Why change gear from ski to bike for the summer? It makes a lot of sense, reasons Cy Whitling, because of the similarities between skiing and mountain biking. Hurtling down trails on two wheels not only provides that adrenaline hit during the summer but also can help improve your skiing technique Main Image: Darren Turner, private ski coach Insight Ski
If you’ve ever ridden a mountain bike park, chances are you rode a ski chairlift that’s been repurposed for summertime use. Heck, you might have even ridden a trail that cut across your favourite groomer/piste, or wound its way through the steep woods where you like to go on powder days.
But the location isn’t the only thing that mountain biking and skiing have in common. In a lot of ways, the two sports are very similar, with some extremely important differences. So strap on your helmet and let’s dig a little deeper into the relationship between carving turns on your skis, and slapping berms on your bike.
THE MOUNTAINS ARE ALWAYS CALLING
At the most basic level, a mountain bike, or a pair of skis, does the same thing for you: they’re tools that allow you to explore and experience the outdoors in a unique way. Inbounds skis and downhill bikes both require some kind of lift to be fun, a touring setup and a trail bike will let you spend full days getting lost in the mountains, and a gravel bike or a pair of nordic skis will let you wander rolling terrain to your heart’s content.
When you break either experience down to its simplest parts, both are the experience that happens at the intersection of a very precise, very engineered thing, with a very limited set of variables (be it bike or skis), combined with a raw, natural, unpredictable medium (snow or trail). That point where the known and unknown touch has always called to human beings, so it’s no surprise that plenty of folks spend their summers riding and their winters skiing.
MAY THE G FORCE BE WITH YOU
Beyond that, or maybe, because of that, the actual sensations of riding your bike or your skis are very similar. The G forces you experience laying your skis on edge or your bike into a turn are the same, just achieved by different means. The video, below, does a great job of breaking down how those two experiences feel very similar and how mountain biking can actually help improve your skiing techniques. Finding flow, on a bike, or skis, linking turns confidently, charging down the fall line with an aggressive body stance, it’s all analogous, and it all feels great.
Also plodding uphill on your touring skis with your high risers engaged feels very similar to grinding up a climbing trail in your granny gear. They’re both low impact, low speed investments gaining you vertical feet that you can then spend however you please.
A WORK IN PROGRESS
The same goes for progression. Much of what hooks people on skiing initially is that sensation of tangible improvement. You can feel yourself getting better at the sport from one run to another, from each day to the next. And that plays out on a longer timeline too, there’s the potential to get better at skiing every year for the rest of your life, to chase the perfect turn until you’re too old to get your ski boots on in the morning. Also to explore new terrain such as shredding off piste powder and venturing into the backcountry.
Ditto with mountain biking. The whole framework the activity exists within is designed to help you progress. You won’t be able to ride every trail on the mountain your first day, or even your first season on the bike. Instead you’ll work your way up, trying new features, gaining new skills, taking new risks, improving your fundamentals slowly for the rest of your life.
THE RISK FACTOR
Apparently Mark Zuccerburg once said that the biggest risk in life is not taking any risks. And while we don’t agree with Mark on everything, he hit the nail on the head with that one. Calculated risk is the spice of life.
But unless you like to hit Vegas on the weekend, there aren’t too many opportunities for that in day to day life. Both mountain biking and skiing allow you to introduce a controllable level of calculated risk into your day to day life. Both allow you to fail without too big a consequence, and both encourage you to try again, to repeat that risk until you nail whatever move you’re trying to do.
Culturally, we don’t make enough room for failure and growth sometimes. Crashing is good for you, it’s cathartic. So get used to doing it, figure out the level of risk - or fear - you’re comfortable with, and either sport will make it easy to stay within that window. Don’t like it when your bases or tyres leave the ground? That’s ok, there are plenty of other ways to push yourself.
SNOW V DIRT
So both skiing and mountain biking have a lot in common, but what sets the experiences apart? Well, aside from the obvious differences between snow and dirt, there are a few big things. Skiing, generally, takes place on a renewable resource. Snow falls, we ski it, it melts, repeat. Mountain biking happens on trails that humans build, and that have a tangible lifespan. It won’t just snow a foot overnight and fill in all the braking bumps.
So mountain biking has more opportunities to invest and give back. You can make everyone’s riding experience better by doing trail work and volunteering. And without people doing that, the trails get worse and we lose access.
Both sports have big barriers to entry, but in different ways. Mountain bikes and bike gear are expensive up front, but the whole process of skiing ends up costing about the same, if you’re travelling to ski, buying lift tickets, and paying for lodging. And geographically a lot more people have access to mountain biking. There are bike trails in all 50 states of the US, the same can not be said for ski resorts. And many towns have local bike parks that you can ride to from home. Few areas have that kind of access to skiing.
So, while there are plenty of factors that set mountain biking and skiing apart, they have more in common than it might seem at first glance. If you really enjoy one of those sports, consider this your formal invitation to try the other. You might just love it!
Main Image: Darren Turner, private ski coach, Insight Ski
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