Living and recreating in the Mountains is a wonderful thing when the conditions are just right. But let’s be honest, in recent years the weather patterns in this valley have not been all that consistent or predictable; when in a single week a massive snowfall can be followed up by a Chinook wind and temperatures can rise well above 10 degrees. Not only can the weather in the valley wreak havoc on the landscape, but so can the daily highs and lows and the side of the valley you chose to play on. Everyone knows the Peaks and Three sisters side as the dark side in winter and this can be a blessing or a real pain.
You see the main problem most of us face in the shoulder seasons are the extreme thaw freeze scenarios. The rapid change in climate can lead to all types of nastiness on the roads, bike paths, and trail systems. What is water by day is ice by night. It can catch you off guard right at your front door, or prevent you from playing in the great outdoors. The ice we know here comes and goes in hours and can put a damper on even the simplest of tasks.
Luckily, over the years there have been some amazing innovations that make travel on foot or by bike much safer when the ice comes out and covers our playground. The most popular and simplest item is a rubber cleat for the bottom of your foot ware. With a few sharp little spikes on the bottom that grip the ice, these cleats are great for hikers and walkers. For those on a tight budget, a few short sheet metal screws with the heads facing down to the ground inserted in the bottom of a pair of old hiking boots can work even better. Just be careful not to walk on yours or others nice entrance way floors, they can leave a real nasty imprint. Taking the dog for a run on a river path can turn ugly quickly, but the fine folks at some higher end running shoe companies have made special winter running shoes for just that. With the focus on a warmer, water-resistant shoe and adding a few strategically placed studs to the outsole of the shoe, runners can safely enjoy running even in the worst of conditions.
If you are a bike commuter, then you know how fast you can go down when you hit black ice or a snow-covered patch of ice on a trail. Fortunately, in recent years, tire manufactures have made special winter tires that have a softer rubber compound that is less affected by the cold. Not only is the rubber different but the tires also have factory-installed studs like a winter car tire. Be aware that not all winter studded bike tires are created equally. Some are low mileage and more economic versions of the high-end tires and will use a low-grade alloy stud that will wear out very quickly. If you are looking for multiple seasons of use from your winter bike tires, make sure to look for tungsten carbide tipped studs. Tungsten carbide studs will last years and take a real beating on mixed surfaces like pavement, concrete, asphalt and trails.
If you’re a serious bike rider or runner and can’t be riding the couch when the ice hits, then there are even more aggressive options for you. For the runners who love a certain pair of shoes, you can add high end grip studs to your shoes using a special tool that augers the studs into the outsole of the shoe in the exact place you want the extra traction. This premise is the same for cyclists who are riding mountain bikes and fat bikes all year long. Grip studs can be added to a number of high performance tires and give additional grip when the single track is mixed conditions and even icy. I will be honest, the more extreme grip stud option is not a cheap one, with each stud costing $1.50, studding up a set of your favorite mountain or fat bike tires can cost a small fortune. On the flip side, the years of safe winter riding you will have ahead of you will be well worth every penny.
So, the next time we are faced with the dreaded thaw freeze and your playground is compromised, know that you have options that will keep you safe and upright even in the worst of conditions.