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Obese Bikes Putting the Sit and Squash on Crap Ski Days

Mountain magazine bike test director Nick Truitt in Breckenridge, CO.

Mountain magazine bike test director Nick Truitt in Breckenridge, CO. (photograph Lisa Seaman)

With a fat bike, your worst ski day could become a highlight.

My friends and I are zipping through the wooded foothills west of Boulder, Colorado, on a shite snow day. An inch-deep crust hides four inches of depth hoar. On stretches without snow: glare ice. Any softer and we’d endo into a tangle of juniper. Any slicker and we’d slide out of each turn.

But our five-inch-wide tires pumped to a squishy five psi grip the crud snow like rubber tank treads. One minute we’re railing a snow-banked turn, the next confidently ascending a steep gully. Sure, our big-wheeled bikes look like something built for an obese clown. Yes, they’re slower, heavier, and sillier looking than normal mountain bikes. But in ski towns across North America, fat biking is becoming to winter as rafting is to summer. Which is to say: a smidge lumbering, a tad cumbersome, but fun as hell. 

“If it snowed a bunch the night before, then people want to ride the lifts,” says Guy Paulsen, winter sports manager at Silver Star Mountain Resort in central British Columbia. “But if the snow is bad or everything’s skied off, they’re seeking other experiences. Bad snow for skiing is great snow for fat biking.” And Silver Star—with nearly 10 miles of easy to expert fat bike dedicated trails—is one of the best places to try it.

Trail access at Silver Star costs $7 CAD; add a two-hour rental for $25 more. Paulsen sends newbies to Bridle Path, a wide, tree-lined trail also popular with the Nordies. They soon graduate to true singletrack thanks to special fat bike specific groomers. The trails open up to views of the surrounding mountains. As with Nordic skiing, you can thaw your toes in a warming hut.

Stateside, Wyoming’s Grand Targhee Resort was the first U.S. ski area to fully embrace fat biking. Its nine miles of mellow, groomed Nordic trails slalom through aspen and pines, and four more are true singletrack. Or, head to Marquette, Michigan’s Noquemanon Trail Network, situated in the Upper Peninsula on the south-central coast of Lake Superior. The town’s passionate fat biking community all but perfected the equipment and techniques used to groom the 15-mile Snow Bike Route just outside of town. The result is a fast, narrow trail with steep descents and high-walled bermed turns—just imagine propelling your bike down a snow-covered bobsled track.  —Jason Sumner

From the Early Winter 2015 issue.

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