Using an Ebike / Fat bike to ski tour and explore

Using an ebike to ski-tour & explore the mountain in winter


For a few years I've been considering if using an ebike / fat bike to go ski touring might be a good option, knowing full well that it's not simply a case of taking skis and getting on your bike!

For a good few years, I've been thinking about renting an e-bike to go ski-touring, as there are various routes that involve quite a long arduous approach before you even get to ski.

Sometime in the spring, the access to these areas becomes better as the snow melts and you can drive part of the way up the mountain, but you might still have a long hike before you can get the skis on to start climbing, or there are long valley floors where you have to pole for an hour or so. 

An e-bike might well enable you to explore and go further than you'd normally expect to hike.

However, I knew that the additional faff factor of using a bike might negate any advantages to using one.

Currently, so far this winter, we are not having the best of seasons in terms of snow and south-facing slopes have the coverage that you'd normally expect to see from late March onwards. 

The last few years have also seen the emergence of the fat bike, basically a redesigned ebike with fatter rims and tyres for the snow, which might be better to access the areas I was thinking about rather than an ordinary ebike. However, in my research I did have a conversation with a local guy I've known for a long time, Etienne Lorain, who runs a VTT/ Fatbike operation here in Serre Chevalier and he basically said an ordinary ebike with fat tyres would do the job just as well, and obviously be better for the rest of the year and not just in the winter!

Once I had the idea in my head it was hard to shake, and I went to the local shop, Sport Rent, that hires them out owned by Vince, another guy I've known for a good few years.

They were honest enough to say, that even the fat bikes can't handle soft snow/powder and it has to be hard pack, I didn't see this as a problem because where I had in mind the trail is usually quite hard as Skidoos and Polaris 4x4's are used by the people that own properties in the summer village where I was heading to.

The village is accessed from Val des Pres in the Nevache valley and, usually, you'd climb for well over an hour and a half, but then there is some great tree skiing to be had on the north-facing slopes and hardly anyone skis there as it's such a ball-ache to get to!

So it seemed like a plan was underway, the next part was the actual logistics involved in riding a bike to go ski touring, as there's one thing just getting on a bike, and another set of complexities involved to then leave the bike and ski tour.

First off security for the bike!

Having ridden up the mountain, I was then going to leave around €4k of bike while I went skiing. Fortunately, I have some very good bike security in terms of cables and locks, so one cable padlock would go through the frame and back wheel, and then the longer cable would go around the bike and a tree, I was also bargaining that unlike the urban metropolis, I doubt that there would be too many bike thieves armed with an angle grinder going up the mountain looking for bikes to steal.

That was the bike. I realised that I was probably going to have to actually cycle in order to get the electric assist of the bike to work riding up a steepish gradient and that would not be possible in ski boots, even flexible touring boots, so I'd have to pack the boots in a backpack, along with skis, skins and poles, and set the pack up so I could actually cycle without skis/poles rubbing on the back wheel. I actually managed that first time around without having to adjust the pack load.

With the bike in the back of the van, and with Ullr, our powder hound, I headed off into the next valley around from Serre Che and parked up.

All went well initially, as the approach road was firm and then I rode some of the way on a cross country piste that I never see anyone on as it's rather difficult. The bike did not damage the trail anyway, although Ullr's paw prints were clearly visible.

I then started the climb in the forest which was in the shade and the snow was still very fresh even though it had not snowed for well over a week. There were visible tracks of snowmobiles but the snow was still very soft, and after 20 or so minutes I was beaten, and it was not going to happen.

So it was a quick descent, which was a little challenging in the soft snow, not wanting to catch the front wheel and all the time trying to remember that the brakes were the wrong way round being a French bike!

The descent also made you appreciate the skills needed in races like the Megavalanche in Alpe D'Huez and other similar races!

I came back into Serre Chevalier and decided to explore the Col du Granon road and see what it was like up there, but this time minus the backpack.

Parking up where the road is blocked at 1,500m the trail, thereafter, was snow, but very hard pack due to the number of walkers and snowmobiles, so it was very easy on the bike to get up it, but as it as mid-afternoon on the south-facing slope, where the sun had been at work, the snow became very soft and was getting hard work. 

I then retreated back to a lovely new cafe that has opened up just for the winter off the Granon Road, Le Petit Café d’hiver de la Joutru.

Le Petit Café d’hiver de la Joutru

By the time I came to pay for my beer, I realised I'd left my wallet in my backpack which was in the van, so no problem as it gave me the excuse to ride back down and then up again :) 

So all in all, not too successful a day although at least Ullr enjoyed the runs up and down. I still think that, given the right conditions and time of year, spring, it might be worth another sortie on an ebike - and I have another valley in mind for that. Also when the Granon road is open a bit further, there are places (on North facing bends) where the snow still blocks the road, so a bike is ideal for getting further up the mountain to the snow-line.

Ironically when I returned home, this YouTube post cropped up on my FaceBook feed from William Bankes, brother of Charlotte Bankes, one of our best hopes of Gold at the Olympics, which I obviously found of interest.

However, you'll see that they, too, don't exactly manage to ride the bikes too well in the soft snow, but, hey makes for a good poster :)

william bankes ebikes garbure