As if it hasn’t been said before, the fat bike movement is a real thing, and it is making it’s way into the world quickly and aggressively. From the new and inventive fat bike frames and full suspension rigs, to the vast amount of tire companies creating new sizes and tread patterns – the fat bike market is certainly not slowing down. As one of the fastest growing winter sports in the US, fat biking has the BLM, forest service, and nordic centers concerned about how the growth of this sport will affect what they have known for so many years now. There are races popping up around the world, and to be honest, fat biking is becoming a way of life for cycling enthusiasts of all skill levels. So where do we stand in North America and Europe for winter access?   Midwest The midwest is at the forefront of the fat biking scene in the lower 48 as far as winter trail access goes. This is attributed largely to the fact that there has been an abundant amount of advocates riding snow bikes there for over a decade.
Fat biking Minnehaha Falls near Minneapolis - startribune.com
Fat biking Minnehaha Falls near Minneapolis – startribune.com
The greater Minneapolis area is dubbed by the Star Tribune as a “Fatbike Paradise” – and there are many reasons why. From the urban Greenway Trail to the 50 miles of groomed trail in six various parks in the metro area alone, Minneapolis has it going on. The majority of the 50 miles of groomed trail is done by various cycling groups in the city who are all self funded and do their grooming with rigged up motor bikes or snowmobiles. The metro area isn’t the only region in Minnesota that has fat bikes on the brain either. The Department of Natural Resources is now grooming 78 miles of trail in various locations of the state specifically for fat bikes.  With user safety in mind, the DNR wants to make sure that fat bikers have their own space to ride, without the worry of speeding snow machines and over crowded trails. The DNR is grooming trails at Jay Cooke, Split Rock and Fort Snelling State Parks, as well as the Luce Line State Trail in Wayzata, and the Gateway State Trail in St. Paul. This is in addition to the 20 miles of trail at the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area in Northwest Minnesota near Brainerd.
Getting fat in Marquette, MI - community.mynorth.com
Getting fat in Marquette, MI – Screenshot from Cold Rolled video
Michigan and Wisconsin are also on top with fat bike access. Namely Marquette, in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula. The Noquemanon Trail Network has recognized the need for a fat bike specific trail system and is offering 70 plus miles of groomed singletrack which is sure to grow each year. This type of access in the midwest did not come without a fight. Unlike the issues many places in Colorado are experiencing, the snowmobiles in the midwest are the biggest competition for trail space. There are some areas where nordic skiers and fat bikers compromise on previously nordic specific trails, and most all skiers agree that fat bikers don’t leave any more of an harmful impression than skate skiers.   Colorado The story for Colorado differs from the midwest due to a few reasons. One being that the sport has more recently surfaced there, and there isn’t as much of a history or following to back it up. Secondly, Coloradans have conflict more so with Nordic skiers, while their relationship with snowmobiles is much more friendly and neutral. IMG_7959 The best way to understand what Coloradans are experiencing while trying to gain access to groomed trails is to compare it to the pure disdain and push back that snowboarders first received when they were introduced 80’s. Mountain towns such as Durango, Breckenridge, Leadville, Copper Mountain, Steamboat, and Crested Butte are slowly beginning to work with fat bikers as far as access on their groomed Nordic ski trails. It is an uphill battle, but they are making waves with more and more access by the year. Of course this doesn’t come without a cost. Some Nordic centers are even renting fat bikes. IMG_7704 The front range of Colorado has some great snow biking because they don’t typically see very high snow totals – and their summer singletrack is rideable nearly all winter. Due to the high bike and snowshoe traffic on these trails during the winter, they stay more or less packed down all of the time. The future for fat bike access in Colorado is unknown. It may be an uphill battle, however, things appear to be looking up with more cooperation from Nordic centers and landowners.   Alaska Possibly the biggest fat bike destination, Alaska, is home to the largest fat bike race in the world, the Iditarod Trail Invitational. People have been riding fat bikes in Alaska for many years. A quote from die hard skier, Tim Kelley, last spring states that “during winters 20 years ago, there would be 10 skiers for every biker on the (Tony Knowles) Coastal Trail, now there are 10 fatbikers for every skier. The days of Anchorage being a ski town are over. Now Anchorage is a fatbike town.”
gomeansgo.org
gomeansgo.org
Fairbanks is another Alaskan mecca for fat biking. With thousands of miles of trail in the area you can connect at your desire, and two Alaskan fat bike companies 9:Zero:7 and Fatback Bikes, Fairbanks is the place to be. There are not many established organizations or corporations who are bothered by multiple user groups on these trails. Most of the trail systems are created by people who use them as a means to deliver goods and services to remote villages and communities.   Greater West The Northwest of the United States is a region where the fat bike frenzy is booming as well. Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, and Northern California are all making progress with fat bike access, but are running into issues with both Nordic centers as well as snowmobilers – especially in Idaho and Wyoming.
Jug Mountain Ranch, Idaho - www.skiisandbiikes.com
Jug Mountain Ranch, Idaho – www.skiisandbiikes.com
Idaho has worked with many ranches across the state to allow fat biking on groomed Nordic track and singletrack areas when snow conditions allow. Such ranches include Jug Mountain Ranch in McCall. The foothills of Boise are also seeing quite a bit of fat bike traffic. Harriman State Park outside of Island Park, ID just released last week that they will now allow fat bikers on their premier Nordic area. There are fat biking opportunities in northern California in towns surrounding Lake Tahoe and the Royal Gorge. Fat biking in and around Salt Lake City has also become a very popular location to ride. The Global Fat Bike Summit was held in Salt Lake last January, and is due to be held in Jackson Hole next week.   The East Where there is snow in New England, people are riding fat bikes. A few of the more popular snow bike destinations around the east include the Kingdom Trails system outside of East Burke, Vermont. The Kingdom Trails system has acknowledged the popularity of winter biking and is grooming their entire summer singletrack trail system for winter use as well. However, conditions must be just right for the trails to be rideable, and with the weather in the East, there are many times where they are closed. Kingdom Trails has embraced the fat bike culture, however, has not let it affect their pristine Nordic trails either – they are keeping the two separate, but equal.  I believe this is a great model for other areas across the country to adopt as it keeps both user groups happy. To ride here, you must hold a season pass or a day pass – and the Nordic Center provides rentals as well.
Photo: Herb Swanson
Photo: Herb Swanson
The Catamount Outoor Center in Vermont is also embracing the growing segment to mountain biking that is fat biking. Here at Catamount, fat bikers are allowed on ALL of the trails, and are asked to abide by IMBA’s fat bike etiquette and stay out of the ski tracks. Their trail system makes up over 35 kilometers of groomed beauty. They are even doing a weekly group ride on Fat Wednesdays.   Europe North America is not the only destination for winter fat biking. It is also becoming huge in Europe, especially the northern countries. In fact, the Snow Epic, Europes first winter bike festival, occurred last week in Engelberg, a town in the heart of the Swiss Alps. The Snow Epic is a 5 day stage race consisting of three races on groomed trail which is normally reserved for skiing. With huge sponsors such as 45NORTH, Rocky Mountain, DT Swiss, and Borealis, the official racer list shows 101 men and 10 women who showed up to race in this first year event. SnowEpic-7-900x600 Other areas in Europe are working on creating more widespread and consistent access to groomed trail – however most European fat bikers who are looking for a long trip are having to forge their own paths.   Fat biking as a sport is picking up and gathering respect around the world. Many areas are working on an uphill battle with conflicted user groups such as cross country skiers and snowmobilers, but most are making some sort of headway with access – slowly but surely. What can you do to help? Talk to your local land management groups, BLM, Forest Service, and Nordic ski centers to create a balanced relationship. If you do have access to limited Nordic ski trail in your area, be sure to follow the IMBA fat bike etiquette and keep the trails pristine as to show them that fat bikes really do have a low impact.

10 Comments

  1. Harold Veldkamp

    Too bad you didn’t mention the good work of the people in Finland who organise the Rovaniemi 150 for quite some years now. This being the only qualifier in Europe for the ITI so far, I think the organizers deserve the credits for their work.

    • Hi Harold, we are familiar with the Rovaniemi 150 and it was included in our article from a couple of months ago “11 Winter Iltras that will test your limits” – thanks for the reminder!

  2. Too bad Quebec, the french part of Canada just a short trip north of Vermont and Maine, rich with snow and Maple Syrup isn’t mentioned. Maybe it’s our language barrier, maybe it’s more. One thing is for sure, we love snow, and we love bikes. now we love fatbikes so much some would be tempted to say we’ve invented it (or was that Poutine?).

    Never the less, we have well over 260 km of trails (that’s 400+ miles) of trails available to fatbikes, and that’s made of a jolly mix of ski trails, snowshoe trails and yes a LOT of singletrack used for biking in summer.

    We also have plenty of events, races, demos parties and other bike-related shenanigans happening. Even a lake crossing event, a big one (Lac-Saint-Jean) if you’re the adventurous type!

    I am currently putting together a list of shops that rent bikes, so far I’m at 42, and it’s still coming in.

    Feel free to visit our trails repertoire (and let Google translate do the dirty work) you’ll see we’re pretty welcoming! http://www.velo.qc.ca/sentiers

    See you on the (white) trails!

    • Thanks for all of the info, Francis! Sounds like fat biking is alive and well in Quebec! This article is by no means an official list of all areas where fat biking is popular, just a quick resource including information about what is happening with fat bikes and winter access in some areas of the world.

    • According to my math 260 Kilometers are actually 161 miles. Still more then I would do in a few days so that’s great.

  3. We have good access in Bend, Oregon. Snowmobile trails are open to us, Snowshoe trails are open, AND we, COTA, have a permit from the Forest Service for a two month trial for groom trails specifically for Fat-bikes this winter. We look forward to keeping the trails going in future years. Now if the weather would cooperate!

    http://cotamtb.com/2014/fatbike-groomed-trails-are-coming-to-wanoga-sno-park/

  4. Good piece. As an aside, in p1, it’s “its”, not “it’s”.

  5. Forgot to mention Canada and beer.

  6. Mike Rutter

    Hi Lindsay,

    In regards to the paragraph about Front Range snow:

    “The front range of Colorado has some great snow biking because they don’t typically see very high snow totals – and their summer singletrack is rideable nearly all winter. Due to the high bike and snowshoe traffic on these trails during the winter, they stay more or less packed down all of the time.”

    As a trail builder for Boulder County Parks and Open Space I would say it is equally a large issue for us from a sustainability issue. there seems to be a contradiction in the statements, “…they don’t typically see very high snow totals…” with “they stay more or less packed down all the time.” In fact, because “summer singletrack is rideable nearly all winter” we as land managers down here are dealing with increased snow packing from the added use of fat bikes, which leads to ice, which leads to glacial conditions, which then percolates water on the trail during those runs of 60 degree temps we get this time of year.

    Fat bikes aren’t entirely to blame, but they are adding duress to an already sticky situation. It seems to take far fewer fat bikes to completely pack out a trail then hikers. Snowshoe traffic could have the same effect, but is not as prevalent on County trails as it is for the city of Boulder trails. I plan on photo documenting the impact of fat bikes on snow trails (starting today, as a matter of fact). Once the trail begins to melt out, trail users will abandon the mud and slop and begin to “creep” the trail to either side to escape those conditions.

    Winter is schizophrenic along the Front Range and there will always be conditions that warrant closures due to muddy trails. The movement I’m trying to enable is to round up posses of locals to adopt the trails in their area and shovel those sections of trail that tend to be the worst–usually only a few hundred feet. We often close miles of trail because of a few sunless ravines or north facing slopes. Why close a trail system for weeks at a time when one day of shoveling could ensure trails are primed and ready to go once the sun pops out? This way that “summer singletrack” truly IS rideable all winter long.

    Fat bikes belong and should only prosper, but we need to ensure that their unique demands don’t compromise the experience of other users or the very environment they travel through.

    -Mike Rutter
    Boulder County Parks and Open Space
    Boulder, CO

  7. NW Wisconsin is the midwest mecca for singletrack – both in the summer and in the winter. CAMBA(Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association) recently passed the 100 mile mark for singletrack in the area…..30 miles of that is groomed by local groups in the winter. The fatbike scene here is unsurpassed, and features the Fatbike Birkie, two weeks after the American Birkebeiner cross country ski race….the only opportunity to ride on the legendary Birkie ski trail.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *