I’ve often mentioned the most cherished time of year for cyclists, the off-season. It’s what you think of in every difficult moment all season long. You’re suffering in some godforsaken Belgian gutter in mid-March and in the back of the head is already what lies six months ahead.
It’s a powerful thing. Depending on where one lives the winter can be spent on the beach, the roads, the trails, or maybe, as was a good chunk of this winter, on skis. Yep. Despite the fun to be had sliding around on a mountain bike in the snow, and I do a lot of it, snow and cycling don’t necessarily mix.
The past two winters here in Boulder were brutal. I wouldn’t have written this in either of those. I was sick of snow. My normal morning routine consisted of rolling over in bed, looking out the window and cursing. Then checking the weather and cursing. Then shoveling the drive, making coffee and cursing. Then eating breakfast, thinking about how cold it was out and cursing. And then finally figuring out how to best attack the cold, bundling up, cursing and getting it done. Fortunately I wasn’t actually home that much and the bits of warmth mixed in made it all possible.
This year Mother Nature has repaid us for the past two winters of suffering and blessed us with a “normal” Boulder winter: a few days of beautiful, sunny 50s, dotted periodically by a day or two of snow, which quickly melts away as warmth returns. It’s a pattern that’s hard not to love. Training schedules are dictated by weather cycles; good weather = bike, bad = rest or cross-training. Thus far they’ve come in a nice balance, and with snow stacking up in the hills the skiing has been, though late in arriving, fantastic.
In a uniquely Boulder moment not long ago I was skiing just a few blocks from home in a city park that had been groomed for skating by the local Nordic club (thanks!) when I realized that almost the entire daily group ride had swapped bikes for skis. Shortly we had a paceline of six pro cyclists flailing around on skinny skis. Then came half the VeloNews staff, half the Slipstream office, then the guys from the bike shop, then the guys from the other bike shop. The next day we met at the coffee shop for a long ride. There are things good and bad about this town and its concentration of cyclists, but looking back on something like that it’s hard not to smile.
Along with skating in the park, there’s a classic epic winter training day here that has to be tackled at least once a year. Andy Hampsten pioneered the adventure a number of years back and each day it’s attacked it’s done so in his honor.
From town it’s a roughly three-hour climb on a mountain bike to the nearest ski resort. And that’s three hours at a pretty good pace. Even when it’s 20 degrees, as long as you’re dressed pretty well it’s do-able because you’re mostly climbing. The last 30 minutes of the ride are up the ski area access road and I can’t even begin to describe the looks you get from people headed hom, still bundled up in their ski gear. It’s worth the ride for those alone.
Then, after three hours of climbing, the sucker — er, kind soul — that drove up your gear and brought along something warm and a couple of snacks, greets you at the ski shack, you both get into ski gear and head out for a few on the skate skis. After a recent day of this nonsense I think my girlfriend might make it mandatory that I ride up before any skiing — she slaughtered me. Then you fall asleep in a warm car during the ride down and curl up in the fetal position on a couch for the next 24 hours. Solid.
With a week to ride a mountain bike, swim, and relax in Mexico over Christmas, perfectly/luckily coordinated with the worst weather week of the winter, and now just one more week here at home before heading over to Europe and the beginning of the season, it’s time to savor the last bit of winter left. Surely there will be days on the bike far too soon in the north of Europe when winter decides to return, and there won’t be a smile in sight at that point. But for now the snow is still a welcome interruption and something to savor.
Now it’s time to get back out there for some skinny-ski time before it’s all about the bike and the boards get relegated to the shed for another 10 months.