There’s no such thing as indoor training for cyclists in the Alps

Winter training for cyclists in the Alps: ski touring above Villars/Gryon

Ski touring above Villars/Gryon

I was born and raised on the shores of Lake of Geneva, which is one of the few flat areas in Switzerland. But I was never far from the mountains, and I loved climbing as soon as I started riding and racing at the age of 12.

15 years ago, I had the opportunity to move to the ski resort of  Villars/Gryon in the French speaking part of the Swiss Alps.  And I never looked back. I love being close to nature…the rhythm of the seasons..the simple lifestyle in the mountains.

OK, every bike ride finishes with a climb of at least 700m vertical. More than once I crawled up the mountain at the end of a long ride, dreaming of that elusive beer waiting for me in the fridge. But as a bonus, I can ride a HC climb after work. I can eat switchbacks for lunch. My season is one big high altitude training camp.

What about winter? Cyclists do not like cold weather. Unless they live in California, Mallorca or some other cycling paradise, they spend at least 3 months a year sweating on an indoor trainer or in a gym, waiting for the temperature to rise and the days to get longer. Or they have to catch a plane south and go on a training camp to be able to be able to maintain some sort of tan line.

I have not been on a training camp since 1993, when I was an elite rider. I don’t remember the last time I found myself grunting with other people in a gym. There are cobwebs on my home trainer, which I last used 4 years ago when I broke a collarbone (it was so boring that I was back on the road after two weeks – against medical advice, of course).

Does it mean that I spend my winters drinking glühwein and eating cheese fondue by the fireplace in our chalet? No. Winter training in the Alps means fun…on the snow.

Cross country skiing is a fantastic full body workout. It is technical and very physical. At the end of the cycling season, my arms look like spaghetti. After 4 months of cross country skiing… well, they are still not very impressive. But let’s just say that they are more like fettuccine.

There are some great XC skiing areas in the Alpes Vaudoises where I live. The Col de la Croix, our home climb, is a beautiful col to ride in the summer. In the winter however, the road is closed and it becomes a grueling but equally beautiful cross country skiing trails.

Ski touring is my favorite winter activity. I bought my last ski season pass 4 years ago, after I bought my first pair of touring skis. Since then I have stayed away from the lifts and I am skinning up to earn my turns down. I would go as far as saying that a powder day in the high mountains with friends, away from the crowds, is as good as a bike ride.

But most of my ski tours are short, and closer to home. Over the last 4 months, I have been 30 times to the top of the Croix des Chaux, just behind our house. 1 hour up, 15 minutes down. It may sound boring, but every time is different. I have done it in the sun. In the fog. With powder up to my knees. On icy spring snow. Even by night. Have you ever skied powder by night? If not, you should try. It’s the most exhilarating feeling.

Global warming means that sometimes, the snow comes late to the Alps or is missing for a week or two during the winter. While it often remains cold and humid down in the valley under the clouds, we get sun and the roads are dry in the mountains. What does it mean? Yes, some bonus bike rides with a reasonable amount of layers (read: less than four). Life is good in the mountains.

In both 2015 and 2016, my ski season ended with the Trophée du Muveran, our local ski mountaineering race. Being able to follow my friend and teammate Christophe over the 33km of the race is a great goal that keeps me motivated to train through winter.

So now it’s April and I am back on the bike, but with renewed motivation and a strong body. I’m ready to climb more mountains on two wheels. I just need to work on the tan lines.

By Alain Rumpf (aka A Swiss With A Pulse)

About Alain

To say Alain is a passionate, lifelong cyclist is a huge understatement. He lives cycling. As Chief Cycling Officer for Grand Tours Project, Alain is designing idyllic rides through the Alps which he enthusiastically shares with guests from all over the world. You can follow him on: 


Summer cycling: near the top of the Col de la Croix, with the Dents du Midi in the background

Summer cycling: near the top of the Col de la Croix, with the Dents du Midi in the background


Cross country skiing on the Col de la Croix

Same place in winter: equally hard and beautiful


Powder day with my wife Lillie and the Patituccis

Powder day with my wife Lillie and the Patituccis near the Sustenpass


Skiing down from the Croix des Chaux after a snow storm

Skiing down from the Croix des Chaux after a snow storm


Winter training for cyclists in the Alps: cold and humid below the clouds, dry and sunny above

Winter riding: cold and humid below the clouds, dry and sunny above


Trophée du Muveran

Getting to the top of the Couloir du Pacheu, highlight of the Trophée du Muveran



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