Tired of lift lines? Here’s how to pedal through packed powder on a fat-tire bike in Summit County.
There once was a time when cyclists had to stable their steeds for the winter — a time when falling snow was a no-go and spinning chairlifts meant it was the day for a new weekend activity.
But not so is the case anymore since fat-tire biking continues to grow in popularity. The sport gives cyclists the chance to hit the trails in winter when packed snow covers the forest floor. Much like snow tires on a car or snowshoes on feet, fat bikes take advantage of wider tires to increase traction and float over wintry surfaces.
Fat biking offers some unique challenges when compared to mountain biking. For one, conditions can vary. While a mountain biker navigates roots and rocks, a fat biker needs to watch out for snow drifts, ice, frozen footprints and all sorts of shifts in the snowpack.
“Every day turns into an adventure,” Breckenridge Open Space and Trails specialist Tony Overlock said.
A ride can go from great to frustrating in an instant. Like snowshoers going from gingerly stepping over a firm crust of snow to knee-deep postholing, the environment can change.
So just like normal mountain biking, the state of the trail matters. If tire treads are leaving tracks, it is time to turn back. But instead of mud, what worries a fat biker is powder, said Overlock.
“If it’s difficult to pedal, turn back,” he said.
Bikers should, like anyone else, strive to leave no trace. That includes leaving behind ruts and tire tracks or destroying Nordic ski tracks. Fat bikers should wait for what most skiers and snowboarders would call a bad day: firm, hard-packed snow.
So when the trails at the resorts are mimicking a classic East Coast ski day, Overlock said fat biking can offer an alternative.
“It provides another option to get outside and escape,” Overlock said.
The town of Breckenridge checks its trail conditions regularly throughout the winter and posts updates online at BreckenridgeRecreation.gov.
If a rider is going out for their first time, Overlock emphasized a few key things to remember. First and foremost, bikers should be aware of trail etiquette. Bikes yield to others, especially when gravity is on their side.
As mentioned previously, bikers should stop and turn back if they find themselves leaving a rut. Additionally, people need to remember to wear layers. The ride may start cold, but after a few climbs, a full winter coat could feel like a sauna.
So where can fat bikers go in Summit County? The answer: a lot of places, with a few key exceptions.
The many recpaths snaking through Summit County offer a good place to start. The paths connect Silverthorne, Frisco, Copper, Keystone and Breckenridge, and fat bikes can handle the paths even with a dusting of snow — if not a blanket’s worth.
Breckenridge offers a wide variety of trails for fat bikers, from machine-groomed trails to singletrack naturally packed down by boots, snowshoes and skis. Overlock estimated the town has about 20 to 30 miles of trails for fat biking.
The Gold Run Nordic Center is the only Nordic Center in Summit County to offer machine-groomed trails for bikers as well as bike rentals. Fat bikes aren’t allowed on every trail, but the center’s range of terrain still spans difficulties from easy to intermediate to difficult. The center also offers bike tours, including tours on the full moon.
Fat biking doesn’t need to be a high-adrenaline activity, and there are events you can join and imbibe on the way. Just be careful since drinking while riding can still land you a DUI. The Breckenridge company Ridden hosts guided history tours through town in the winter. Riders learn about Breckenridge’s mining, arts and ski history, with stops at the Breckenridge Distillery and Broken Compass Brewing replete with sample shots and pints of beer.
It’s a 4-mile ride, mostly downhill, tour guide Chris Cargo said. That means the tour offers a chance to experience fat biking without as much high risk behavior as one might find on an icy stretch of singletrack. Visit BreckenridgeBikeTours.com for details.
Notably, the Frisco Nordic Center does not allow fat biking on its trails in the winter, yet it does have the Frisco Freeze Fat Bike Race.
Forest Service land is also off limits, due to winter restrictions on wheeled vehicles, with the only exceptions being the Summit County recpaths and the few roads plowed for cars, White River National Forest spokesperson David Boyd said.
Closure dates on Forest Service roads can vary based on elevation, but most are closed from Nov. 23 to May 21. Cyclists can find specifics about riding on Forest Service land on the White River National Forest’s website and its motor vehicle use map at FS.USDA.gov.
This story originally published in the winter 2022-23 edition of Explore Summit magazine.
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