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28-03-2022 | Frank Jansen

Tried and tested: skiing and cycling in one trip

In addition to being an avid cyclist, I have also been an avid winter athlete for over 35 years. Skiing, ski touring, telemark - I love it all. For years, I've dreamed of combining these two passions on one trip. This year, I finally did it.

Kühtai

Seeking for a short-ski destination close to Innsbruck airport, I ran into the ski resort of Kühtai. A straightforward area of nearly 50 km of slopes. In the world of skiing this is far from impressive. But Kühtai is also a name that every cyclist obviously knows from the pass of the same name, known as the tough opening climb in the Ötztaler Radmarathon. Initially, I wasn't planning on spending on the bike at all, but since 4 days of non-stop Kaiserwetter was predicted with afternoon temperatures close to 10 degrees (at 2000m), it started to itch and the plan was made up.

Because travelled by plane, I had to rent a bike. To do that, I have to go to Innsbruck. From our base in Kühtai that is (theoretically) half an hour by car, we take the bus which takes an hour including stops. The first bus down only leaves at 9:45 so we don't have to rush in the morning. The bus ride gives me the opportunity to investigate the climb. I rode it downhill once before in the ORM, but that was also 5 years ago now. In the city center my wife and I split up. She is going to a sauna/wellness and some shopping, while I am going to hurt myself on the bike. I reserved my bike from home at Crazy Bikes, a shop I tracked down via Google.

Perfect rental bike

I have rented a bike in many places, and rarely was it so good. Not only was the Trek Madone 7 practically new, it was already fully ready for me. The right pedals and lights are already mounted. On top of that, I receive a very friendly welcome. The saddle is adjusted to my height, my Wahoo holder is mounted and I can go. I also get a toolkit and a brand new helmet. Within fifteen minutes I am on my bike.

The location of Crazy Bikes couldn't be better, because within 5 minutes you're out of town. I was a bit unsure what clothes to bring, so I went all-in: leg warmers, padded arm warmers and a wind vest (in addition to a regular summer outfit, of course). In addition, in the back pockets I took a buff and long gloves for the descent. This soon turns out to be far too hot. I take off my leg warmers and wind vest after a few km. I can ride almost the entire climb short-sleeved, what a joy!

Austrian steepness

My goal for today is of course the summit of the Kühtai. In order not to ride a 100% round trip, I created an alternative approach route via Oberperfuss. However, that route turns out to be quite tough. The percentages on my screen are staggering: always between 10-15%. Austrian steep! I have to suffer a lot right from the start, and ride on the 32 for a long time. The Di2-group on the Trek shifts perfectly, so that's not the problem.

In Sellrain, I join the usual route. There is already snow on the left side of the road. The first couple of kilometers are doable, but after that it's steep wall-riding all over again. The climb, like the other side, is very irregular. Very steep hectometers are followed with easier sections. To top it off, of course, the infamous kilometer of 12% average (!) from the village of Gries. In the descent this is one of the famous places in the Alps where you can hit the magic 100 km/h (spoiler: I didn't get further than 93 today because of headwind...).

Suffering

Unfortunately, I don't have the best legs today, but what does it matter? I'm enjoying it to the max. I shoot one postcard after another, while the landscape gets whiter and whiter. When you see the two tunnels and the ski lifts, you know: you're almost there. Another stop for some photos, filling the water bottles at a stream and I am in the village. The winter sports tourists walking down the street with skis on their shoulders look at me as if I am crazy. But I am certainly not the only cyclist: on the contrary. The locals ride up all year round, weather permitting. That's the advantage of roads to ski resorts: they are open almost all year round.

Fast descent

I decide to ride by my hotel to dump some stuff I'm not going to use for the descent. I ride down with only a wind vest and arm pieces. In the first few kilometers it is a bit chilly, but after about 10 minutes I am 1000 meters lower and it is already almost 15 degrees above zero. Afterwards, I don't have any regrets whatsoever.

An Olympic ending

After descending, I don't take the fastest route to Innsbruck: I make a detour to the south. This means an extra 300 meters of climbing, but: I also get to descend a bit on the old Brenner! I ride into the city along the Olympic ski jump, with a view on the Olympic ski slope (which is still in use, even now). Magnificent! Still I'm glad to be back home, because I'm well worn out.

I hand in my bike and walk towards my wife. She has arranged that I can take a shower at her wellness. The rest of the afternoon we explore Innsbruck, which is really a recommendable. A very vibrant, very beautiful city. It is 20 degrees, the terraces are packed until late in the evening. We have dinner and a taxi takes us back to Kühtai. A wonderful experience!

Final conclusion. Cycling and skiing: definitely do it! But only the Kaiserwetter of course.

Tips and tricks

  • If you go earlier in the season, renting a bike can be problematic, especially in ski resorts. This is not a problem at Crazy Bikes, where you can also go in January.
  • My trip was at the end of March. The weather was beautiful, the sun was strong so I was able to ride short sleeved almost the entire trip. If you go earlier or ride partly in the shade, you really need more clothing, especially for the descent. A wind stopper, something on your head and long gloves are then absolutely necessary.
  • Many large cols are closed in winter, but not all of them. So focus mainly on what you can do. Surprisingly many climbs are just open.
  • Of course you can only ride if the road is dry and clean. If it has recently snowed then your plans are off. However, perhaps you can go a little lower on the mountain.
  • In the winter you may be a little less trained and it is colder. Don't underestimate this, don't go riding monster rides. Anyway, riding loops is not obvious because many roads are closed. An exception is the Sella round!
  • Please note that the winter sports traffic is not used to cyclists on the descent. Lights are a must!
  • Ask the local bike shop for advice on the best winter routes.

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