How I fight the cycling winter blues with skimo

Ski randonee racers training in the Italian Dolomites
Ski randonee racers training in the Italian Dolomites

The Italian Dolomites, famous for road cycling, also have one of the healthiest skimo cultures in Europe.

In winter, cyclists either get fat or undergo a training regime that sounds like torture. They ride outside in absolutely miserable conditions; and when they can feel their fingers again, they post epic pictures on social media and pretend that they had a fantastic time. Sometimes, they go to the gym and look ridiculous as they try to lift weights with their skinny arms. Or even worse – they ride indoors…. OK, so technology has at least improved this grim experience; now their indoor trainers can be connected to online platforms such as Zwift where they can meet up with friends virtually and ride “together.” They climb, they descend, and best of all they don’t crash! It’s pretty well done. Still, they are essentially sweating like pigs in their basement, and they are all are alone to enjoy their post ride beer.

This is what winter is like if you are a cyclist, unless you live:

1. in a region where winter is not miserable, such as Southern California, Brazil or Andalucia. Lucky you! You can ride all year round and the most wintery piece of kit you own is a pair of arm warmers.

or

2. in the Alps, where mountains are as much fun in winter as they are in summer.

Skiing down from the Croix des Chaux after a snow storm

I am an uphill person…

And I am luckily in the latter category. I am based in Gryon, a ski resort in the Swiss Alpes Vaudoises. In summer, I can ride the Col de la Croix, the Col du Pillon and the Col des Mosses (some of the best climbs in Switzerland) from home. In winter? Roads are icy or covered with snow and I can hardly ride between December and March. I hate working out indoors and the 7 Minutes Workout is the pinnacle of my gym work. The last time I was on an indoor trainer was when I broke my collarbone in 2013.

So, what do I do all winter? Mostly skimo. It’s the perfect winter sport for me. I’m an uphill person: I get more satisfaction from climbing a mountain and reaching the top than from descending it. And like cycling, skimo is all about climbing mountains. 80% of a training session is spent going up. And up means steep: 30% inclines are common and 10% feels flat. It’s a climber’s dream!

The downhill bit? At best, there is powder and I get to the bottom with a huge grin on my face. At worst, and that’s most of the time, the snow is icy, wet or crusty. Because skimo gear is not made for going down (remember, it’s all about the up), staying upright turns into a power workout for the quads. Bingo.

Alain training above his home in Gryon

The best workout ever

Skimo is a gym workout combined with an indoor cycling session, in the mountains. It works everything: legs, core, arms. When spring arrives, my upper body even looks half decent (for a cyclist). At least that’s what my wife says, and I can feel it when I get back on the bike. I am strong, my back doesn’t hurt, and April is the time of the year where I clock my best times on short, punchy climbs.

Most of my skimo outings are short sessions from my doorstep to La Croix des Chaux, the top of our local ski resort. One hour up, 15 minutes down: the ideal workout for a time-crunched dad like me. I also do a few vertical races. The concept is simple: on a Friday night, we go up a groomed piste and have a pasta party at the top. It’s a sufferfest: 30 minutes to an hour of constant maximum effort in the dark. But these races are hugely popular and attract dozens of participants who come for the effort, the atmosphere and the prizes: usually it’s wine, cheese and sausages. Alpine culture at its best.

Trophée du Muveran

Alain participating in the Trophée du Muveran

Occasionally I do longer training sessions in the high mountains with my friend Christophe. These are unforgettable days in the wilderness and I wish could have more of them. This is how we prepare for our end of season goal: the Trophée du Muveran, our local skimo race. By then it’s April and I’m ready to go back on the bike. I know, it’s only the beginning of proper ski touring season and I could have many more stellar days on the snow. But hey, I’m a cyclist after all. And the switchbacks are calling….

By Alain Rumpf (aka A Swiss With A Pulse)

About Alain

To say Alain is a passionate, lifelong cyclist is a huge understatement. He lives cycling. As Chief Cycling Officer for Grand Tours Project, Alain is designing idyllic rides through the Alps which he enthusiastically shares with guests from all over the world.

 

My last meeting of the day was with the sun

Une publication partagée par A Swiss With A Pulse (@aswisswithapulse) le

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