SISTER SPORTS: SKIING AND MOUNTAIN BIKING

Skiing Skills to Mountain Bike Skills (and Back Again)

All it takes is one trip to a lift-served bike park to realize that mountain biking is skiing’s sister sport. Not only is the overall experience similar—the sight lines, weight balance, speed, and overall feeling of arcing a turn—but also the subtypes within the sport.

Take those bike-park folks, for example. With their full-face helmets, big-travel bikes, and penchant for jumping and doing tricks, they resemble the baggy-pant twin-tip park-and-pipe crowd on the ski hill. By contrast, the hard-tail cross-country riders who earn every turn are pretty much a dead ringer for the spandex-clad ski-mo set. And then, squarely in the middle, sits the trail set who ride up to ride down, like your average powder hound who’s willing to do a little hiking to get the goods.

Colorado-based Arthur Nelson, a ski coach for the kids in Eldora Mountain Ski & Snowboard Club and a mountain bike coach for Boulder’s SMBA program, belongs to the latter subset—he's a trail rider and powder skier. “Sometimes the kids I coach at Eldora drag me into the park, but I’m not especially good at it,” he said, laughing.

With years of experience coaching both sports, Nelson maintains that much of the technique is transferable from one sport to the other, making the two excellent seasonal complements. Though you lean forward on skis and backward on a bike, for example, the movement in space is very similar. And, he said, the secret to both sports is all in your feet, from where your dexterity stems. 

A skier gets loose on a mountain bike with skis attached.
Getting loose on a bike, with skis, in the snow. Photo by Thomas Woodson.

“It’s also important to have high confidence with both of these sports,” he said. “As soon as you second-guess yourself, you screw it up. Your whole body needs to be flowing into it.”

The sight lines you take for both sports are also similar, he said. You need to focus on where you want to go, not what you want to avoid, for example, and it’s important to look a turn ahead so you can keep your rhythm and speed. “The farther you look ahead the faster you go,” Nelson said.

While he’s a better biker than a skier, he said, his mantra for pushing his limits is the same for both. “When you’re throwing yourself down the hill, whether on a bike or on skis, you get used to it. I just tell myself the bike and the skis will take care of me, and that I am durable and will survive.”

And survive, he has, though not without his fair share of blood and bruises. “I’m usually riding and skiing with kids, and I want to inspire them,” he said. “I will push myself, and I will crash. It’s part of both sports. I definitely find you want to be willing to hit the ground. As long as you’re not hitting trees, you’re good.”

The most important similarity, however, of both of these sports has nothing to do with where or how you ride, Nelson said. It’s about who you ride with. “It’s doing something positive with your mind and body that has a community built around it,” he said. “It’s so important to be able to share a passion with other people.”

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Article by Kimberly Beekman

Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Steamboat, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.