From when the snow melts to when it returns, Summit County has a relatively short mountain biking season. But that may soon change with the growing popularity of winter fat biking — trail riding on mountain bikes with oversized tires.
“It’s the fastest growing segment of the industry,” Maverick Sports Promotions founder Jeff Westcott said of the relatively new niche sport. His company runs the popular Summit Mountain Challenge mountain bike racing series in the summer, and in an effort to promote winter fat biking Mav Sports will organize Breckenridge’s first winter fat bike race, Ullr Bike, as part of next week’s Ullr Fest winter celebration, Jan. 11-15.
The race will take place Friday evening, Jan. 16, at 5 p.m. on a 9.5-mile course at the Gold Run Nordic Center outside of Breckenridge. Fat bikes will also be featured as part of the traditional Ullr Fest Parade on Thursday, Jan. 15, with race title sponsor Borealis Fat Bikes as a parade entrant.
“We first had the idea a year ago,” Westcott said. “We just decided that this was the year to test the waters.”
Friday’s race will be the culmination of a half-day fat bike festival at the Nordic Center with a number of companies offering free fat bike demos starting at noon.
“We’re just trying to get people on the bikes who haven’t tried it before,” fellow race organizer Chris Cawley said. “It’s going to be good exposure for this new, up-and-coming sport.”
Cawley also organizes Copper Mountain’s annual WinterBike race, now in its fourth year. This year’s WinterBike, part of the Leadville Winter Mountain Bike Series, will take place the week following Ullr Bike, Saturday, Jan. 24. That event will also include free fat bike demos both Saturday and Sunday.
The long-standing Leadville series was an inspiration for the new Breckenridge race.
LEADVILLE IN THE LEAD
“We took the lead from the Leadville guys. Those guys have been at it longer than us,” Westcott said.
Cawley added, “They were way ahead of the curve. They were trendsetters.”
Each Leadville race typically attracts about 100 riders; last winter’s WinterBike at Copper included roughly 150 participants who raced on a course through Center Village and along the Nordic trails. Westcott and Cawley said they hope to get similar numbers at their first-year event.
The Ullr Bike race will consist of two laps on a course that incorporates the Gold Run Nordic Center’s groomed trails, which are not normally open to bikes. The race will take place after the Nordic Center closes and prior to groomers preparing the trails for the following day’s skiing.
Demo bikes will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Participants are required to bring headlamps as the race will take place at night on the trail network around the Breckenridge golf course. Competitors may use traditional mountain bikes for the race.
Already popular in the Midwest, fat biking is just starting to gain traction in Colorado.
“Honestly Colorado is one of the last to embrace it,” Cawley said, attributing the slow start to the state’s abundance of winter sports options. Both he and Westcott see it continuing to grow in the future.
“I see it as an alternate activity for those who want variety in the winter,” Westcott said.
A number of area rental companies only recently added fat bikes to their rental fleets and have said it’s been a popular addition.
With the potential growth of the sport, however, Cawley and Westcott both voiced concerns about trail accessibility.
“It’s going to be interesting in the next couple of years,” Cawley said, comparing fat biking to the early days of snowboarding when it comes to future trail access. “We’re breaking ground on a new recreational sport.”
“It’s only been in the last 12 months that it has come to Summit County,” Westcott explained. “This is really the first year where they are getting more prevalent.”
As an advocate for mountain biking, Westcott said he and his group look forward to being a part of the discussion.
Currently there are no restrictions on area trails, except for groomed Nordic trails.