From Crystal Mountain, Homewood, Flagstaff, Grand Targhee, and Bend, to Giants Ridge, Stratton, and Sugarloaf, fat bikes are- pardon the pun- blowing up. The goofy-looking rides with the oversized tires are taking over ski resorts large and small, popular with everyone from local commuters to tourists. While they still garner curious looks, the sheer number of regional fat biking groups is proof that they're here to stay. Curbed Ski recently went for a snowy spin in Telluride, and we've subsequently become obsessed with the sport. Read on for the origins of fat biking and the best ski towns in which to take a winter tour.
Please note that outfitters are listed in no particular order.
Fat biking has its origins in Alaska as a way for support teams to follow the Iditarod. Similar to mountain bikes with wider rims and titanium or aluminum frames, the tires range from 3.7 to nearly 5 inches in width. This makes it easier to float on powder, crush uneven, crusty terrain, and they can even be pressure-adjusted (they average 4-5 pounds) to increase or decrease the footprint, allowing for better traction. Flotation is, of course, key for riding on snow, but fat bike enthusiasts have now found year-round uses for them, as the bikes also kill it in desert conditions, and shallow water situations like river beds and beaches. They offer superior stability, even if your cycling skills are non-existent.
There are fat bike races held nationwide, but ski country- particularly Colorado- is where these monsters reign supreme. The great thing about fat biking is there's no learning curve. Even if you've never been on a mountain bike, you can handle a fat bike on the flat (as long as it's groomed, or you have quads of steel). Hardcores bomb downhill track or slope (note that it's illegal to ride them on-mountain at most ski resorts, even after hours, so do your research before hitting the hill), and fat biking is just as epic on a snowy day as bluebird conditions. It's also a hell of a workout. Be sure to wear close-fitting layers, including gloves, and hiking boots or other comfortable, insulated shoes that don't restrict your pedaling.
A growing number of outfitters and rental shops are offering tours, most with a distinctive regional vibe. Should you decide that fat biking is your jam, see if you can rent one next time you visit a ski resort- they're growing in popularity so quickly that even giving an up-to-date list for this post proved impossible. Your best bet is to check with your destination's bike outfitters and Nordic centers, to see if they rent/permit fat biking, and go from there. Now, onward, to our favorite fat bike tours, which cater to all skill levels.
Bootdoctors/Paragon Outdoors: It's here that Curbed Ski first fat biked, and there are few better outfitters in the area than this longtime ski/bike shop (props to guide DeAnne for her easygoing manner and for answering our many questions). They offer rentals and customized individual or group rides on their fleet of Salsa Mukluks for all abilities. The most popular trip is a pedal across the peaceful Valley Floor (watch for the resident elk herd; if it's snowing as it was on our ride, the atmosphere is nothing short of ethereal) up to Telluride Brewing Company in Lawson Hill. After a tasting, you can either ride back to town or opt for Paragon's shuttle. Instead of letting your buzz wear off, check out Curbed Ski's new Telluride Dining Guide for places to aprés and eat well.
Tahoe Mountain Guides: This Truckee-based outfitter offers group (two-person minimum) and beginner tours customized to your needs. North Tahoe has a vast, diverse trail system, so if you're looking for something more intense, no problem; either way, you'll be pedaling on a Rocky Mountain Bicycle, one of the top manufacturers in fat bike-dom.
Sierra Adventure Center: Just 45 minutes from Mammoth, you can hit the trail on a customized tour, be it a Sunday bike and brunch ride, or a tour of local bars, historic points of interest, or an exploration of the region's admittedly spectacular geology, flora, and fauna. Locally-made snacks included (meals come with longer rides).
Sun Dog Athletics: Aspen is going gangbusters for fat biking, and no wonder, given the scenery. Sun Dog Athletics offers tours to the Maroon Bells and Hunter Creek Valley- suitable for all levels, (beginners their speciality), on Trek Farleys, Surly Pugsleys, or Salsa Mukluk bikes- three top-of-the-line rides. Post-pedal, check out Curbed Ski's newly updated Aspen Dining Guide for a spot to après and eat.
Admittedly, there aren't any outfitters offering tours here yet, but this is the town that put fat biking on the map in the Lower 48. Crested Butte just added a component to their famed 29th Annual Alley Loop Nordic Marathon race in early February, and you can rent fat bikes from Big Al's Bicycle Heaven. Best places to ride: Slate River Road, Kebler Pass, Washington Gulch, and Gothic Road. Beginners should check out a loop that's part of the Nordic Center Trails, called Town Ranch. Check out the Gunnison-Crested Butte Fat Bikers Facebook page to stay on top of what's new.
Teton Mountain Bike: It's hard to imagine many domestic fat biking destinations with a better view than Grand Teton National Park. You can also tour the National Elk Refuge or rent bikes to ride on groomed trails. All tours include information on the region's winter ecology. After a 6 to 10 mile spin, treat yourself to a meal at Jackson's primo on-mountain dining destination, Couloir. Also in Jackson this winter: The Global Fat Bike Summit Jan. 23-25, featuring night rides, races, and pub crawls.
Breck Bike Guides: New this season, fat bike tours on Rocky Mountain and Borealis bikes cover the Town of Breckenride trail system (they'll be offered in summer, too). Rentals also available.
Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments or send us an email.
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