Bike-skiing: The dos and don'ts
If you’ve ever fantasized about joining intrepid backcountry skiers in full gear pedaling bicycles up mountain roads in the springtime there are a few things you should know.
There will be mishaps.
Bikes aren’t meant to carry skis and ski gear isn’t meant for bike riding.
You’re going to need to deal with this reality.
Finding the right location will be critical to having fun. You’ll need a destination that provides good skiing and bicycle access that’s suitable for your skill and fitness levels.
Finally, be prepared for a sense of accomplishment if you manage to pull it off.
There are a lot of moving parts in a bike-and-ski trip and making them mesh well enough to execute the mission is an achievement, especially for a first-timer.
I learned all this and more during a recent bike-and-ski trip at Lassen Volcanic National Park near Mineral, Calif., about three hours northwest of Reno.
It was my first hack at combining the two even though I’ve been fascinated with the idea since at least late 2014 when I saw a photo of some ski-bikers (bike-skiers?) riding up a mountain road in the Eastern Sierra.
At the time I had zero backcountry skiing experience and my fitness level, well, let’s just say ascending thousands of vertical feet by bike with a full pack would have been a lot to handle.
Since then I’ve put in some time at the gym, taken wilderness first aid and avalanche avoidance courses and gone on several backcountry ski tours.
I’m still not a great skier but good enough that I finally felt confident enough to tackle Lassen national park. So I pitched the plan to Daniel Ellsworth of Reno, an experienced backcountry skier and prolific Meetup organizer with Reno Tahoe Outdoors Friends and he bit.
We chose Hike and Bike the Highway Day in the park to do the trip. It’s an event held annually at Lassen after the snow is cleared when the road is closed to motor vehicles.
Yes, you can combine bicycling and skiing. And Lassen Volcanic National Park in the spring is the place to do it. Benjamin Spillman/RGJ
Yes, you can combine bicycling and skiing. And Lassen Volcanic National Park in the spring is the place to do it.
Had we gone earlier we would have had to push or carry bikes over the snow and had we gone later there would have been cars on the road.
We camped the night before near the Kohm-yah-mah-nee Visitor Center near the south end of the park. There’s a walk-in tent campground near the parking lot where Ellsworth found a site.
I chose to take advantage of the rules that allow people to sleep in their cars or RVs in the parking lot and crashed in the back of my truck.
The following morning it was time to get started on the adventure. It was also when things started to get complicated.
I’d planned to load my skis on my backpack and ride up the mountain, like the people I saw in the photo that inspired this trip in the first place.
But executing the carry was a little more difficult than I imagined. My original idea was to clip my ski boots to a Velcro strap and attach it to the pack. When I tried it, however, it left the boots flopping around awkwardly so I abandoned the idea and clipped the boots into the ski bindings for the trip.
After I got the skis attached to the pack I ran into one other problem, my ski poles. Normally on a backcountry ski trip you use your poles for walking or skinning on the ascent. I’d failed to consider the fact that wouldn’t be the case by bike. Luckily I was able to strap them to the pack. They hung a little awkwardly but it worked.
Ellsworth wore his pack but strapped his skis to the bike, which seemed to be a better choice.
We started pedaling uphill and I realized I’d made two other mistakes. The first was that in all the commotion of planning out how to carry everything I forgot my climbing skins in the truck. I had to drop my pack roadside and ride back down to fetch them.
The second mistake was forgetting to do a thorough check of my bike in advance. My ride for the trip was the bike I use for commuting and in-town errands, on which I rarely shift gears.
It wasn’t until we started pedaling uphill that I noticed the shifter for the rear gears wasn’t working at all, which meant I’d be unable to downshift into climbing gears.
Yet another mishap occurred with my pack. After loading it onto my back and myself onto the bike the plastic connecter holding the chest strap in place snapped. I replaced it with a bungee cord wrapped between the shoulder straps.
It was a roughly seven-mile ride from the visitor center located at 6,740 feet in elevation to the road summit parking lot at 8,511 feet. I was riding at a pace of about four to seven miles-per-hour uphill and, with rest stops, it took about two hours to reach the summit parking where we switched to skis.
When we reached the upper parking area we locked the bikes to a sign and made the transition to skis. Rather than ski Lassen Peak, we decided to ski nearby Eagle Peak. It was a little lower and there were more terrain choices suitable to my skill level.
From the parking area it was another mile with about 700 feet of ascent on skis to our transition point on Eagle Peak.
From Eagle Peak there were suitable lines on the north, northeast, east and southeast aspects.
We started with a northeast line then cut back toward the southeast.
The snow was soft and easy to ski and the aspects we skied had few obstacles which made for smooth, wide turns.
By the time we returned to our bikes there was an entire crew of bike-skiers in the summit parking lot, including one who used a bike trailer to tote his skis and a barbecue grill up the mountain so he could flip burgers and drink beer near the peak.
The ride back to the visitor center was a breeze, with the only problem being a sore neck as the result of being forced to hold it in an uncomfortable position due to the oversize ski pack I was wearing.
We stayed one more night in Lassen and departed early enough the following morning to be back in Reno by about 9:30 a.m.
So if you’re looking for a fun and challenging twist on skiing I’d say adding a bike to the mix is a good place to start. And if you’re not, the road to Lassen Peak is open to motor vehicles and there’s still plenty of snow. Spring skiing is a short drive away.