Fat biking has finally made its way to the Colorado Rockies.
It’s taken a few years. Fat biking is still a relatively new sport, named for the oversized tires and frames that make them perfect for riding on slick and slippery snow-packed trails. It started winning converts in the Midwest several seasons ago, and these days fat-bike races draw upwards of several hundred riders for laps on flat, fast courses in the chilly Great Lakes region.
Why has it take so long to catch on in the heart of ski country? Simple: Sometimes the snow here is just too deep, soft and, well, skiable.
“As everybody says, we’re a little bit behind on this trend because we have such good skiing,” said Chris Cowley, an employee with local event organizer Maverick Sports. “The skiing has just been so good the past couple of days that you can’t get on the fat bike. Now I say that, but I still saw four people riding bikes down my street this morning.”
Earlier this December, Cowely and Mav Sports celebrate the start of what’s hopefully a winter-sports renaissance when they hosted the first-ever Fat Bike Open at Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge. The event drew nearly 70 competitors — “The turnout was even a little unexpected,” Cowley said — including dozens of locals, a few Front Range riders and even a couple of pros, like original Firecracker 50 winner Dave Wiens. He dropped by to get a little practice as racing on fat bikes before the first-annual Fat Bike World Championships this January, hosted just don’t the road in Crested Butte.
“The racing is starting to pick up around here, and, with the World Championships — of course there’s a Worlds now — there’s even more buzz on the racing side of things,” Cowley said. “That’s different than just the riding side.”
True — racing isn’t for everyone. That’s why Gold Run is embracing this funky-but-familiar new sport with open trails on select days. On Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays, fat bikes are now allowed on all trails except for Hoodoo Voodoo. They’re also allowed on
“It was really to accommodate a new user group,” Gold Run manager Marika Page said. “There weren’t many places in the community where fat bikers could ride, and this provides a place where people are welcome and have access to those good, packed-out trails.”
RIDING IN WINTER
Fat bikes perform well in snow and slush, but even veteran mountain bikers need a bit of practice on mellow trails before heading onto tree-lined singeltrack. That’s where the Gold Run trails come in. Page and Cowley say access to groomed trails is perfect for beginners who are just getting their bearings on a big, slow, moon-boot-feeling fat bike.
“You get a feel for what you can handle by riding those wide, groomed trails on a fat bike,” said Nick Truitt, a local pro mountain biker and owner of Breck Bike Guides with another pro, Sydney Fox. “Once you get comfortable, you can venture out into the more intimidating singletrack around town. Honestly, if it snows and dumps, fat biking is just not the greatest sport on the trails. We tell our clients the same thing.”
Groomed trails are a beginner’s dream, but Page reminds everyone to treat the trails and Nordic users with respect. So far it’s been working just fine.
“We put a lot of responsibility on fat bikes,” Page said. “They need to know that skiers have the right of way at all times, but they have been super receptive of the rules. They are more than willing to help out.”
It’s part of embracing a new sport, Page says, especially when fat bikes are still banned on U.S. Forest Service lands. Even the government hasn’t quite caught up with an untested activity. But with respect comes respect, and officials are re-evaluating rules for winter access. The slow-but-steady process reminds Cowley of another funky sport Breck was quick to embrace: snowboarding.
“I don’t want to say fat biking is like the snowboarding and skiing controversy, but it’s a little like that,” he said. “You just have to be nice to each other out there.”