Keith Sanders: Switch gears this winter with fat biking
Mountain Biking with Keith
The last few set of snow storms ended our mountain biking on dirt. At this point mountain biking can morph into many different forms. There is the dream and fantasy of next summers rides or escaping to the desert to get that trail fix. That is often times accompanied by interludes across the internet looking at your favorite mountain biking sites and rides in distant places. Let’s not forget searching your own photos with a bit of nostalgia of this past summer’s rides and great the great places you have been. There is every employer’s favorite, the daydreaming at work which may not be productive but often much more satisfying.
Then there is fat tire biking. Your riding doesn’t have to end; it just needs to switch gears. Fat tire biking can extend your season to one of riding year round. Let’s face it early season skiing is often times not that good and has you thinking about doing something else to get outside and have some fun. Fat tire bikes are mountain bikes with very wide tires, 4” or more. These bikes can ride on packed snow and are a great alternate activity to the normal winter adventures.
We have a lot of places to ride fat tire bikes. In fact, Winter Park is an unknown mecca for fat tire riding. While most riders struggle to find a place to ride in the winter we have a large trail system just waiting for us. Once winter is here any trails packed by snowmobiles make for a great ride. I tend to favor the trails that have the most compaction as they are the easiest to ride. Trails compacted by other users such as fat bikers, cross country skiers, snow shoe users and others can be a lot of fun but are more difficult to ride due to them being more narrow and varying in consistency of compaction. Cross country resorts such as Devils Thumb and Snow Mountain Ranch have great trails for fat tire bikes as well. In fact Snow Mountain Ranch has added fat bike specific trails to their trail system. Classic winter adventures can now include most of the forest service roads and often times your favorite summer trail. USFS keeps some of the Elk Creek area roads open for Christmas tree cutting which makes for an easy access quality experience, particularly in the early stages of winter. There are literally hundreds of miles of options for you.
I thought I would share a few of my favorite rides with you. Most often these are well packed with little mid week traffic. You can typically find me a day or two after a storm on the east side of Fraser. My route takes me up County Road 8 to USFS 128 (this is where I was passed by a moose on the road) USFS 128 will eventually intersect with the Rollins Pass road (USFS 149). From there I turn down the Rollins Pass road and drop back into Idlewild via Crosstrails (as long as it is well packed) which allows me to either head home by way of the Red Gate access or continue into the town of Winter Park. If you are entering or existing Idlewild by way of the Red Gate, PLEASE STAY ON the Ridge Trail as that is a courtesy access through private land. This especially applies to skiers, snow shoe users and hikers as those on fat bikes can’t go off a compacted trail.
Another option is on the west side of Winter Park and Fraser. I begin Winter Park and ride up Vasquez Road into the forest access. From there I turn west onto USFS 159 which will bring me to the Elk Creek road (USFS 158), dropping me back into Fraser.
A few tips for your fat tire excursion. Dress in layers, just like summer riding you will sweat a bit on the climbs and need to stay warm on the descents. Booties over your cycling shoes and warm socks are a must. There are also insulated cycling specific shoes available now. You don’t want to have cold feet halfway through the ride. Bring along something to cover your face, whatever you prefer skiing will work just fine. Resist the temptation to head down a trail that hasn’t been packed, you may not be able to ride back up it in deep snow. Your fat tire bike does need a bit of compaction to ride well. You can climb very steep packed terrain as the wide tires give you amazing grip. Low tire pressure is very important. I run my tires around 4 psi or less. This not only improves traction but also creates the least amount of impact on the trail as lower pressure tires flatten out thus reducing the tire track. Every user impacts any trail they chose to travel, being aware of that and minimizing the impact helps maintain the highest quality experience.
I hope you get out on a fat tire bike. It can be a lot of fun and certainly a great alternative activity early season while we are waiting for more snow. If you are looking to try fat biking there are a few places to rent them. Of course my shop Beavers Sports Shop in downtown Winter Park has bikes to rent. Icebox Sports in Fraser keeps a good selection. You can also rent them at Snow Mountain Ranch and Devils Thumb Ranch. Have fun, smile often and see you on the trails.
Beavers Sports Shop at the Best Western in Winter Park weekly group ride is now over for the season. Come join us this spring as soon as conditions will allow 970-726-5988.
Looking for more information? Like Grand Mountain Bike Alliance (GMBA) on Facebook. GMBA is your local mountain bike group. Check out Mountainbikecapitalusa.com. Great site by the Winter Park Chamber!
Keith Sanders is the President of the Grand Mountain Bike Alliance, 3x US National Mountain Bike Champion and owner of Beavers Sports Shop. You can reach me at email@example.com
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