Fat Biking 101: Your Guide to Snowbiking in the Inland Northwest

I remember the first time I saw a fat bike at a bike shop in Spokane about two and a half years ago. I asked about it and was told it was great for riding on sand at a beach. I looked at the price: $1,700. I picked it up and felt how heavy it was – 40 pounds! Lacking that “vision thing,” I could not see much of a future for spending that kind of money on a bike that heavy in Spokane, a place that doesn’t have a whole lot of beaches. A year ago, after going for a couple of rides, I learned how wrong I was. Fat bikes provide an awesome riding experience in the snow. But you don’t have to take my word for it. If you’re a cyclist, chances are you’ve already met one or more people singing the praises of fat bikes.

More converts means more stories, which means more sales for local bike shops, and hopefully more trails in the future. Anyone following the Facebook pages or websites of our local bike shops has seen the notices listing the various fat bike makes and models, some of which are in short supply. Mike Gaertner, owner of Vertical Earth Bike Shop in Coeur d’Alene, has been carrying fat bikes for five or six years. He sold one a year until last year when six left the shop. As of the beginning of December, he has sold four. For Joe Brown, owner of Methow Cycle and Sport in Winthrop, last winter was a banner year for fat biking. He couldn’t have enough bikes to meet the rental demand, and this year looks to be even better, with bike rental reservations going into March. Along with a group of volunteers, Brown grooms two sets of trails on nearby state land that each have about five miles of trails to ride on.

As long as conditions are right, the wide tires and low tire pressure leave little more than tread marks on a groomed Nordic trail. Under a lot of conditions, a fat bike provides a smooth, flowing ride in the snow that beats any mountain bike. It’s still a workout, but it’s a far more satisfactory workout with much less frustration than that caused by narrower tires sinking into the snow. Trails that have a base – including snowmobile, approved Nordic, and fat-bike specific trails – provide a better ride than loose snow, but loose snow is not impossible to ride in either. Trails that have been partially packed by snowshoers or hikers can also be a good option. Regardless, I have yet to meet a fat bike owner who didn’t think their bike was a lot more fun than they expected.

Where to Ride a Fatty
Speaking of which, what trails can you actually ride a fat bike on in the winter? The humorous answer is just about any one you want. The real answer, though, is just about any one you want as long as it’s allowed and you follow the rules. A good place to begin is your local bike shop. A couple of them have shop rides during the winter.

Spokane and Coeur d’Alene
If you are familiar with the trails near High Drive, Palisades Park, the Spokane River, Beacon Hill, and Riverside State Park, then you already know of some options near Spokane where you can ride depending on conditions. Mount Spokane State Park allows fat bikes on the multi-use trails, which they may be sharing with hikers, snowshoers or snowmobiles. Bikes are not allowed on the Nordic trails or in the alpine ski area.

Around Coeur d’Alene, you have many locations in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. Canfield Mountain has 25 miles of trails. Sometimes Mike Gaertner at Vertical Earth leads snowshoe hikes at Canfield to pack down snow and create a base on the singletrack so fat bikes can ride them. He also leads rides on snowmobile trails that you can access at 4th of July Pass, the top of Fernan Saddle, and at Hayden Creek.

According to Brian Anderson at Greasy Fingers Bikes and Repair in Sandpoint, there are about 150 miles of groomed trails in his area at Trestle Creek, Pack River, and McArthur Lake. And Priest Lake has over 400 miles of snowmobile trails. When riding on trails you share with snowmobiles, it’s recommended you use lights to make yourself more visible, and yield to the machines. You can hear them coming.

Leavenworth and the Methow
Over in central Washington, the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club currently does not allow fat bikes. Mark Milliette, General Manager, says they plan to allow fat tire biking on a trial basis later this season. The venue would be at Leavenworth Ski Hill under the lights with limited days and times. The launch is likely to be in late January after the Bavarian Cup Nordic Race. The Methow Valley Sports Trails Association near Winthrop has some trails open to fat bikers. They have a policy similar to Schweitzer’s. Go to www.mvsta.com/winter-trails/fat-bike for the policy and current conditions. The Sun Mountain Lodge near Winthrop also has trails specifically groomed for fat bikes. More info and a map of those trails are available on the Sun Mountain Lodge website: www.sunmountainlodge.com. You can rent bikes at the Sun Mountain Ski Shop or at Methow Cycle and Sport.


Schweitzer Mountain Resort
Ski resorts that have Nordic trails are also getting in on the action, but there are rules to abide by concerning sharing the trail and preventing damage to it. Schweitzer Mountain Resort not only allows fat bikes on some of their groomed trails, they also rent bikes, which provides you an opportunity to try one without having to buy one first. Schweitzer requires each rider to have a daily pass or a Nordic season pass. Tires must be wider than 3.7 inches and inflated at no more than 10 psi. They ask you to stay off the trail under any of these circumstances: there are three inches of new snow, you’re leaving a rut deeper than one inch, you can’t ride a straight line, or you need to get off and push the bike. Bikes also must yield to all other users. You can view the complete policy and check current conditions here: www.schweitzer.com/mountain/snow-report.


49 Degrees North
Doug Elledge, Nordic Director at 49 Degrees North, says they haven’t had any inquiries about fat biking on their trails yet, but they developed a policy in anticipation of any interest. They are allowing fat bikes to use the Nordic trails with some restrictions. The policy will be posted at the Nordic center yurt, including etiquette and conditions in which bikes will not be allowed, such as soft snow. With cooperation from the bike community, Elledge says there is no reason why this additional user group should not be welcomed to share the trails. The Nordic Center provides free parking and collects reasonable trail use fees. Season passes are also available.


Fat Bikers Unite
Along with bike shops, connecting with other fat bike enthusiasts is a good way to find places to ride and others to ride with. In our area, search Facebook for Northwest Fatbike, Idaho Panhandle Fat Bikers, and Fat Bike Kootenay. By the way, members of the Northwest Fatbike group are getting together in Winthrop for some riding and socializing on Jan 18-19. Check out their Facebook page for details: facebook.com/northwestfatbike.

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