How to use an eMTB eBike to ski tour and go skiing
As the ski touring boom continues and everywhere becomes busier for day ski-tours what's the best way to still get to the untracked?There's more to just jumping on your eMTB ebike to go ski touring, namely logistics. When and how is the best way to use one, can snow be a problem? How best to carry your skis and boots and then finally secure it.
Living in the mountains you would have thought that it was pretty easy to go ski touring, just a case of getting in the car with your gear and setting off up a route in any number of the areas we have where we are fortunate enough to live here in Serre Chevalier, France.
Well, that would be true if we were not too fussy as to the conditions we wish to ski in. Combine that with the fact that we've had no fresh snow for a while and the off-piste being nigh on non-existent and we start to have a problem; and then there are all the other ski tourers.
Since Covid, there has been a boom in people ski touring. At one point you could travel to the resorts but the lifts were closed so people went and bought ski touring kit. Now with increased costs of living, that long weekend away skiing in resort with a lift pass is an expensive option but parking up and going for a ski tour and then a picnic is now a tempting alternative.
So anywhere that is reasonably accessible by car is now busy or skied out, as north-facing glades and slopes are breakable crust so everyone is trying to find south-facing transformed snow which concentrates more people into a smaller area.
It is somewhat ironic that people who ski tour do not relish the idea of long approaches to get to the snow. Getting out of the car and putting your skis on is what most opt for. Hiking for an hour or more is just about the maximum many will do, and that's me included!
Some of those hikes would involve climbing with the skis on the pack on steep narrow paths to get to the snowline, and then a two to three hour climb before the descent, and then the prospect of the hike back down to look forward to.
So it was having been faced with the above and later in the season with the snow receding even higher, that I invested in an eMTB eBike. There's additional reasons for considering using an eMTB eBike to go ski touring in this blog, and then the detail of what I bought and my decision process along with my first trip with it, here.
I've now compiled this additional feature based on my recent experiences, and highlight what and how best to use an eMTB eBike for when considering going ski touring.
First make sure you can use the bike
This is something I found out the hard way, you can't use a bike in fresh snow!
There are a few videos out there of people appertaining to using eMTB's in fresh snow. For sure if you have a specific Fat-Tyred framed bike, the type used for riding on beaches and dunes (as I discovered near Tarifa in Southern Spain) then it might be possible. But I did try a FatBike that you can rent here in the Alps and it did not work too well.
While a FatBike with the right tyres might be better suited to the job in hand, it's not ideal for when you might want to use the bike in the summer, hence I opted for a normal eMTB.
Ideally, snow-wise, you need a trail that has been bashed down by snowmobiles, or Polaris Can-Am type 4x4s, better still a ski de fond piste, as even 5-10cms of fresh snow can curtail your planned route.
The trouble then is it obviously has to be a trail that gets you to the altitude you need to access the snowline, and this can all be part of the scoping process, to try new routes that you think might work, but not leave it to the actual day of the ski tour.
If you your skill-sets riding an MTB up a single trail are good then you might be able to ride up one if there's no snow. But most of the single tracks around here are made up of steep gnarly paths, and not too good if carrying a backpack with skis on - and then there's the issue of getting back down!
Later in the season, more routes become available as the snow melts, and ordinary vehicles can't access them as often the road, which is in the shade on a north-facing aspect, is still snow bound.
Scoping out conditions
This is something I've now used the eMTB for twice so far this season
And this is especially true when a forecast shows that spring snow could be on offer. But looking across the valley at the south side, which you know was subjected to the wind, you don't actually know what the state of the snowpack is.
Plus, as I mentioned above, it might be prudent to check the access prior to the day of the ski tour.
So after a morning's cross-country session, I cycled up the route de Granon to actually take a look at the snow close-up as, when piste skiing from the other side, it looked fine. As I climbed up on a hard trail beaten down by troops using caterpillar 4x4s to transport goods to the barracks I could check out the snow, and just as well I did as it was dire.
Next sortie, was up a long valley, and that showed much better potential, as you can see, top of the ridge line is the Italian frontier.
Part 2 of the scoping
Can you secure your bike at the start of the climb?
For sure you could leave the bike out in the open, but I prefer to both hide the bike to some degree and secure it. This makes for less paranoia as you start climbing, about having left your expensive toy below.
I do, however, often say what are the chances of someone out in the boondocks wanting to steal a bike, let alone be carrying a portable angle grinder to cut through your locks?
I do carry a couple of very good high-tensile steel locks and cable in my pack, and even if I can't use the cable to anchor the bike to something, I'll then use it to lock both wheels so you can't wheel the bike as an e-MTB is a heavy piece of kit to carry.
If there are no buildings or cabins to hide the bike behind then I'd just lay the bike down in some trees and cable the bike to the tree.
That said even walking 50m with a bike to get to the trees/buildings in deep snow can be a toil, hence the scoping out is part of the overall planning.
How to carry ski-boots and skis
There's no need to carry your boots, simply wear them!
With big flat pedals, you can easily ride your e-bike up in your ski touring boots without hardly noticing that you have ski boots on. During the descent, they're even better as you can drag your boot on the floor should conditions demand.
And when it comes to the skis, simply carry them on your backpack, so they are the only extra gear you're carrying, and that's just for the ride up.
Anything extra to carry?
I pass on the thought of getting a puncture and a mechanical.
I think the chances of getting a flat are remote and the same for a mechanical. If something should happen then it would probably be on the descent as if it had been on the up I'd probably turn around and call it a day, and probably just freewheel back.
Obviously, if I was going 20km+ I might think about packing a spare and tool plus pump.
Acknowledge other people
Many people are surprised at the sight of a bike, so be extra nice!
Invariably the people that you come across have spent a lot of time and effort getting to where you are so the sight of a bike and an electric one at that. might be a tad disconcerting to some nature perfectionists.
And if riding on a cross-country piste avoid tearing it up, though I've found my tyre tread leaves almost the same tracks as a piste basher. I've actually ridden along having a chat to fast XC skating skiers!
Be careful on the descent.
Snow can be trecherous
Especially in spring as that nice hard pack trail that you rode up in the morning, five hours later can be 10-15cms of snow-melt and your front tyre can develop a mind of its own. And don't even try and go near any smooth untracked snow as you might well find your front wheel suddenly digging in with you going over the handlebars.
Still some things to try out
There are a number of other routes that I should try out but many go up through forests and snow depth and snowpack will be an issue.
And we're going to try and see if I can tow Elaine on her touring skis up behind me with a rope, so watch this space!