Skiing, what used to be a regular weekly activity from December through March here in Colorado has been severely reduced during the age of COVID. I understand the need for social distancing, wearing face masks, and the other precautions we must all take to curb the spread of the virus. But as a result, the complications and hassles of making reservations with very limited availability have made a normal ski season pretty much impossible.
The current limitations on skiing have reframed how I fill the winter with accessible outdoor activities consistently to stay in shape. In winter's past, I would hang my mountain bike in the garage and not take it down again until April. This year my friends and I took a second look at winter biking. (None of us own fat bikes). We decided mountain biking can supplement for lost time spent on the mountain. Now that we have settled into a rhythm combined with a little extra planning we’ve found there are many rideable days in winter. Often on many of the same trials typically ridden in the spring, summer, and fall. Here are a few quick tips we’ve found this season that’s helped to make riding in winter a little more safe, enjoyable and consistent.
Know the trail conditions before you go.
Living in the mountains, the weather change is constant. However, changing weather creates many days that are ridable in the winter. Icy trails and bikes don’t mix, we know that. But often snow melts from the trails rather quickly, especially in western states where sunshine is abundant. If the trails are dry, they’re rideable, regardless of the temperature.
As the old saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just dress properly for it”. Keeping dry is key to keeping warm. The key to keeping dry is dressing in layers that can easily be shed as needed. At the start of a ride, I’m typically bundled up pretty good. For example, I start with a base layer (no cotton) consisting of a breathable wicking undershirt and long johns. The middle layer for me consists of a fleece that zips to cover my neck and a warm flexible pair of riding pants. I find that the same socks I wear for skiing work great for biking as well. For the outer layer, I use a waterproof windbreaker and spring ski gloves. Under my helmet, I also use the same ski mask I use under my ski helmet. It’s important to remember to wear a small backpack to store those layers you may decide to shed if you get too warm. If you start getting warm, shed a layer before you begin to sweat. If you start to sweat, you get wet and then cold.
In colder weather, it may be easy to neglect drinking water as regularly as you might otherwise. But remember hydration rues apply no matter if it’s cold or hot. Keeping your water in a backpack will help it from freezing as it's close to your body as opposed to keeping water in a bottle mounted to your bike.
Take it slow:
Even though your favorite trail may be mostly dry and rideable. There may be small patches of hard-packed snow or ice in your path. I find it's best not to take chances, ride slower than normal and look a little farther ahead. If you encounter an icy stretch don’t be a hero, get off your bike and walk it around the slick spots.
This will allow you to ride another day and save a few teeth or a broken collarbone.
Lower your tire pressure:
I ride with slightly lower tire pressure than normal. I find that traction is better and a little more forgiving if I do happen to run into any slippery spots.
After the ride:
Be sure to wash your bike thoroughly. This will ensure any salt or mud will be removed from your gears, chain, and other moving parts to keep them functioning properly for your next ride.