From Snow Melt to Dry Trails

Twice a year people in mountain towns have to transition their activities. Once in the fall, from summer activities to winter sports; then again in the spring, back into summer mode. My yearly transition is from skiing to biking.

Words by: Aidan Croskrey Photos by: Andrew Chad and Will Phelps

My name is Aidan and I work as a bike and ski mechanic at Great Northern Cycle and Ski in Whitefish, Montana. I’ve been skiing and riding bikes for most of my life, so working in the outdoor industry is a perfect fit. I’ve been working at the shop for the past 4 years, and started full time after graduating high school in January of 2020. In the spring, summer, and fall I work as a bike mechanic, wrenching, fixing and building bikes. In my off time, I’m outside building trails and riding bikes. As the snow starts to flurry in late fall, the bike scene goes dormant. I transition my role at the shop from bike work to ski work, waxing and tuning skis for the couple months of deep winter. In the winter while I’m not at work, I’m out skiing.

Winter time in Northwestern Montana is an amazing time of year. The snow usually starts to fall in late October, and by mid November there is usually enough snow to go on a ski tour if you can make it high enough up into the mountains. By early December the local ski resort starts to come to life as the workers prepare the mountain. The chairlifts get dusted off and ready for opening day. As December comes to an end, there is usually enough base to venture around to most areas of the mountain without hitting bottom. January is the month of deep snow. Day after day the snow builds and the mountain starts to look like a full on snow globe. The trees are covered and have turned into snow ghosts, bending with the weight of plastered snow. Once February hits, it starts to get inhospitably cold. The temperature on the mountain drops from the high teens into the single digits and then sub zero. But it doesn’t stop there, it keeps dropping, it goes to the negative twenties for a short spell. With the right winds, the temperature can drop close to -50 F. This is too cold to ski. Too cold for the lifts to turn on. It is just barely warm enough in town for you to start your car, and you hope it doesn’t break down on your way to work. Once the week or two of frigid temps are over it starts to snow again. Many people are excited for this refresh of snow. But as the days get longer, and the sun lingers above the mountains for a couple more minutes every day, some yearn for warmer weather and drier ground. The feeling of springtime finally hits once the snow in town starts to melt, and dirt patches start to show. People start to bring mud covered bikes into the
shop to get tuned up before they head south.

Bags are packed with biking and rock climbing gear and cars are loaded, ready for the desert. It’s a long haul but eventually you’ll get to the land of red rock and dry ground . The landscape is covered with bristling sagebrush and deformed rock spires that jut out of the ground like teeth. Cars are unloaded and camps are set up, then a fire is built and
you can finally relax under the stars. Some say riding in the Utah desert is like riding on mars, with the towering sandstone stalagmites and red rock slabs that stretch for mile upon mile, as far as you can see. Others say it’s like riding on the moon, grey craters and spines that reach towards the
sky. The crazy part is that both of these landscapes exist within a matter of miles from each other and you feel like you are in a different world when you are exploring them.
When I go to the desert I go for a break from the snow, and the hope for sunny skies and warm weather. On this trip my friends and I started the week in Moab, Utah. Moab is on the Central Eastern edge of Utah, near Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. We camped, and biked around Moab for the first half of the trip.

Bags are packed with biking and rock climbing gear and cars are loaded, ready for the desert.

My favorite ride we went on in Moab was called “Slickrock”, this trail is about 10 miles long and is almost entirely on rock. Even though the trail is named Slickrock, it isn’t slippery for bike tires. The sandstone the trail is on has a texture like sandpaper and is very grippy. The trail got its name from settlers in the 1800’s who tried taking their horses across the rock. The horses with metal horseshoes would slip and fall on the rock, so
the settlers started calling the sand stone “slick rock”.
After our time spent in Moab we started heading back north. We stopped in Green River, Utah for a couple days to do some freeride biking. Freeriding is the form of biking where you don’t need a trail to ride. Green River has spines and giant sand castle
formations made up of sediment and scattered with boulders. It’s a very unique feeling when you freeride a face for the first time, it’s as close as biking will ever get to skiing in the sense that to turn or slow down you have to learn how to carve. The feeling of not being bound to a single path or trail while you are on your bike is a feeling like nothing else. The Utah desert usually has a pretty good chance of warm weather, but in the blink of an eye sometimes it will change. This trip we had all sorts of weather, everything from
rain, snow, and hail, to winds that were blowing tents over, and also the very much
appreciated sun we went on the trip for. Even with the weather we had, we made the most of our trip and had a great time getting back out on the bikes for the first bike adventure of the season.

And with that we headed home, tired from the week on the saddle and in the elements. Now it is time to get a few more ski days in as we wait for the trails at home to dry out. The first bike trip of the year always gives you the desire to want to keep riding. The bike bug you just caught will keep eating away at you until you are able to get out on the trails again.

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