the ride, step off, regroup and step back on — just like any scooter.

Brian Head offers eight scooters for rent and plans to add more to the rental pool next year. Meanwhile, the Diggler staff is trying to interest other resorts in the mountain scooter.

The staff is also watching the introduction of Digglers into skate-park riding, along with BMX bikes, skateboards and in-line skates — the very things that inspired the scooter design.

E-MAIL: grass@desnews.com