Skiing : ‘it’s like riding a bike’
“It’s like riding a bike.” Not for me, with all my crashes, blown up wheels, squeals of fear and countless scars ingrained into my skin forever, skiing comes far more naturally to me, than riding a bike. However, this idiom is said of when we learn new skills and that when we come back to using those skills again, they should come to us naturally. Some even suggest, easily.
Why a bike? I’ve no idea. I’ve turned to trusty Google, but even that didn’t come up with the goods.
I never learnt to really ride a bike as a child. I have vague memories of cycling around the garage in Les Gets with stabilisers on the back of some pink girly bike. The first time we went to Les Gets during the summer, I remember even cycling up our drive was a massive challenge for me. It seemed so steep for my 8-year-old self, huffing and puffing to get to the top. That holiday was when I had my first crash. There is a photograph somewhere with my helmet hanging off the back of my head, and a goofy-teethed smile as I hold up the damage to the camera. If I find it, I’ll post it on Instagram – a ‘throwback Thursday’, if you wish. I can’t remember how I behaved on my bike after that, but the fact I remember the actual incident today makes me think it did have an effect on my future cycling.
Yet, I can’t remember learning to ski. At such a young age, I just have no recollection. I don’t remember ever being particularly scared. I’ve had crashes with the odd injury. Yes, only the odd! Mainly my shoulder, and shoulders are far from classic ski injuries. I’m a bit weird, but that’s been discussed (joint hypermobility syndrome post). As a consequence I have been nervous and lacked confidence, but never scared or really frightened. Only now, as I am beginning to venture off piste does an element of fear creep over me. I have squealed down a GS course, but I love that and live for the adrenaline rush. I am really struggling though, to attack cycling with the same mental attitude as when skiing.
Riding a bike and skiing do compliment each other: technically, psychologically, physically, tactically, and in the environment in which we do these activities, especially in the mountains. I realise I have unintentionally written out the BASI performance threads (what a geek), omitting equipment. However bikes and skis can have their similarities specific for the sport, too.
Carving turns on a ski slope can be compared to carving turns down a mountain bike trail or on a road. In road biking, extending the outside leg, pushing down to let the bike carve round the bend makes it easier. In skiing, being balanced on that outside ski is crucial to remain in balance. When initiating a turn on a bike it is necessary to lean the bike into the turn. The tighter the turn, the more it needs to be tilted. Lean too much with the bike and falling to the inside is likely. This is like skiing. Inclining at the start of the turn to get the skis onto their edges, but then bringing the body back over the outside ski and separating laterally to keep in balance and prevent falling into the turn.
When cycling scrubbing speed before the bend is ideal to allow forces to work with the bike, driving it round the bend. Speed is needed, otherwise toppling over is likely. To carve a ski, speed is needed for the same reason. On a GS course, on a steeper section, scrubbing or drifting and then gripping and accelerating through the turn would be an effective way of controlling speed.
When training this summer, many of the routes I cycled, I went up the way I came down. This is not my preference as going out on my bike is a chance to see and travel, not purely a workout. However, completing an ‘up and down’ cycle gives the cyclist the chance to take note of the condition of the road, identify the potholes, the changes on the tarmac surface, loose gravel and cracks, any cambers, where it becomes narrow or wider and the sharpness of any bends. Lastly, it’s a chance to observe whether the road is wet and slippery.
Many nervous clients I have taught have often wanted to stay on the same ski slope, repeating the terrain they know over and over again. It’s great; they can perfect their technique and feel confident. They prevent fear from affecting their performance. However, when I encourage them to try a new slope we are often back to square one and have to return to the original piste. As ski instructors who ski the area in which we work day in and day out, we know the pistes so well and learn the layout of the runs. We learn how to recognise when the snow is changing, the sections we like to ski and those we don’t. As a consequence, our skiing feels good and safe and we perform well (or should do!). In ski racing, skiers always go and inspect the course prior to the race, examining where the banana turns are, the verticales, the hairpins, the regular turns, the steeper terrain, the rollers, the flat parts, where you can gain speed, where you need to work harder and of course the condition of the snow.
Most ski resorts are a fantastic playground year round, summer and winter. Being able to ski, snowboard or telemark and then switch to road cycling or mountain biking, is a fantastic way to enjoy the scenery.
Learning about the environment can influence how we approach our descent on skis or on a bike. Using the right skills in our toolbox at the right time can result in a successful ski run or cycle ride. Looking ahead and reading the terrain is crucial in order to tactically prepare how to approach the next section. In skiing, it could be identifying a roller and either deciding to jump over it, or bend the legs and absorb it. In cycling, it could be deciding on an appropriate line to take around a bend or roundabout.
On a road bike there are many positions in which to rest your hands. Logic and science tells us that dropping the hands onto the lower part of the handlebar brings a person’s centre of gravity lower and to a more stable position on the bike. It puts the cyclist into more of a ‘racer’ position from which their weight is evenly distributed along the length of the bike and makes it easier to brake. I am 5ft11, 181cm (ish), which is quite tall. The handlebars seem quite far down. Even more so are those lower parts of the handlebars. It does not come as a surprise then when I say that I haven’t used that part of the handlebars yet. I just feel very unsafe. Mind over matter! Sadly I was probably reaching a point this summer where I was feeling brave enough to drop down when the crash in Lausanne happened. I now need to build up my confidence, again.
My dad told me if you are good skier you should be able to ski any snow condition on any ski. That is what I have stuck by and I am known for using piste skis in all conditions. To me, because skiing is a sport it means I need to work hard all the time. Well, I could make life easier and get a pair of skis that might make powder skiing a little more enjoyable. Then see if I can carve long turns on the piste with them, like I would on my GS skis.
Cycling and skiing use the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and core. Many skiers use cycling for strong legs. Skiers need to train balance, power, agility, strength and cardiovascular fitness. Cycling is perfect for working these muscle groups and these elements of fitness. However, it is probably worth adding further agility training to get the feet working quickly and to challenge coordination. I also believe it is important to do a variety of sports and exercises at differing intensities to keep the body constantly challenged and to not let the brain get complacent.
If skiers skinned up everything they intended to ski down, then the two sports would be even more alike.
What I don’t understand is that when skiing I appear to be a bit nuts at times and when cycling, I’m really not. I am by far from the bravest on skis, but I have a greater tendency to launch myself down a difficult, steep, challenging run, than wanting to cycle down from Verbier to Le Châble. On skis, it’s other people that I don’t trust. On a ski race course, I feel the safest when it’s just me and the gates. When off piste I am more nervous because, despite doing safety assessments myself, there is always a risk that is out of my control. Don’t get me wrong, if I do crash skiing, I often feel sore and a bit shaken but it won’t take me too long to get back into it.
However on a road, there are cars and other cyclists – elements that I cannot control. There is gravel and tarmac, which cause so much pain when you scrape your skin across them. It scars and bruises. It’s hard. There is metal that grinds against bike parts, snapping them and making horrible scarring noises.
Whether it is the fact I have skied all my life that gives me the confidence I don’t have on a bike, I don’t know. It does seem likely, though. Working on psychological issues and believing in my abilities will hopefully pay off. I will get braver because I don’t give up, and I am a bit mean to myself, and slightly sadistic. Being brave and confident with the line will ensure a smooth and efficient decent. It’s just a case of transferring these characteristics across, both ways between skiing and cycling.
To conclude, skiing is ‘like riding a bike’ for me. At the start of every season I am a little rusty but I never forget how to ski. I had a client last winter that had not skied in 15 years. He started off wobbling on the inside ski, sitting in the back seat and looking very unsure of himself. With a few reminders, it all started coming back to him. By the end of his three-hour lesson we were cruising around every run in Nendaz. I had to rein him in a little, knowing that he would hurt a lot the next day as his ski muscles were stunned back into the sport. For others, getting back on to skis is a mission and they can’t believe how much they have forgotten. It can be very demoralising for them. For them, riding a bike might come far more naturally than skiing. Demoralised is often how I feel when I get back on my bike every summer. I am just not a natural. Hopefully with time and perseverance, each year will get a little easier.
If anyone ever says to me that cycling is ‘like riding a bike’ they can go do one. However, if they say that skiing and cycling are great sports that work well together as a summer and winter combination, and that we can learn a lot from each one and apply it to the other, then I would agree.
I was sent this video clip off YouTube. It made me laugh, a lot. Get those legs strong for skiing, cycling or both.