Really Earn Your Turns: Biking To Ski
Forget hut-to-hut or sailboat-accessed skiing. You can keep your backyard bowls and your day trips to yourself. We’ll take a ski-bike trip any day. There’s nothing like the freedom and access—to both wilderness and civilization—that bike camping makes possible. Throw skiing into the mix, and you might never come back. Over the years, our ski-bike day trips and spring overnights have evolved into four- and five-week adventures through the Arctic and the Alps. Of all the ways we’ve approached our backcountry skiing adventures, going by bicycle is the best.
A big adventure requires careful and thorough preparation. Though you’ll rarely shoulder more than a day pack while traveling by ski-bike, you will be pedaling this gear. And when you tally everything you need to stay warm, dry, well fed and safe, and then add all the essential ski, cycling and camping gear, it’s quite a load. Over the years, we’ve refined a system based on a stout, well-maintained fully rigid mountain bike, front and rear panniers, and a BOB trailer. This setup can easily handle the gear you’ll need to carry, with a bit of room to spare, too, for when you need to load up on food for a few days. We use fat, knobby tires; 21+ gears, including a very easy granny gear for the occasional steep, off-road pitch; a super-comfy handlebar and body position; friction thumb-shifters; steel frames and racks (If steel cracks, you can easily weld it anywhere.); waterproof panniers and trailer bags; and simple Voile ski straps for attaching poles and skis to the trailer.
If you keep your setup dialed—checking regularly for any loosening bolts or wearing brake pads, keeping the chain lubed, and watching out for potholes—you can set off for weeks of spring skiing without a hitch.
Of course, as skiers, the real trick has been to treat these adventures primarily as ski trips, not bike trips. The ski-bike is merely our basic means of low-elevation transportation. Generally speaking, we’ll average just an hour or two on the bike daily, but six to eight hours of climbing and skiing powder, corn, cream and crust in the mountains. We gravitate toward regions where most of our cycling route is relatively flat—obviously, with some exceptions—but the mountains are big and easily accessible by roads or rideable trails. To maximize the ski-in, ski-out nature of your camps, aim for regions where snowline is at or near the roads and trails you’ll be traveling, but where there is also some snow-free grass, forest floor or open land. Of course, this is asking a lot, so be prepared to get pounded by possible late-season snowstorms and do some walking now and then to reach snow line.
Life’s too short not to immerse ourselves in the outdoors for as much as possible, to truly unplug, and to simply tap into the rhythms of nature. Living outside for days on end, breathing, sleeping, cooking and skiing and cycling through whatever Mother Nature throws at us, helps us become one with the mountains we ski.