Jamie Emmer credits his smartphone and his bike for allowing him to ski 80 to 90 days a year. His phone allows him to manage Lumber Marketing Services, his Hope, Idaho-based business, from a chair lift. His bike helps keep his knees healthy enough to handle moguls and steep and deep runs at his local ski resort, Schweitzer Mountain Resort in nearby Sandpoint.
Mr. Emmer, 62, used to run, but started to struggle with knee pain. He began spinning and road biking 20 years ago. “It was the closest I could get to a runner’s high,” he says.
While skiing 10 years ago he saw a fat bike, which has oversize tires designed for low ground pressure to allow for riding in soft, unstable terrain like snow and sand. “I always thought biking ended with winter,” he says. “I had to try it and was hooked immediately.”
Mr. Emmer says fat bikes are more cumbersome than mountain bikes. “They’re nowhere near as nimble or reactive, so they require a bit more body control.”
During the winter, Mr. Emmer and his wife, Wendy, live at their second home on Schweitzer Mountain. “It really allows me to take advantage of winter,” he says. His skiing and biking throughout the season acts as preparation for the Leadman, a triathlon that takes place each April at Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, Idaho. The race consists of a 1-mile ski, 7 to 11 miles of downhill mountain biking, and a 4-to-5-mile run. “You start at the top of the mountain and end at the bottom,” he says. “By April, it’s always pretty muddy, so you finish unrecognizable.”
Mr. Emmer says he’s tried training on stationary bikes and treadmills, but no matter the temperature, he’d rather be outside. “Breathing deep and hard in the outdoors and experiencing the changing scenery is something I find spiritual,” he says. “It’s also pretty hard not to feel like you’re a kid again when you’re out on your bike, even in your 60s.”
Mr. Emmer rides before sunrise in the winter and uses headlights on his bike to see. “I don’t drink coffee, so this acts as my morning jolt,” he says. “I keep it short and quick to get my heart racing and my blood flowing,” he says. He rides up Schweitzer Mountain, which takes him about 15 minutes, and then “bombs” back down.
He usually alpine skis later in the morning, then clicks into his Nordic skis to hit the 20 miles of Nordic trails at Schweitzer. After skiing, he tries to pedal on the stationary bike in his condo complex.
“I’ll check emails as I ride,” he says. “Pedaling for 10 to 15 minutes prevents my knees from stiffening up later in the day.” Mr. Emmer got into ski racing at 45 and trains and competes with the Schweitzer Alpine Racing School masters program. Every Friday night in February he competes in the Schweitzer Mountain Starlight Race Series. He recently got into backcountry skiing, which requires him to ski uphill. “It works a different muscle groups while keeping the aerobic conditioning up,” he says.
On weekends, he’ll go on two-to-three-hour fat bike rides. “It’s a great stress relief and always puts a smile on my face,” he says. He used to ride with his wife but says she felt she was holding him back. After a few years of not riding together, he recently got her an electric fat bike. “Now she’s at the top of the mountain waiting for me,” he says.
Mr. Emmer says he eats mostly paleo, focusing his diet around vegetables and protein. He avoids bread and sweets. He used to start his mornings with granola, but now cooks eggs. “My splurge is adding a few strips of bacon,” he says. Lunch is usually fish and a salad and dinner is elk or grouse and vegetables. “My wife and I try to eat fresh, organic produce,” he says.
The Gear & Cost
His Minnesota 3.0 model fat bike from Framed Bikes cost just under $1,000. He uses his Nordic season pass at Schweitzer Mountain ($129-$169) when he bikes the trails. A season alpine pass there ranges between $649 and $999, depending on when it’s purchased.
“I like everything from country western and classical to heavy rock,” he says. “It really depends on my mood.” His playlist includes “The Funeral” by Band of Horses, “Refugee” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and “Rockin’ in the Free World” by
Big Wheels, Big Health Benefits
When the snow falls, you no longer have to swap your bike for the spin studio. Fat bikes have tires between 4 and 5 inches wide, which allow bikers to ride with lower tire pressure. “This affords them a much higher level of traction, which makes it easier to ride on snow,” says Leigh Bowe, a Frisco, Colo.-based coach for VIDA MTB Series, a women’s bike clinic.
Ms. Bowe says riding a fat bike requires you to engage your core more than with a normal bike. “Your abdominal muscles help you to maintain balance on the slippery, snowy trails,” she says.
Kristin Schwarck, a Breckenridge, Colo.-based physical therapist and cyclist says a strong core also helps make smoother, more efficient turns. The quads, hamstrings and glutes also come into play. “Slipping and spinning out occurs more frequently with snow and ice,” she says. “Hip mobility, glute and core strength will help recover. Keeping a slower pedal cadence, as well as centering your body on the bike, will help decrease spinning out.”
The slipping and sliding also engages small muscle groups used for balance, says Uriell Carlson, a mountain bike coach in Breckenridge. She says beginners should try to look one to two bike lengths ahead to where they want to go and maintain even pedal strokes so they don’t lose traction in the snow.
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