It’s late February in Innsbruck and Henna is sitting at her desk, browsing the map to see which ski destinations are close enough to be easily reached by gravel bike. This winter in the Austrian Alps has been the coldest she could remember – would gravel be the solution?

Normally, at this time of year, Henna and her friends would be busy enjoying powdery days while their bikes collected dust. But this year was different. They wanted to see what would happen if they combined two sports: bikepacking and skiing.

"We're actually doing it!" Malva exclaimed, carefully climbing onto her bike in Innsbruck. "My bike is shaking like crazy, is this normal?" Henna asked after just 500 meters. Sami replied that they’ll get used to it when we reach the Dolomites. Yep, the Dolomites, its iconic sharp-toothed, sheer-sided mountains were only a few hundred kilometers away, making it reachable by bike.

Other than the question of their loaded bikes, the riders’ other doubt was whether the plan of a five-day cycling and four-day skiing journey from Innsbruck to Lago di Garda could be anything other than a suffer-fest.

Dolomites: Bikepacking and Skiing

Snowflakes and sharks

“This must be a first: biking up to go ski touring,” Henna said as they made their way up to the first skiing spot. With the snow line being so much higher than usual – at around 1,000–1,500 meters above sea level – the conditions were calling them to ride up and change into skis for the rest of the ascent. “At least our bodies will already be warmed up by the time we start touring,” Malva replied, laughing.

The snow had started falling as the team arrived at their first accommodation, giving hope for some fresh lines in the morning. When they woke up, the trees and roofs were covered by a thin layer of snow, making the whole town glisten in the dawn sun as they hopped on their bikes, ready to climb to their first ski spot. “Watch out for sharks,” Henna shouted as they cruised down a fresh line from Vennspitze. That was the reality. There was still not enough snow to cover all the rocks, but it didn’t stop them from enjoying the first turns of the trip—the verdict: rough snow but so much fun to be riding.

Once they packed the bikes, they remembered they still needed to ride another 31 kilometers to their next accommodation. Exhausted, they crossed the border into Italy in the cold and dark, wearing every single layer they had, and descended towards Vipiteno. “I don’t think we can keep doing this for 7 more days in a row,” Sami said. The others nodded in silence. Lesson learned. From now on, they’d split the days between the two disciplines to make it smoother and, most importantly, more enjoyable.

Dolomites: Bikepacking and Skiing

Ice and Dolomiti peaks

"No way! Is that a ski slope?" Sami shouted after they had just managed to get through a closed trail with hundreds of fallen trees. Route planning for a winter bikepacking trip was more complicated than usual, which they were learning the hard way. Those nice small gravel roads you’d usually take were now covered by snow or turned into cross-country ski tracks that had melted into shiny ice fields. “No braking,” screamed Henna, navigating the ice. They stayed upright but decided to reroute onto bigger roads to avoid more unpleasant surprises.

They pushed their bikes across a ski slope while gazing at the first Dolomiti peak on the horizon. The 90-kilometer ride to the campsite had been an all-day mission, but the mountain peaks glimmering in pink and purple hues proved a better welcome than they had imagined. The hammering of raindrops the next morning, not so much. Even at 1,500 meters of elevation, turning the rain into snow was not enough. “That is usually runnable,” Henna said, pointing to a peak on their left side as they toured towards the Lavarella mountain hut. The lack of snow meant the riders needed to adjust the next day’s plan. There was not enough snow to ski the run they had planned to do.

“The rest of the face is pure ice from here to the top,” Malva said. The snow falling after their arrival at the hut had come with too much wind to stick on the icy slopes. Creativity had been essential this winter, finding a way to make the most out of the current conditions no matter how bad they were. After looking around, the team found an interesting-looking small couloir and a snowy-looking bowl they decided to ski. “Go girls,” Sami wrote in the snow as Malva and Henna hiked up to the couloir. The wind was chilly, but at least the sun was out as they rode down. "Not perfect, but way better than I expected," Henna said, content with the day’s progression. The setting sun covered the mountains in warm-colored tones, capping a beautiful day in the mountains.

Taking the quick way up

“I’m not feeling great,” Malva said as the highest massif of the Dolomites was staring her down. The climb was famous amongst road cyclists but was now being tackled by three riders at 2km/h with 40-kilogram bikes loaded with ski gear. But as the light of the early evening sun shone on the Marmolada, revealing its fresh snow, everything made sense—even making a 9-day ski trip by bike.

Knowing that this Dolomiti Queen was accessible by cable car, the riders decided to reward themselves on their final day and maximize the time spent skiing down. They found fresh lines between the cliffs. Fun turns beside the already tracked ones, and good snow among the bad snow. Grinning from ear to ear, they packed their skis onto their bikes and descended to the next accommodation.

Henna, Malva, and Sami were now getting close to Lake Garda, leaving the majestic peaks of the Dolomites behind them. It was getting warmer. They happily shed their layers as they rode through Italian vineyards and passed by chatty cyclists. Whether it was the tailwind or the thought that they could soon pop the champagne given to them as they left their last accommodation, they rolled effortlessly into Riva del Garda. 

“We actually did it!” Sami shouted as she opened the champagne and sprayed it on Henna and Malva. “And it wasn’t a total suffer-fest,” Henna replied. “This 9-day journey combining two of our favorite sports was a beautiful mix of sweat, laughs, ice, snow, and friendship.” Would they do it again? “Of course!”

Dolomites: Bikepacking and Skiing


Finnish-born digital nomad Henna Palosaari is a long-time member of the Shimano Gravel Alliance, route planner extraordinaire, and allround creative.

Photos: Richard Buchner

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