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A few years ago, almost nobody had heard of fat biking. Nowadays, it’s one of the fastest growing winter sports in the U.S. To accommodate the new demand, more bike clubs and land managers are grooming snowy trails specifically for the wider tires.
Take Minnesota, home to one of the most robust fat biking scenes in the country. The state's department of natural resources has pledged to groom 78 miles of trail this winter, specifically for super-wide tires. This grooming serves two purposes—it gives bikers ideal hard pack conditions (you don’t want to ride in fresh, soft snow) and it separates bikers from other users, like cross-country skiers and snowmobilers, sidestepping potential user conflicts.
“You’re seeing the same sort of growing pains that mountain biking went through in the ‘80s, when they were the new user group in the forest,” says Hansi Johnson, recreational lands program director for the Minnesota Land Trust. “But honestly, fat bikers don’t want flat cross-country ski trails. They want to ride the same thing they ride in the summer: singletrack.” With the right equipment and snow conditions, bikers can rip these skinny, groomed trails almost as fast as they can during the summer.
But where? Here are four fat bike destinations with the groomed trails and bike rentals necessary to experience this new sport at its best.
Love Variety? Minnesota's Options Are Unbeatable
Few states in the Union can compete with Minnesota’s sheer volume of trails dedicated to fat bikers. But the best in the state are found in Duluth, where a burgeoning new system of flow trails translate beautifully to snow biking. Up to 15 miles of trails are groomed directly after the snow falls. Look to Lester Park, on the east side of town, for beginner-friendly machine built trails, while Mission Creek, on the southwestern end of town, has arguably the best flow. Ride the 1.5-mile Loki for sweeping berms and endless rollers.
Rentals: Continental Ski and Bikes rents the Charge Cooker for $65 a day (aluminum, rigid), or you can splurge and rent a Borealis Carbon fat bike for $95 a day.
Visit Vermont's Fat Bike Sanctuary (No Skiers Allowed)
Kingdom Trails outside of East Burke, is a model of both land access and trail design, and they’re forging the path for winter access as well, adopting a “separate but equal” approach to trail access for cross country skiers and fat bikers. The Kingdom Trails Nordic Adventure Center packs the entire network of trails on the east side of Darling Hill with snowshoes and snowmobiles, giving fat bikers 20 miles of singletrack to choose from, including big time summer favorites like Pines, which offers year-round flow. Bonus: the trails are even marked like ski slopes—green for beginner, black for experts. Day passes are $15.
A Killer Backcountry Experience in Washington
The Methow Valley Sports Trails Association operates the largest Nordic ski system in the lower 48, with 120 miles of groomed ski trails winding throughout the Methow River Valley. The association slowly started opening their groomed trails to fat bikes three years ago, and today, fat bikers have 18 miles of groomed trails to choose from. Most of the trails are wide to accommodate skate skiers, but the terrain is rolling and gorgeous. Easy loops begin in the town of Winthrop, but for the ultimate experience, pedal the seven-mile Gunn Ranch Trail for sweeping views of the valley and its surrounding ridges, and the chance to stay at the Grizzly Backcountry Hut ($100 a night, midweek; sleeps 8). $22 for a trail day pass.
Rentals: Methow Cycle and Sport rents Salsa Mukluks and Kona Wo’s for $55 for 24 hours, and you can ride straight from the store to the in-town trail system. (509) 996-3645.
Michigan Means Singletrack Heaven
The fact that Marquette, a hamlet on the south shore of Lake Superior with only 20,000 residents, has four bike shops says something about the town’s priorities. Biking is core to the community, and that love has translated into the winter months. In the county of Marquette, more than 70 miles of singletrack are groomed for fat bikes. Even more telling, the clubs are building trails in the summer with winter fat biking potential in mind. You could point blindly on the map surrounding town and hit a killer trail but head to the south side of town for the 12-mile Snow Bike Route system, where Freak n Nature offers impossibly huge berms.
Rentals: Sports Rack in Marquette rents Salsa Mukluk’s for $50 a day.
Plus: Three Never-Break Fat Biking Rules
- Wait for truly cold weather. Anything above freezing, and the tires will damage the trails.
- If you’re on groomed Nordic trails, stay out of the classic ski tracks. Ride on the hard packed skate tracks instead.
- Just like during the summer, mountain bikers are low on the totum pole for trail right of way. Keep that in mind when you see a skier headed your way on a shared system.