Transitioning Ski & Board Skills to the MTB Trail


Looking through the corner.

The sport of mountain biking (and especially downhill mountain biking) shares many similarities with the sport of downhill skiing and snowboarding. For the average cross-country or all-mountain biker, most of the congruent skills occur in the mental decision-making department.

I first learned of these similarities from my mountain biking master when I was but a young padawan. One of the fundamental skills of mountain biking is keeping the eyes up, looking down the hill and reading the trail. The general rule is: the faster youre going, the farther ahead you need to look. As a beginner, this flies in the face of the instinctual urge to stare at your front wheel. This deceptive urge must be overcome. If you look down the trail, you know whats coming at you. Your brain will remember what you have already seen and where your front wheel is going and what is directly in front of you. If you are staring at where the front wheel hits the ground, however, you will have no idea what is coming down the trail. Roots and rocks will catch you by surprise and cause you to crash. Quick hills and turns will come up suddenly and if youre not looking ahead, youll shift late, and lose your flow.

This skill of looking down the trail is something that came very naturally to me due to my long history of downhill skiing. My ski skills have served me well and helped me catch onto the sport of mountain biking quickly, becoming a very technically adept rider in a short period of time.


Choosing a line on the fly while skiing.

One of the other major overlaps is the more nebulous art of line choice when attacking the trail. Skiing and mountain biking both teach you how to read the terrain ahead while choosing the line of least resistance (or the most fun line, or the line with the most air opportunities). After interpreting what is coming down the trail into a line choice, both sports require decision making and follow-through to attack and dominate the line. This idea of attacking and riding a specific line is a more general idea and isnt something that can be distinctly taught. It’s basically just a mindset, an over-arching way of approaching riding.

The mental overlap of these two sports can be greatly advantageous for the athlete that practices both. In addition to honing these mental decision-making skills, the avid mountain biker will prevent cycling burn-out by cross training in a different sport during the off season instead of spending all of his time inside on a trainer. It is so much better to come into the mountain bike season refreshed and thirsting for some serious singletrack than being afflicted with cycling apathy.

So next winter, why not give skiing (or snowboarding) a try?

Goo has been a singletracks member since March 2008 and lives in Dahlonega, GA. Check out his blog at and add it to your RSS reader today!

Share This: