It’s blue skies, snow-covered trails, and mountain air, but 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 Tire 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’ve completely sold out of them. It’s just been incredibly popular over the last few winters.”
As a yearly participant in the sport, one of my biggest underestimations when starting out was the terrain. Replacing the skinny tires and nimble frame of my modern mountain bike with the sturdier more rugged tred of Fat Bike tires seemed like an improvement, but don’t underestimate the manpower required to pedal through a softer trail and well-hidden rocks with a heavier bike. “You can’t think it’s gonna be the same as whipping through a dirt switchback,” says Spencer Byrne, co-owner and Fat Bike Guide with All Seasons Adventures, a yearly guide service offering (amongst their many sports) private Fat Bike tours. “It’s like jogging on a beach. People have to be fully prepared. It’s important that you’re a capable biker. We want our guests to enjoy the experience.”
And while you needn’t be an expert to enjoy the sport, knowing where and when to go could turn an exhaustive day into an addictive compulsion you’ll want to repeat year after year.
Gear - The Bike
Fat Bike tires run anywhere from 3.7” to 5.2” in width, giving you better “float.” Which means 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 buzz word 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 client’s ride.
Guides – All Seasons Adventures
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.”
And with options like Bonanza Flat, Round Valley, Rail Trail, and Clarks Ranch, riders of all skill levels can find a home on Park City’s winter trails.
Grooming – The Conditions
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.”
It’s true, 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.”
Just as in summer, the trails in Park City are home to an array of activities from Nordic skiers, to runners, to snowshoers and 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 single track 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 20 miles of single track groomed and maintained each winter with the help of Mountain Trails Foundation and guide companies like All Seasons Adventures, 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 mountain scape in the distance.