Bad weather biking and skiing

posted: September 10, 2023

tl;dr: The pleasures and benefits of being a bad weather biker and skier...

There’s nothing better than a sunny, bluebird powder day after a storm has dumped a foot or more of dry, fluffy snow on the ski slopes. Skiing under these conditions is a magical, transformative experience. You schuss down the slopes hardly feeling the snow at all, as your skis sink into and cut through the softest material you’ll ever encounter in life here on Earth. It feels like slicing through a cloud. Perhaps this is how people get around in Heaven.

Or perhaps Heaven residents travel on motorcycles when the distance is too great to ski. No doubt the roads in Heaven are bathed in sunshine and pleasant temperatures, winding their way through mountain passes, canyons, alongside riverbeds and occasionally cliffs which provide spectacular views. Off in the distance one can glimpse snow-capped mountains and, of course, the ocean, with waves crashing to the shore below.

I’m sure Heaven residents can also travel by bicycle. No doubt the bicycle paths are completely devoid of automobiles, and are always pointed slightly downhill. The wind is always at the bicyclist's back, blowing at the exact speed that the bicyclist is going. This creates a Zen moment of bicycling, in which all wind noise disappears and the bicyclist is going fast while barely pedaling at all.

For skiing, motorcycling, and bicycling, I’ve just described the ideal conditions. In the real world, these happen only occasionally. Dividing the time spent in ideal conditions with the all time that could be spent in that activity, and turning it into a percentage, ideal conditions happen a low single digit percent of the time. Yet there are people who seek out ideal, and only the ideal, conditions. These are the fair-weather skiers, motorcyclists, and bicyclists.

In the background a gentle hill patially covered in snow, with many equipment poles and ropes on the hill along with a few dozen people, and in the foreground some grass that appears to be dormant for the winter

Conditions at Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports in Lisle, Illinois are almost always less than ideal, but I’ve skied there many times

I’m the opposite: I am a bad weather skier, motorcyclist, and bicyclist. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate ideal conditions as much as anyone else. In fact, I’ll argue that because I experience the bad times, I appreciate the good times even more. But I love each of these activities so much that I am willing to partake in them in less-than-ideal conditions. As the expression goes, “a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work.” I don’t have quite that attitude towards work, but hopefully you get my point.

I’ve skied in absolute whiteout conditions, where there was so much falling and wind-blown snow that I could barely see my ski boots, let alone where I was going. I’ve skied in 60 mile per hour winds, which is about the wind speed at which they shut down the lifts. I’ve been so cold at the top of lifts that having any exposed skin at all, even just the tip of my nose, was painful. When I lived in Illinois, my daughter and I once went skiing at our local ski hill on a night so cold (well below zero Fahrenheit) that there was no one else on the slope, and the ski area asked us to leave so that they could close and everyone could go home and warm up.

On my two wheeled conveyances, the one condition in which I won’t ride is when the temperature is at or below freezing and there is a risk of ice. Having spun a car 360 degrees on a road covered in black ice, I have no desire to repeat that experience on a two-wheeled vehicle. Although I avoid ice, I’ve ridden in cold and rainy conditions plenty of times, sometimes by choice, sometimes not. A bad omen for a risky journey describes the unrelenting rain a buddy and I dealt with on the first day of a multi-month cross-country motorcycle journey; had we given up, we wouldn’t have had all the great experiences we did later. Living in Arizona, I am quite used to riding in the heat. Biking 100 when it’s 100 has my tips on bicycling in hot weather. Yesterday I did a motorcycle ride with friends from my HOG chapter it was 106 degrees Fahrenheit at the start.

Besides appreciating good conditions even more, we bad weather skiers and bikers have another advantage: a higher skill level, because we know how to handle more types of conditions. Mastering poor conditions improves both competence and confidence. It’s one reason why champion skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who was born in the renowned Colorado ski resort of Vail, spent some of her formative years at the Burke Mountain Ski Academy in northern Vermont. There’s a lot more ice and less powder in Vermont than Colorado, and the weather is often cold and windy. But skiing in those conditions better prepares a young skier for success on the World Cup tour.

I understand why some people are fair-weather skiers and bikers, but I am not one of them.