The high Alps passes won’t open for another 6 or 7 months (!) and the snow has now even arrived down low. But winter doesn’t mean that one can’t continue to cycle uphill.
This updates a post first published in 2008
My Top Seven Secrets for Cycling In the Alps – in winter:
#1 Bring a Sense of Humour
If being frozen solid, miles from home, knee deep in snow with a flat tire doesn’t make you laugh …. perhaps a basement trainer is best for you.
Super long descents in winter conditions while being soaked in sweat from the climb is nothing like just cycing around in the cold. It can be scary, painful, awful. Be warned!
#2 Cycle where the skiers are.
Sure Galibier and most of the high Alps are completely inaccessible.
But, roads leading to ski stations get ploughed all winter. So, for example near Geneva, while the famous Col de la Colombiere (1618 metres) and Col de Joux Plane (1691 metres) will be closed until June – in between these two passes, the much higher Col de Pierre Carrée (1844 metres) is open all year – as it leads to Flaine ski station.
Other quiet nearby climbs leading to skiing (or X-Country skiing): Col des Glières, Col de la Croix Fry, Col des Saisies, Col de la Faucille, Col de Cuvéry, etc.
And yes, Alpe d’Huez is a ski station!
Update: The classic west side of Joux Plane from Samoëns is actually plowed in winter as there is cross country skiing at the top. It can still be very icy, but on a sunny day is a dream mountain-bike ride:
#3 Leave the Road Bike in the Garage
Even when roads are clear and relatively dry, there will often be lots of little ice patches. Descending long climbs on a road bike is crazy.
Yes, I know the above snow wall photo in #2 is with a road bike. But I am smarter than last year.
#4 Dress like it’s Antarctica
No matter how cold it is, a long climb will keep you warm and soaked from sweat. But descending sweaty and even warmly dressed is near suicidal.
The most important places to overdress is the hands and feet which get very cold very quickly on descents.
- Headgear: Light beanie for ascent. Balaclava for the descent
- Torso: 3 layers for ascent. Five for the descent (spares in a backpack).
- Gloves: Insulated gloves are not enough …. honestly. Wear a second light pair underneath.
- Legs: Guys wear extra shorts under insulated pants to protect that other valuable extremity (Martin has a good story on this one )
- Footwear: Light socks under ski socks. Gortex shoes and Booties over top.
On climbs on snow covered routes, I have gotten into the habit of wearing Sorel winter boots. Heavy, but WARM!. Well worth the extra effort as cold feet are no fun.
#5 Be Careful!
You do not want to hurt yourself in cold conditions. Always wear a helmet on descents. Bring a phone and better yet, bring a friend. If a descent is too icy, walk.
Watch the weather forecast closely. You do not want to be in the wrong place during a snow storm. I also watch the wind forecast very closely as heavy wind up high is just not worth riding in.
But when the weather is still and sunny, it’s time to ride.
Yes, it can get icy descending:
#6 Bring your Camera
#7 Try cross-country skiing instead
The Alps is full of great, well-groomed, cross country ski centres. It’s an incredible workout, and almost impossible to get cold. Last winter it became my newest addiction:
If All Else Fails Go To Australia!
While I try and convince myself (and you) that there is no off-season, one of my regular cycling partners isn’t buying it. Barry (middle) is Busy Biking in Balmy Brisbane, Australia.
Barry doesn’t like the cold …. Coward!
Psssst – the real secret to winter climbing? Convince someone with a car to meet you at the top!