Skiing is a sport in which a vast majority of our cues come from what we see. Since this sport is second-nature to me, I’ve long learned how to look far beyond the tips of my skis to discover what’s ahead and plot my next moves accordingly. Somehow, the line I follow develops in my mind from the information I’ve been able to gather in the short time I was glancing ahead. My feet pivot, my ankles bend, my knees rotate just at the ideal moment, as if all had been carefully scripted and was now flowing as seamlessly and perfectly as planned.
Around six years ago, when I seriously began riding my mountain bike on single tracks, all my senses and attention were at first totally mobilized on keeping the bike going within the narrow corridor the trail forced on me. More than once, as my entire body was tense and I was trying too hard, I would over-correct, wobble, slow ridiculously down, become totally inefficient and get off track anyway. My field of vision was limited to my handlebar and my front tire, while I was micro-managing the moment instead of following the meandering pathway that was streaming towards me. Of course, I’m mostly talking here about coasting or descending. My climbing rate is still too slow to strategize about speed except for the occasional burst of energy required by a short, steep bump on the trail that can only be cleared through an extra burst of energy.
It took many rides to tame my attitude and force me into seeing farther and farther away down the trail. That longer view enabled me to estimate my rate of speed, plan when to hit the brake, assess how fast I could negotiate a hairpin turn in relative comfort, and little by little, my choppy pace became much smoother. Today, while it’s still lagging behind my half-a-century ski instinct, my bike riding has become a lot more fluid than it used to be. Both sports of course remain different; recreational skiing offers a maximum range of freedom as one can pick from an infinite array of lines on a fairly wide, open slope, through trees or across a totally open bowl. While skiing allows to marry terrain variations with a multitude of routes, creating for a smooth cruising experience, mountain biking also offers that possibility, albeit in much subtler increments, generally within the width of the track.
In fact, mountain biking is akin to going through an alpine race course that could alternatively resemble a slalom, a giant slalom or even a downhill. The pathway is clearly defined and the only other option is going off track which seldom is a good option. In all situations however, and in both sports, there’s always an opportunity to pick up special skills that will serve us well for the other. Mountain biking brings a special blend of speed, precision and anticipation that are priceless in skiing. So you have it right there; the more mountain biking you’ll do this summer, the more dividends it will pay for your skiing next season. With this in mind, don’t delay riding your mountain bike; your skiing demands it!