Don't misinterpret — Henna Palosaari isn't slowing down at all. At least not when it comes to biking. Instead she's taking a more thoughtful approach to life, travel, and cars. In true Palosaari fashion, this turned into an adventure of epic proportions, bikepacking through the Dolomites with skis in tow.
Follow along with Henna, Malva Björkman, and Sami Sauri as they set out on a nine-day trip through the Dolomites.
It was late February in Innsbruck. Henna sat at her desk, browsing the map to see what destinations were close by — destinations with great skiing opportunities that could be easily reached by bike. The winter in the Austrian Alps had been the worst in living memory. The usual endless fresh snow had been replaced by grass and mud. Normally, at this time of the year, we were too busy to enjoy the powder days in the snowy resorts to even think about wasting this precious time riding bikes. This year was different. It was time to slow things down and finally see if combining two sports, bikepacking and snowboarding, could actually be truly enjoyable.
"We're actually doing it!" Malva exclaimed as we hopped on our bikes in Innsbruck. "My bike shakes like crazy, is this normal?" Henna asked, seemingly nervous after the first 500 meters. Sami reassured her that she'll get used to it by the time we reached the Dolomites. Dolomites, a destination with iconic sharp-toothed, sheer-sided mountains that stand enormously tall as the background whether it’s summer or winter. And most importantly, only a couple of hundred kilometers away, making it reachable by bike. The only question was whether our plan of a 5-day cycling and 4-day skiing journey from Innsbruck to Lago di Garda was actually realistic without becoming a sufferfest?
“It’s definitely a first, biking up to go ski touring,” Henna gasped as we made our way up to our first skiing spot. This winter, the snow line had been even higher than normal, at around 1000 to 1500 meters. Normally, we would drive up to the snow line and start touring, but not this time. Now, it meant first climbing 600 meters from the village with bikes before changing into skis and tackling the rest of the 750 meters with skis and splitboards. Our bikes were loaded with skis/splitboards, ski/snowboard boots, backpacks, poles, skins, ski clothes, crampons, and sleeping bags, all secured with many, many straps. “At least the body is already warmed up by the time we start touring,” Malva smirked.
As we arrived at our accommodation the previous night, the snow had started to fall, giving hope for some fresh lines the next day. The trees and roofs were covered by a thin layer of snow, making the whole town glisten in the morning sun as we hopped on our bikes the next morning, excited for the first ski day. “Watch out for sharks,” Henna shouted as all three of us 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 us from enjoying the first turns of the trip. “Shitty snow but so much fun to be riding!” Malva summed it up as we were riding the last meters down.
With smiles or without smiles, the reality was that we still needed to bike another 31 kilometers to our next accommodation. Exhausted, we crossed the border to Italy in the dark, dressed up in all the layers we had, and descended down towards Vipiteno. “I don’t think we can keep on doing this for 7 more days in a row,” Sami said, and we all nodded in silence. Lesson learned - while enjoying a hearty dinner, we decided to split the rest of the days between the two disciplines to make it a smoother and, most importantly, more enjoyable experience.
"No way, is that a ski slope?" Sami shouted after we had just managed to get through a closed trail with hundreds of fallen trees. Route planning on a winter bikepacking trip was a lot different from a normal bikepacking trip. The nice small gravel roads that were usually preferred might be covered by snow or turned into a nordic ski track that had melted into a shiny ice field. Both of these we had to learn the hard way on our trip. “No braking,” Henna screamed as she balanced on the ice field that previously served as a nordic ski track. We survived but decided to reroute the rest of our route to the bigger roads to avoid more such surprises.
We pushed our bikes across the ski slope while gazing at the first Dolomiti peak on the horizon. The 90-kilometer journey to Camping Sass Dlacia was a full day mission, but the sheer-sided mountain peaks colored in shades of pink and purple created a warm and unforgettable welcome into the Dolomites. The drumming of the raindrops the next morning not so much. The campsite was located at 1500 meters, but still, it was not enough to turn the rain into snow. “That is usually rideable,” Henna said, pointing out to a peak on our left side as we toured towards Lavarella hut. The lack of snow made it necessary for us to adjust the next day’s plan. There was simply not enough snow to ski the run we had planned to.
“The rest of the face is pure ice from here to the top,” Malva said. The snow that had started falling after our arrival at the hut had come with too much wind to stick on the icy slopes. Creativity had been the key this winter, finding a way to make the most out of the current conditions no matter how bad they were. After looking around, we found an interesting-looking small couloir and a snowy-looking bowl that we decided to ski. “Go girls,” Sami wrote on the snow as Malva and Henna hiked up to the couloir. The wind was chilly, but the sun was shining as we rode down. "Not perfect but way better than I expected," Henna said, content for the day. The setting sun colored the sharp-toothed mountains in warm tones, giving the final confirmation for a great day in the mountains.
“I’m not feeling that good,” Malva said as the highest massif of Dolomites, standing over 3,000 meters above sea level, looked down at us. The climb was famous among road cyclists, now tackled by three girls with 40-kilogram bikes loaded with ski gear. “2 kilometers in an hour,” Sami laughed out loud as she looked down at her watch and saw the pace we were moving. “But look at that,” Henna pointed out in awe towards Marmolada as she saw the majestic peaks glowing in the evening light, covered in fresh snow. At that moment, everything made sense, even doing a 9-day ski trip by bike.
After seeing the fresh snow on the Dolomiti queen and knowing it was all accessible from the resort’s cable car, we decided to reward ourselves and maximize the time spent skiing down instead of spending it touring up. It was our last day of skiing on this trip after all. “This is why we do it,” Henna screamed out of joy. We found fresh lines between the cliffs, fun turns beside the already tracked ones, good snow and bad snow as we enjoyed the beaming sun and took in the magnificent views overlooking the Dolomites. Smiles bigger than any of the day, we packed the skis on the bike and started a short descent to the next accommodation, only to notice we had booked the wrong one from a village on the other side of Marmolada. Even that could not ruin our mood that day, we kept riding to the next village and booked a new one from there.
The last majestic peaks of Dolomites on our sides and the warmth of the sun growing more intense as we headed towards our last destination, Lago di Garda. Soon the only evidence of the snow and winter was the melting nordic ski tracks. As we passed by the Italian Vineyards, we felt light and relaxed, shed some layers, and chatted with the local cyclists as they passed by us. We knew that we were getting closer to our end destination. Whether it was the tailwind or knowing we could soon pop the champagne bottle gifted to us by our last accommodation, the last kilometers to Riva del Garda flowed in ease. “We actually did it,” Sami shouted as she popped the champagne bottles and sprayed it on Henna and Malva. “And it wasn’t a pure sufferfest,” Henna said, the taste of champagne in her mouth. A 9-day journey combining two of our favorite sports turned out to be a beautiful mix of sweat, laughs, ice, snow, and friendship.