When Sun Valley-area cycling enthusiasts wanted to ride their fat bikes last winter, they groomed their own trails.
They’d get together in the evening at a trailhead like Adams Gulch, ride their bikes as far as they could, dismount and snowshoe the rest of the way — packing the snow.
Then they’d return the next day to ride their bikes on the “groomed” trail.
That kind of effort showed the passion cyclists have for the growing winter sport, helped them organize and has opened the door to professionally groomed trails around Idaho.
The Fat Bike Advocacy Group of Sun Valley has grown from a dozen core members to 80 email subscribers. The group staged its second annual race in Sun Valley last month and will hold its second annual event in Stanley on Saturday.
“We want more places to ride,” said Bill McCann of Ketchum, who is one of the key figures in the FBAG (Facebook.com/FatBikeAdvocacyGroup). “We want people to ride with. We like to have races. .... Part of it was the frustration of going out and snowshoeing in a trail, putting in all that effort, and then having it snow and you’re back to zero. We really wanted to have groomed trails so you at least have a fallback.”
FBAG helped open the Bigwood Sports Park this winter and convince Sun Valley Resort to open the dog loop and boundary loop Nordic trails to bikes for the first time. Bigwood, which is a golf course in the summer, used FBAG’s groomer to create three single-track trails that cover more than 5 miles. The groomer was purchased late last winter, in part with proceeds from the Sun Valley race.
The group also worked with the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Blaine County Recreation District to create the Durrance Demo Loop, a third-year, temporary trail that is open to fat bikes.
The initial FBAG meeting was to “figure out how we could be good stewards of the sport and work toward creating new riding opportunities, new trails, new access points,” Tory Canfield of Ketchum said.
“It’s getting people out and it’s showing the sport is here to stay,” McCann said.
Success stories have occurred elsewhere in the state and around the nation.
Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area near Boise recently opened its Nordic trails to fat bikes on Monday evenings. The riders pedal in the dark on a night when the cross-country trails are closed.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado began allowing fat bikes on alpine ski runs before and after regular skiing hours this winter. And Spirit Mountain in Minnesota mixes fat bikers with downhill skiers on Sundays.
The popular trial at Bogus hit a snag this week when fat biking was canceled because of soft conditions.
“It’s a test run to see how it goes and what the demand is,” said John Hart, the marketing director at Bogus. “And then we’ll probably start working on a plan to extend it. We’re wrapping our heads around where we could put in some nighttime, single-track trails.”
At Bogus Basin, like many ski areas, the question has been how to blend cyclists with skiers.
So far at Sun Valley, the experiment has gone well. The Snowball Special fat bike race was even included in the Sun Valley Nordic Festival this year.
It’s nice, Canfield said, to see cyclists and skiers smile at each other as they share the trails. McCann enjoys both sports, which he says are complementary. Soft conditions and fresh snow favor skis; firmer, crustier conditions favor bikes.
Fat bikes have tires that are 4 inches or more wide with super-low air pressure (often less than 10 psi), a combination that allows the bikes to float on the snow and gain surprising traction on slippery surfaces.
“Night rides can be just amazing,” McCann said. “The moon’s out and the stars are out and you just hear the crunch of the snow under your tires and it’s just peaceful and a lot of fun.”
FBAG’s hope is that a place like Bigwood will allow more people to share that experience. The single-track trails are the equivalent of riding on a dirt road, said Rebecca Rusch, a Ketchum-based competitive cyclist who has consulted on the facility. Bigwood allows dogs and also offers snowshoe trails.
“We’re in the education phase,” Rusch said. “It’s $8 to come get a trail pass here. We know that we’re not going to make any money on that. The idea is to educate the user group. ... For me, it’s just a little more exciting to be on single track. It’s swoopy, turny — it adds another element of challenge and fun for me.”
Boise has a fat bike group as well — Fat Bike Boise on Facebook — that shares ideas on places to ride. They’ve supported the Bogus Monday rides, debated whether to purchase snowmobile stickers to access those groomed trails and found the bikes useful in the sand at Bruneau Dunes.
Fat bikes are actually usable year-round. Marc Grubert of Boise uses his to pull a trailer of tools to work on the Avimor trail system.
“I started riding it around in the snow and fell in love with it,” Grubert said. “... Once you’ve done it in the right conditions, it’s pretty addicting and it’s fairly inexpensive. You can get a starter model for around $700. More and more I’m seeing a lot of my friends transition over to it and explore it, ride it in the summer — it’s fun in the summer, too.”
But the fat bikes are at their most crowd-pleasing in the snow, where Todd Byle sees a fairly standard reaction from first-time riders.
“It’s the giddy, laughy feel that you get where it’s, ‘I shouldn’t be able to ride that,’ ” said Byle, the cycles manager at Sturtevants of Sun Valley. “And you just kind of bulldozer right through it like a tank.”
That’s what fat bikers have done to their access challenges, too.
In just a year, the riding options have expanded from few to many.
“There was a lot of concern at the beginning that the fat bikers were going to ride wherever they wanted to,” Canfield said. “There was some tension about that. So our work was really focused on allaying those fears and showing we wanted to work collaboratively and not against the system.”
New Playing Outdoors section debuts today
Our new section — to appear in Explore every Wednesday — focuses on the outdoor activities that we all love to enjoy in the Treasure Valley, from riding fat bikes to hardcore hunting and fishing. And we want to hear your ideas — activities you enjoy and stories you’d like to read about. Send your feedback to outdoors@IdahoStatesman.com
A first-timer’s take
I couldn’t have chosen a worse day for my first fat bike ride. Turns out, the one thing that will stop the monster truck of bicycles is fresh snow — the softer the surface, the more they struggle. And I arrived in Sun Valley in the middle of a storm. Still, it was fun. The bikes climb icy hills with surprising ease and get just squirrelly enough going downhill to put a little thrill in the sport.
Want to try it?
Sun Valley Resort, Bigwood Sports Park in Ketchum (aka Bigwood Golf Course in the summer), Jug Mountain Ranch near McCall, Tamarack Resort near Donnelly and Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area (Monday evenings only) have trails open to fat bikes.
- Bigwood offers a $30, four-hour package that includes a bike, helmet and trail pass for its single-track system.
- Sun Valley doesn’t have rental bikes but offers two of its cross-country ski trails to fat bikers. Local bike shops have rentals.
- Jug Mountain rents fat bikes for $35 for four hours or $50 for a day.
- Bogus Basin allows fat bikes on Nordic trails from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday nights. The trail fee is $10, which is included with an alpine or Nordic season pass. Idaho Mountain Touring in Boise and Meridian Cycles rent fat bikes.