Take 5: Talking fat-bike future before the 2017 Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte | SummitDaily.com

Take 5: Talking fat-bike future before the 2017 Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte

In Summit County and across the High Country, fat biking just might be the unwanted stepchild of winter sports: It's your best bud when the snow is boilerplate, but when there's fresh powder at Breckenridge or Copper (or anywhere else), it's the last thing you want to do.

"In Breckenridge, we're still not sure where fat biking will go," said Jeff Westcott, owner of Maverick Sports and race director for the Fat Bike Open in December, the first event of Summit's new winter fat-biking series. "We're still a ski community and we get so much snow, so I really don't know where it is going to fall… I think people are so jazzed to be sliding on snow right now."

That hasn't stopped the town of Crested Butte and Borealis Fat Bikes, a manufacturer based in Colorado Springs, from testing the boundaries of a new sport with the second annual Fat Bike World Championships.

This weekend, more than 250 cyclists from across the nation and world come to Crested Butte for a pair of races: a 20-mile North Village race on Thursday, spread across eight laps on a 2.5-mile singletrack loop; and the 34-mile World Championship race on Saturday, with five laps on a six-mile Nordic loop for elite riders and three laps on the same loop for Open riders.

Joining the fray for his second year in the Open division is Summit local Darron Cheek, a self-described "cyclist stuck in a ski town" who races road bikes in the summer, cyclocross in the fall and Mav Sport's new fat-bike series in the winter. Until the advent of fat biking, the native of North Carolina was stuck inside for months at a time, but these days, it makes for a nice respite from stationary trainers. Between snowstorms, he rides a Specialized Fat Boy with 4.6-inch tires on trails at French Gulch in Breckenridge, Rainbow Lake in Frisco and just about any snow-packed road.

That's only if there aren't fresh powder turns. At 51 years old, Cheek is an avid snowboarder when he's not in the saddle, but he only makes it out when the snow is deep and the conditions are nearly perfect.

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"I like to joke that I was one of the first snowboarders in North Carolina," said Cheek, who moved to Summit 25 years ago and picked up cycling to recover from an ACL injury about 17 years ago. "Like everyone, I came here for the snow and stayed for the summer."

A few days before the first race of 2017 Fat Bike Worlds, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Cheek to talk about snow training in Summit, the future of fat biking and why any time in the saddle — cyclocross, fat biking or good-old road cycling — is better than nothing.

Summit Daily News: Let's start at the top: How and when did you get into fat biking?

Darron Cheek: It was a couple of years ago when I first started, but it was mainly last winter when I really got into it. I'm a cyclist stuck in a ski town these days, right? I just like to get out and ride in general. I race cyclocross on the Front Range, and that season runs from September or October and into December. I went to Nationals for that in January, and so I like to think I'm a serious, Masters-level mountain biker and cyclocross rider.

For me, fat biking is a way to get out on the trails and ride when the skiing isn't so great, but when the snow is good you have to be skiing. This just opens up another activity.

SDN: Is fat biking what you expected it to be? It's similar to mountain biking, but not quite.

DC: The first really good time I got out there was like anything — the conditions make the experience. I'm a powder skier, so that's the only time I'm out skiing. The conditions just have to be right for what you're doing.

SDN: Snow conditions have been pretty incredible this winter. Has that cut into your time on the fat bike?

DC: True, this season has been tough for fat biking with all the good snow since December. I just finished cyclocross racing two weeks ago though, so I was averaging a lot of distance. I'm probably at about 60 miles on the fat bike this past week and I try to get 40 to 60 miles per week all winter. It's just a matter of riding on the fat bike to keep that going. It's a way for me to stay fit… I'm just along for the ride, using this as a way to keep from getting fat, you know? It's how I get my fix.

SDN: Where are your favorite places to ride in town?

DC: The French Creek and Horseshoe Gulch area: Sally Barber, Turks trail, those back there. On those trails, again, the conditions just have to be right, so I've been doing lots of riding around the Peak 9 base area, near Warriors Mark and onto the town roads that are skier packed. The Rainbow Lake trail network in Frisco is also a great place to be.

SDN: You're an avid cyclist, so let's talk about the future of fat biking. Think it will catch on?

DC: This town hasn't really embraced it as much yet. It's catching on in other mountain towns, but it hasn't here yet. I think it's just a matter of opening things up and getting more terrain for bikes. It's like skiing: I live in Blue River, but I travel everywhere to do things. You look at Steamboat, and they embrace just about any winter sport, and they have trails — these in-town trails — that are groomed just for fat bikes. The same goes in Leadville. Breckenridge might get there, but for now it's difficult, rough, primitive. It's not manicured.

SDN: Do you think that will happen anytime soon?

DC: Well, they just did something at the Gold Run Nordic Center, and I commend them for trying to manicure those surfaces for fat bikers. But it's still evolving, and fat biking is still just a training tool for me. I just don't like to struggle, you know? I'm such a roadie that I'll go ride on the roads with a fat bike, like up into Highlands and Peak 7. I think if the Nordic centers embrace it more, it'll have a place. You need everyone though — the snowshoers and the Nordic skiers and even the walkers. For fat bikes, you don't want groomed corduroy. You want that foot-pack.

SDN: Onto Fat Bike Worlds. How have you been preparing for your second year there?

DC: Just getting out and riding. I went last year, but I was only there for the Thursday race, not the Saturday race — the Championship race. Hopefully the conditions out there will be good. Anyone can put on a race and anyone can promote, but you really need to have the trail work to prepare and make it the best.

SDN: Any unexpected surprises that first year?

DC: I got what I wanted. It was sunny, it was a bluebird day, and that was perfect. You can imagine how difficult it would be to be out on a trail with a whiteout and flat light, just like skiing. You just can't stay on the trail. This year, I hear the Thursday race is going to be on singletrack with lots of up and down, and the Saturday race — the World Championship race — is at the Nordic center on flatter ground.

SDN: Without jinxing anything, where do you hope to place?

DC: I'm just there to do another race, you know what I mean? I'm not exactly targeting a placement, but I hope to do well. The real thing about this is that it's a party. You probably have about 20 people who are real, hardcore cyclists, and then you have another 200 or more who are there for the experience. The fat biker thing is like snowboarders were when it first came around — no one really understands it. You'll see lots of beards, some costumes, some lumberjacks. It's still growing.

2017 Fat Bike World Championships

What: The second annual world championships for fat bikers, hosted on a combination of groomed singletrack and Nordic trails in the Crested Butte area

When: Wednesday to Sunday, Jan. 25-29

Where: Crested Butte

Cost: Free for spectators

Registration for all races is full, but the Thursday singletrack race and Saturday World Championship race are free and open to spectators. The weekend also includes fat bike demos, vendor tents, free beer, prize giveaways and more, plus open fat biking on resort runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. To get more info, including location and a schedule of events, see the officials website at cbfatbikeworlds.com.

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Summit at Worlds

Summit County is sending a slate of locals to the 2017 Fat Bike World Championships. A select look at the competition:

Taylor Sheldon — pro road cyclist with Jelly Belly USA and 2016 Fat Bike Open winner

Kevin Sheldon — Taylor’s father and veteran Summit Mountain Challenge series rider

Jeff Cosplich — longtime local and past Fat Bike Worlds competitor

Scott Reid — veteran mountain biker and past Fat Bike Worlds competitor

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