The 4th annual Fat Bike Summit that was held this past weekend in Jackson, Wyoming is an event happening with more than just a single focus. Although, I guess you could say that the Fat-bike is the entire focus, the days are split up between access, trail management and land use issues on Friday and a come one, come all fat fun fest on Saturday and Sunday where fat-bikes are the theme of the day.
Friday started off with a sort of state-of-the-fatbike-market recap by Gary Sjoquist of QBP, to over 200 land managers and industry people dedicated to getting fat-bikers access to more winter use areas. Land managers included people from the BLM, National Forest Service, National Parks as well as State, County and City Park Managers plus Resort Operators who see fat-bikes as an additional fun factor for their facilities.
On of the stated goals of the ongoing Fat-bike Summit series is to gain access to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park in the winter for fat-bike use. This is a long-term goal and every success at other venues helps make a case for the eventual acceptance of fat-bikes in National Parks.
Gary cited continued evidence that fat-bikes are not a fad (production fat-bikes have been around for 10+ years now!) and a plethora of land use success stories that we will learn about below.
With this being the 4th Summit, some of the hard work that has been going on as a result of the past summits is starting to bear fruit. Land Managers are moving past the policy and planning stages to actually implementing trail plans in quite a few areas making them a destination for fat-bike riding. We’ll see more about that in a bit.
Gary talked about how some of the land manager had surveyed users in their areas to determine what winter use fat-bike trails should offer to users and found that the top 4 were:
- Packed Snow
- Moderate Climbs
- Groomed Snow
- Narrow Trails
One of the implications of this is that many existing MTB trails are not ideal candidates for fat-biking in the winter. Sure, hard-core riders will make them work, but the bread and butter of trails sees a more casual to intermediate rider including women and children. Fat-bike owners today are not just
Add in to the mix that grooming really need to be done by machine to allow for enough trail miles to make a destination interesting and it becomes more obvious that dedicated fat-bike trails are the gold standard. That said, there is more than one way to skin a cat and the success stories that we heard about included Nordic ski areas, state parks and resort operators.
One of the benefits that Nordic centers, among others, are seeing is that adding fat-bike to the winter mix is pretty easy. Most people already know how to ride a bike and the fact that fat-bikes are more stable, easier to balance and have better traction is all great for getting folks out in the winter. No need to learn a new skill like how to skate on cross country skis or even shuffle along on classics.
What really had me interested on this admittedly planner oriented portion of the summit was that there were several groups who are seeing success with the implementation of fat-bike use plans. Tim Young from Wyoming Pathways moderated a panel who discussed their efforts.
Linda Merigliano from the Bridger-Teton National Forest discussed the principles of shared use trails making the point that adding fat-bikes to the mix is really just an extension of existing trail use principles.
Andy Williams from the Grand Targhee Resort, over the hill from Jackson in Idaho, talked about how they have integrated fat-bikes into their existing 15K of Nordic trails as well as the addition this year of dedicated, groomed singletrack for fat-bike use. The consensus of those at the summit who’ve ridden the singletrack are that it represents some of the best fat-bike trails to date!
In their 4th year of integrating fat-bikes into their resort at Grand Targhee Andy noted some of the challenges of educating staff, riders and renters about trail etiquette.
Wendy Aber from Durango Bike Company discussed their efforts integrating with the local Durango Nordic system where the have shared use trail as well as custom-built for fat-bikes trails.
Candy Fletcher talked about the incredible success of the Marquette, MI trail system where they have 60+ miles of fat-bike-accessible trails. 30 shared use and 30 dedicated to fat-bikes. Working with money funded through a 5% tax on overnight stays at 30 hotels, motels and resorts, the Convention and Visitors Bureau hired Candy to promote the area and launch new destination activities. Fat-biking was a natural! Groups from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois and several other states have made the trip to Marquette to experience what, up to this point, has to be the best fat-biking destination in the country for dedicated fat-bike winter use.
One of Candy’s strategies to get things moving along is for her to be a conduit for the various user groups and to help find solutions to issues a particular group may have with another by getting the conversation going. Basically, if everyone gets along, Candy helps make sure that the user groups needs are met.
Another aspect of community that helps the Fat-bike Club in Marquette is that the members donate time to other user groups as well as give money to help offset costs associated with fat-bikes sharing use.
Marquette, MI is definitely seeing a positive economic impact from the addition of fat-biking to the areas activity mix.
During the morning break attendees gathered to network and I heard a lot of great idea swapping. The people who attended the Summit are all the kind of folks who are more than happy to share what is working for them and to help others achieve their goals.
John Sullivan from Idaho State Parks talked about the fat-bike program at Herriman State Park just started on January 11th of this year. They are integrating with the existing Nordic system. They have 20 miles of groomed trails and are looking at building Yurts for overnights. John is looking for success because as he says, as goes Harriman, so go other parks in Idaho.
Paul Gritten, the non-motorized manager for Wyoming State Parks, discussed the fat-bike plan at Curt Gowdy State Park and discussed some of the reasons why this is a good idea including:
- Diversification of Parks
- Extending the season
- Attracting new user groups
- Expand revenue
- Realize economic benefits
Ray Spencer from the National Forest Service discussed coexisting with motorized trail users and how to deal with the speed differential of motorized vs non-motorized users.
Sean Harwood is a Regional Manager with the US Forest Service. He manages a large area of the west and discussed some of the hurdles when dealing with a large organization. The Forest Service has more trails than they can maintain and they are looking to new groups of users like fat-bikers to help by volunteering time to maintain, and subsequently use, their vast network of trails.
David Gabrys from 45NRTH talked about their Groomed Trails initiative. We will see a website soon that will have a curated map of trails that are groomed for fat-bike use. Stay tuned!
One of the take aways for me from the Land Manager Conference is that these folks get things done. A couple of years ago they were thinking about how to integrate fat-bikes into their land use plans, they’ve put those plans into action and are now able to talk about successes!
Mike Van Able, IMBAs Executive Director, talked about how many of the hurdles fat-bikers are encountering are the same that mountain bikers encounter and that IMBA is stoked to help fat-bikers. Some of IMBAs regional Directors gave reports on fat-biking in their areas. It is growing, folks!
The Fatbike Summit presented the first ever Land Manager Award to the Bridger-Teton Ranger Service of their work and presented them with a Pugsley that they will sue for patrols and getting around the Bridger-Teton network of trails.
There was a panel that discussed trail grooming with Doug Egerton of Yellowstone Track Systems talking about snow and how to compact it. John Gaddo of QBP did a slide show presenting many different implements that can be used for fat-bike trail grooming. Andy Williams from Grand Targhee talked about how they use their groomer and Paul Gritten talked about their experiences at Curt Gowdy SP. Paul wants more snow there! Been a light winter so far.
Scott Rodgers from the Forest Service enjoying a Surly Moonlander
Finally, there was a demo set up outside where the seminar attendees could try out fat-bikes. Most of these people are not fat-bikers and the opportunity to experience a fat-bike ride helps drive home the fun factor of these bikes. There were a lot of smiling faces around the test ride area!
Andy Williams from The Grand Targhee Resort talks about his groomer.
Oh, let’s not forget the party over at Hub Bicycles! Owner Aaron Grutzmacher had a full house of fat-bike enthusiasts who enjoyed Upslope Brewing beers and the camaraderie of a shared interest in fat-bikes. I think Aaron may have more Borealis fat-bikes on the floor than any other shop I’ve been in!
Check out this promo video Hub did right in the local area with riders who work at Hub!