Don't let winter put you off the big stuff; pack right, check the weather and head for the mountains, says Sim Mainey
Don’t let winter put you off the big stuff; pack right, check the weather and head for the mountains, says Sim Mainey.
Helvellyn, 19.02km (11.82miles)
GPS download: po.st/helvellynmbr
Yomping up towards Helvellyn’s summit from Thirlmere with Pat Campbell-Jenner from Identiti Bikes for the Best Of British series reminded me how adaptable – and popular – this mountain is. In summer there’s a multitude of options for scaling it, but in winter you need to be a bit more canny. If the ground is hard and you’re after a challenge the Birks ascent and descent is for you. If there’s been a fresh dumping of snow then your best bet is the traditional and relatively easy to navigate Sticks Pass ascent and descent. If there is snow it’s worth going to take a look at The Lake District Ski Club on the side of Raise with its button tow lift – there’s the potential for racing skiers back down to Glenridding. Check the fell top assessors daily update before commiting to a particular route and go properly prepared.
Snowdon, 23.45km (14.57miles)
GPS download: po.st/snowdonmbr
On a good day in winter Snowdon simply can’t be beaten. The dizzying views over North Wales, the yin-yang of burning legs from the climb and the super-cooled air in your lungs at the summit, the quality and quantity of the riding back down to the familiar comfort of Pete’s Eats in Llanberis – not many mountains can top Snowdon. On a bad day though it’s a cloud and rain shrouded fortress that will see you off before you have a chance to see anywhere near the summit. So it was when I headed up Snowdon’s Rhydd Ddu path for a feature, amusingly about how I’d never managed to get to the top of Snowdon before. We didn’t get to the top and it took me another year to finally see the summit. Winter is actually the best time to attempt Snowdon – the steady flow of tourists heading up the mountain has eased and, more importantly, the voluntary ban on riding between 10.00 am and 5 pm from 1st May to 30th September is lifted.
High Cup Nick, 17.83km (11.08miles)
GPS download: po.st/highcupnick
Summer is a great time to take in this classic loop, but unless it’s approaching drought conditions things can still be a bit damp under tyre. This is because it sits on the watershed line. A raindrop landing on one side of this line ends up in the Irish Sea, whilst one landing on the other finds its way to the North Sea. In a deep freeze, however, you’re almost guaranteed to keep your toes dry. Although they might get a little chilly. This is unapologetically a ride all about the view at the top of High Cup Gill. The scooped out valley is a natural wonder and on a clear day the Lakeland fells look tantalizingly close. Crunching over peaty singletrack on the way up and getting all teary eyed on the blast back down this is a short but sweet ride.
Calderdale, 23.32km (14.49miles)
GPS download: po.st/calderdale
The South Pennine moors in winter can flip between a grey and featureless expanse and a glorious golden tundra depending on which day – or even hour – you catch them on.
Whilst the moors themselves can be fragile in winter, as well as pretty sloppy, the gritstone rocks, boulders and escarpments and weather-proof packhorse trails make them a good place for both covering distance but they are also a good place to practice skills.
Winter can suck the motivation from your riding so it helps to take time to refocus and look at keeping your skills sharp for when the weather improves. For the Trials to Trails feature we set out on a typical Pennine loop but stopped more often to practice clearing sections smoothly, putting the emphasis on improving our riding rather than just smashing out a route.
Dunnerdale, 29.61km (18.4miles)
GPS download: po.st/dunnerdalembr
Walna Scar, but not Walna Scar. This is one of my favourite Lakeland loops and it was put together by a friend who’d scrawled out the route on the back of an envelope. Literally. I decided to see if this sketchy route had anything to it, took a gamble and came away grinning. It’s not easy going in winter with plenty of opportunities to get wet (it is the Lakes District after all) but it’s a proper day out and has all the elements that make for a deeply satisfying mountain bike ride. The singletrack sections in particular feel almost too good to be true – tight, flowy and with none of the usual National park traffic. Worth getting wet feet for, that’s for sure.