Skiing on Dirt and Rocks

Posted By: The Ski Channel on May 23, 2012 2:31 am

As I lie on ground in a pile of dirt, blood, and bent bicycle parts, my conviction that everything in the place is trying to kill me, or break my stuff, grows stronger.  My friend laughs at me and says she’s never thought of it that way.  Really?  There’s not a round surface for miles, there are rattlesnakes all over the place, and even the plants are covered in needles.  This is certainly not some pastoral hamlet in the Alps.  Not that we came in search of this.

Nothing but sharp rocks, pointy plants, and snakes

When you spend three weeks on a glacier in Alaska with a bunch of dudes, you can’t help but daydream about warm places.  Shorts, flip-flops, and bicycles are all extremely appealing thoughts.  On the surface, the hot, arid climate of southwest Utah seems like a perfect balance to the cold, wet environs of coastal Alaska.  With this in mind, a trip to the Moab area was planned.

Originally, the plan was to bring bikes, trail running gear, and ski equipment in order to mix it up.  However, the season’s lack of snow has left the La Sal Mountains drier than usual.  There would be no skiing on this trip.  I wasn’t too bothered, as it just meant one more day of biking, which isn’t so bad.  Normally, if I go too long without skiing then I start to feel like I am skipping work, but this spring I am determined to work hard on my mountain bike in an effort to ski better next winter.  I truly feel that the two sports complement each other perfectly.  I was guilt-free as I left the skis and boots behind.

Not enough snow for skiing – guess we’ll go biking

We left Boulder on Friday afternoon and made it out to the western slope by late evening.  On Saturday morning we set out for the classic Fruita trails of Mary’s Loop, Horsethief Bench, and Steve’s Cutoff.  This is the start of the famous Kokopelli Trail that can be followed all the way to Moab.  The trails essentially follow the benches that stand above the Colorado River as it meanders through the desert.  The riding is dry and somewhat rocky, but not too technical.  It’s a perfect place to get warmed up on a mountain bike – never too hard, and yet certainly never boring.

The trail follows the canyon rim.

After a few hours of riding, we hopped back in the car, and headed for Moab.  As we were approaching town, we decided that we would stop and check out the new trails at the Klondike Bluffs area.  These trails are recently developed, and they show that trails continue to evolve, as design gets more creative and thoughtful.  The trails really use the terrain, and there’s never a dull moment going up or down.  These trails are a touch more technical than in the Fruita area, but still there were very few sections that had to be walked.  We rode until sunset and arrived back to the car grinning from ear-to-ear after a day of awesome riding.

After three weeks on a glacier, this sounded pretty good.

In the spring, Moab is a Mecca for a huge variety of people.  Mountain bikers, off-road enthusiasts, climbers, BASE jumpers, and boaters all converge here to play on the towers, canyons, and everything in between.  Town was crowded, and our over-exuberance on our bikes left us with the dregs of a camping spot – and even this took hours to find.  A late dinner, a terrible night of sleep, and some serious stiffness from the week’s training, and a couple crashes on my bike made getting out of my sleeping bag on Sunday a little slower than normal.

On Sunday managed to find a sweet camp spot in the morning, and with this we were free to play for the day.  We went on a big hike.  While hiking isn’t as exciting as mountain biking, it’s such a cool way to see the desert.  The cacti are flowering, and if you take the time to look closely, it’s incredible how much life can be seen in this inhospitable land.

Looking into the Jackson Hole area from the Amasa Back trail

On Monday we were back on our bikes.  Due to the poor snow year much of The Whole Enchilada can be ridden already.  The Whole Enchilada is famous because it goes from high in the alpine environment of Burro Pass and descends through the desert all the way to the Colorado River.  From singletrack through the aspens to rocky, exposed slick rock overlooking enormous sandstone towers, you truly get it all on this ride – hence The Whole Enchilada.

It begins up high, and ends very low.

Riding back into town, we were a little beat up, but still smiling from all the great riding.  Mountain biking is the closest thing I can find to skiing.  The cornering, air, speed, and tactics are all so similar.  So are the crashes.  After three days of playing in the desert, I am a little sore for sure.  But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?  We’ll see.  

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Independent Descents is written by Donny Roth, who is passionate about sharing the human-powered skiing experience.  The blog series focuses on sharing trip reports from around the globe as he connects with people and mountains in destinations near and far.  As an athlete, guide, and writer he can be found in a lot of places, check out his website - - to see all the ways you can share in the experience.