Mountain Biking is Good for Skiers

Not that you needed an excuse to go ride, but it turns out mountain biking counts as ski conditioning, too.

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Jeremy Benson mountain biking above Lake Tahoe
Credit: Eric Asistin Photography

It seems like just yesterday I was finally putting away the skis for the season, now it’s almost fall and ski season is only a couple of months away. The change in seasons is becoming evident: the shadows are growing longer, nights are getting colder, and leaves are starting to turn. Fall is a great time of year, especially for mountain biking. For me, riding my bike is so much fun, it barely feels like training.

But it is. And here’s why: Endurance exercise like mountain biking is a workout not only for your legs, abs, and arms, but for your heart and lungs as well. Over time, repetition of hard efforts while riding will improve your cardiovascular function. A stronger heart will pump oxygenated blood more efficiently to your muscles, increasing muscular endurance and speeding muscle recovery. Training your heart, lungs, and legs for endurance will make those non-stop runs down the West Face at Squaw, High Rustler at Alta, or Goat at Stowe seem a lot easier.

Plus, mountain biking is great balance training, thanks to the added difficulty of obstacles like trees, rocks, roots, loose dirt, and jumps. While you’re riding your bike you probably don’t even notice that you’re part of an on-going balancing act, very similar to skiing. Instead of balancing yourself while sliding over snow on two planks, you’re balancing on a pair of two-inch-wide tires rolling through the forest, all while subtly improving your balance and coordination.

Mountain biking can also be a great mental workout. Similar to skiing, you’ve got to look ahead, spot your line, and react to what’s coming. Traveling at a high speed through the forest with twists, turns, and obstacles requires excellent eye-body coordination and quick reflexes. You’ll learn to look where you’re going, not where you are, a skill that is necessary for skiers too. And, mountain biking trains your eyes and brain to see the world at a high rate of speed. Repetition of fast moving visual stimuli eventually trains your mind to process these images more quickly. So go ride a trail near you. You’ll be glad you did. 

Best Mountain Bike Trails for Ski Conditioning

  1. The Tahoe Rim Trail around Lake Tahoe.
  2. The Flume Trail, on the east shore of Lake Tahoe.
  3. The Kingdom Trails, East Burke, Vermont.
  4. The McKenzie River Trail, between Eugene and Bend, Oregon.
  5. Any ride in Fruita, Colorado.

Originally published August, 2011.