Rubber is meeting snow at ski resorts. Lift-accessed winter fat biking launched at one Midwest resort while others allow for fat biking during non-operating hours or on groomed Nordic trails.
Fat bikes sport monster tires and redesigned components to work with those tires. They are similar to mountain bikes but with beefy tires that are 3.5-5 inches wide. Air pressure can be adjusted to handle various surfaces, snow to pavement.
In late January, Spirit Mountain in Minnesota started loading fat bikes onto the Spirit Express for winter descents. The resort may be the first in the country to offer full-fledged lift-served fat biking. Last year, Spirit Mountain tested the viability of bikes on the slopes in an enduro race, and local interest piqued for more.
“We’re excited to offer biking in winter,” says General Manager Jody Ream. “In Duluth, the COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores) guys are very passionate about winter fat biking, and it seemed like a solid fit.”
That solid fit refers to the extension of Spirit Mountain’s summer mountain bike program. “Our summer bike parks and summer downhill operations have been growing steadily for last three years,” adds Ream. “The structure with how Spirit Mountain is set up with slopes and bike trails right next door makes a unique setting where we can integrate alpine and bikes.”
This winter on Sundays, fat bikers have lift access to ride down Timber Cruiser run, a 700-foot vertical descent. Riders can dive off the groomed run into the trees for the single-track feel. In addition, summer bike park trails such as Candy Land, Happy Camper and Lower Calculated Risk have the snow packed for winter fat biking.
Word is spreading already. Ream has seen a strong local contingency of fat bikers from Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Other fat bikers have traveled from Michigan, New York and Nebraska. “They came specifically to try it,” he points out.
For now, Ream keeps the fat bikers separated on the slope from skiers and snowboarders by permitting bikers only on fat bike day. But they all mix at the top and bottom of the hill. “They seem to play well together,” he says. “We’re considering integrating on an additional trail to see how it goes.”
So far, fat biking seems to be a hit. Ream reports that skiers and snowboarders have been in awe when riding the lift with bikers.
Reservations to fat bike at Spirit Mountain can be made online. To prevent overcrowding, the resort limits the number of fat bikers each day.
Fat bikes are heading up the lift in winter at Spirit Mountain.
Copyright: Spirit Mountain
Elsewhere, more resorts are admitting fat bikes. Some Colorado resorts that permit fat bikes restrict them to non-lift hours. Crested Butte added fat bikes for uphill travel and riding groomed slopes to the top of the Red Lady and Painter Boy lifts before or after lift hours. Steamboat now permits fat bikes during non-lift hours on 11 green cat track runs. Sunlight also permits after-hours fat biking.
Fat bikers can also ride several Nordic centers at ski resorts when the snow packs sturdy enough to prevent bikes sinking in deep. Trail etiquette requires fat bikers to avoid the classic tracks, and riders must purchase trail passes. In the Rockies, fat bikers can ride the groomed Nordic trails at Grand Targhee, Purgatory and Howelson Hill. In the Midwest, Crystal Mountain grooms a trail dedicated solely for fat bikes, and Giants Ridge lets fat bikers ride with Nordic skiers. In New England, Stratton’s Nordic trails permit bikes.
Checking out the fat bike trails at Kimberley Alpine Resort, B.C.
Copyright: Raven's Eye Photography/RCR
Canadian resorts are getting into the fat bike action, too. In British Columbia, Kimberley and Fernie started renting fat bikes for those who want to pedal their Nordic trails. The resorts have also slated events, tours and lessons. Whistler’s Olympic Park also allows fat bikers to ride designated trails.
Off the ski resorts, guided fat bike tours are popping up in Lake Tahoe, Aspen and Telluride. Fat bikes make the transition to winter biking easy.