It’s blue skies, snow-covered trails, and mountain air—I’m not on a chair lift. In fact, I’m not even on skis. Like so many Parkites and visitors who discover the plethora of seasonal recreation suddenly available after the snow falls, I am fat biking, a growing sport putting rapid demand on gear, guides, and grooming. “The sport has really taken off over the last several years,” says Rick Fournier, Field Manager for Mountain Trails Foundation and resident Trails and Grooming Operations Manager, “Bike shops can’t even keep them in, they’re completely sold out. It’s just been incredibly popular over the last few winters.”
Fat Bike Tires Explained
Fat Bike tires run anywhere from 3.7” to 5.2” in width and run air pressures as low as 5 PSI, giving you better “float" and maximum traction. So, groomed or not, these larger tires are packing the track as you ride, all while getting you from parking lot to peak.
Suspension is a buzzword in summer biking, but when the ground cools, so does the chatter. “You’re running a tire that really is providing a lot of suspension in itself, and you’re running it anywhere from 5 to 15 psi with the sweet spot between 8 and 10 psi. The tire itself is providing a lot of the cushion,” says Byrne, of the suspension-less Fat Bike frames he and his clients ride. So components manufacturers do make suspension specific for fat bikes, such as the Rockshox Bluto.
Where to Ride Fat Bikes
Established singletrack networks like Round Valley, Bonanza Flat, and Clark Ranch all see regular grooming by the Mountain Trails Foundation. This means a small snowmobile towing a weighted sled packs the trail, hardening the snow to support the weight of the bike and rider. Plus the more traffic the trails get, the better packed they become and are easier to maintain. The amount of trails open and groomed depend on current snow conditions. Most loops are between one and five miles, and there are numerous connections, allowing you to link together a lot of trails for a 10+ mile ride. To plan your ride and see current grooming reports and conditions, check out the Park City interactive trail map!
Local guide services in Park City can take the guesswork out of finding a fat bike ride in the winter. Both All Seasons Adventures and White Pine Touring offer fat bike rentals and guided tours. When you book they'll ask a series of short questions about your riding experience and fitness and then craft a custom ride just for you!
I’ll admit, my first time on a fat tire bike was half science experiment half stubborn adventurer. And my hands? Yeah, they were cold in summer gloves. But one of the perks of visiting a destination town like Park City is the flood of outdoor enthusiasts who have turned their passions into professions. “We provide all the equipment, bikes, and helmet,” says Byrne. “From the moment a guest walks out the door, we’re going to take care of all of their needs. The guide is there to give them the tips, the pointers, to assess their ability levels, and to put them on the trail that fits.”
Grooming Fat Bike Trails
Fat Bikes can be ridden year-round, but their glory days in Park City range from November to April, when the snow is heaviest. “It really depends on conditions, and conditions change so quickly over the course of a winter,” says Fournier, “We groom in some really deep powder snow conditions. It’s quite often what we’re dealing with in Park City.” While fat bikes can be ridden on dirt trails, their wide footprint can quickly turn the surface of the trail to dust if there is enough traffic. And they roll quite slower. Their wide footprint and extra traction are best for riding on snow.
The dry snow of Utah can be a challenge to create hard-packed trails, but great for those occasional spills. “If we haven’t had snow in a long time it can be icy. If we get a lot of fresh snow, it’s just that much more of an effort. If we get snow the night before it’s just not gonna happen,” says Byrne, cautioning new riders who might venture out on their own, and adding that despite the varying trail conditions, Fat Biking is a “great way to get out and bike in the winters. The trails that are maintained are some of the best in the country when it comes to Fat Biking on single track.”
Trail Etiquette Still Counts
Just as in summer, the trails in Park City are home to an array of activities—from Nordic skiers to runners and snowshoers to fat bike riders. Trail etiquette helps to maintain a lasting system of single track for all users. “Our trails are multi-use. We’re grooming singletrack specifically for fat bikers, our largest user group on our single track in winter. We try to push the idea that when we pack the snow immediately after a snow storm we encourage folks to snowshoe, it’s another means of packing it and a good way for folks to enjoy single track without damaging the trails until the snow has had a chance to firm up. Usually, after a day it’s solidified and in good shape and it will support the users a little bit better.”
Today, with the increase in tours and excitement around the sport, Park City is home to miles of groomed singletrack and maintained each winter with the help of Mountain Trails Foundation and Basin Recreation, who assess conditions and terrain. “Five years ago, we needed to try to up our game and do something to try and accommodate [Fat Bike] users,” says Fournier, “We started with maybe five miles of trail that we were grooming kind of as an experiment. This year we’ve added another 6 miles.”
And with all of this talk about usership, I started thinking about the best way to ensure the trails remain in good shape for many years and vacations to come. “Respect the trail,” says Byrne, “Don’t leave ruts on Cross Country Ski trails and be respectful of all trail users. Stick to the trails that are fat bike specific.” Something easily done in a town with miles of trail and a mountainscape in the distance. The Mountain Trails Foundation has a guide to trail etiquette. And it's important to practice kindness and respect with other trail users. Be sure to allow faster riders to pass and yield for snowshoers and Nordic skiers.
Where are You Going to Ride?
While you needn’t be an expert to enjoy the sport, just giving it a shot will turn fat biking into an addictive compulsion you’ll want to repeat year after year. Park City is adding more groomed singletrack to fat bike on every winter. And with free transit services to reach the harder-to-reach areas like Clark Ranch or Bonanza Flat, throwing a leg over a fat bike and getting out is easier than ever. So, give it a try. No one forgets how to ride a bike. But fat biking in the winter puts cycling into a totally new perspective!