By Dave Iltis, Jackie Baker, Mark Deterline, and Mike Rossberg
[Editor's Note, January 17, 2017 – In this low snow year, we are not sure which of these trails are in good shape for fat biking. Check conditions before you go.]
Fat biking in Utah is on the rise. Add a little snow, or a lot of snow, and Utah’s great summer mountain bike trails can become winter fat bike trails. What were roads can turn in to great winter riding destinations. It is one of the faster growing categories of cycling, and many shops stock bikes and can provide great tips.
For those that haven’t seen them yet. fat bike is a mountain bike that generally has 3.5″ wide tires or bigger. Some bikes have shocks, some don't. The tire width allows the bike to float on snow, and get better traction than a traditional mountain bike. They are a ton of fun, and aren’t necessarily restricted to just the snow. They work well on the dirt in the summer too.
We reached out to Jackie Baker of Bingham Cyclery and Mike Rossberg of ThinAir Cycles and asked them to fill us in on some of their favorite trails. We present their recommendations below.
Fat biking and land management issues are still being worked out, so make sure to be a great ambassador for the sport when you are out riding. Yield to uphill users and mostly, just yield to all other users, just like you would do in the dirt. And, avoid trails that are set for Nordic skiing. Ruts from a fat bike can be a bane to skiers. Use wide tires that don’t leave ruts. If you are riding where there is snowmobile traffic, use front and rear blinky lights. Above all, be courteous. Make sure to have proper warm clothing and footwear. And, proper safety gear if you are going in to the backcountry. Avalanches are a fact of life in the Wasatch, and while you may not be riding on terrain where you might trigger an avalanche, you may be riding below steep slopes. Be safe and be prepared with proper equipment, and check avalanche conditions before you go. Consider taking a class from the Utah Avalanche Center. Many more tips are available from IMBA here: https://www.imba.com/resources/land-protection/fat-bikes
Fat Bike Trails from Jackie Baker of Bingham Cyclery: Find Your Favorite Fat Bike Trail
Congratulations! You bought a fat bike. Now, where are you going to ride it? Understanding ideal riding conditions and how fat bikes perform will help you gain perspective and enjoy riding on trails that you might overlook during non-winter months. And, you don’t have to travel far to enjoy your wide-wheeled ride.
First, keep in mind that all conditions are not ideal conditions. You’ll enjoy riding frozen, packed trails the most—places where hikers and other riders frequent. Deep snow, thick slush, and mud are not ideal riding conditions, as instead of gripping (which is what fat bikes are really good at), the wide tires tend to float and wander. Pay attention to temperature and aspect. On a 40-degree-plus day, snowy but sun-exposed south-facing trails can turn into a struggle. Find a shaded trail on a warm day, and you’ll have a blast!
There are nearly as many amazing places in the Wasatch to ride your fat bike in the winter as there are in the summer. Here are some recommendations from Bingham Cyclery’s fat bike guru Jarrod Doherty:
Salt Lake Valley
Little Cottonwood Trail: Beginner
The Little Cottonwood trail is ideal for those new to fat biking because of its width and gradual elevation gain. This trail sees a lot of foot traffic, and is shaded for much of the day throughout the winter, lending itself to ideal and consistent riding conditions.
The trailhead gates at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon are closed in the winter, so find a parking spot at the bus stop across the street. Or, park at the Bell Canyon Granite Trailhead to the east of the Wasatch Blvd and 9400 S. intersection and carefully ride the road to the trailhead.
Pipeline Trail in Millcreek Canyon: Intermediate
The elevation and aspect of Pipeline make it ideal for winter riding. Foot traffic keeps the trail tacky and rideable, so smile and greet hikers—they are making your day! Be sure to stay on the singletrack, as bikes are not allowed on the Nordic ski track above the winter gate.
This trail is ideal for intermediated to advanced riders, as there are some steeper hills and narrow sections. If you feel comfortable riding this trail in the summer, you’ll love the new perspective in the winter! Riding from Church Fork to Elbow fork and back is a solid ride, or you could start or end at Burch Hollow, in between the two.
Snowbasin: All levels
Endless singletrack awaits at Snowbasin, and you can ride while friends or family members ski. Park in the Snowbasin parking lot, and ride toward the Old Snowbasin Road. It’s plowed and groomed throughout the winter, so the road itself can be a great ride. The intertwining singletrack is really the highlight, though. You can ride for hours on good snow and always get back to the road.
American Fork Canyon: Advanced
Ready for an adventure ride? When the storm cycles hit and your favorite trails are covered in wind drifts and too much snow to pedal through, American Fork Canyon offers a unique backcountry experience. First, be sure to consider snow conditions take proper snow safety and avalanche precautions. Then, drive up American Fork Canyon to the Tibble Fork parking lot (left at the fork in the road) or the Pine Hollow parking lot (right at the fork in the road).
You’ll see the snowmobile trails that will offer a surface that resembles groomed snow. The adventure comes in the fact that snowmobiles don’t pack trails consistently, so snow conditions will keep you on your toes. However, it’s a great way to log some miles and, especially during stormy weekdays, enjoy some backcountry solitude.
For more trail info, bikes, and for riding techniques and advice on how to dress for winter riding, you can visit Jarrod at Bingham Cyclery’s Salt Lake store at 336 W Broadway or at binghamcyclery.com.
Fat Bike Trail Recommendations from Mike Rossberg of ThinAir Cycles
Over the many years living in Utah I’ve turned in a powder snob during the winter. I only want to ski the best snow but that has left the majority of the winter with marginal skiing conditions. Fat biking fills the void between elusive perfect powder days. Many people hang their bike up for the winter or choose to sweat it out on a trainer to keep their fitness over the winter. Fat biking can keep you outside and staying fit all winter long. After 3 winters of fat biking I’ll still go skiing right after a storm but my fat bike is always satisfying.
A couple inches of snow can turn the easiest trail into a challenge. Following a 5” wide tire track as you climb for 60 minutes gives a new meaning to focus and skill. That’s what I love about fat biking in the snow. The same old trail that you ride time and time again in the summer some how in the winter changes into a new ride everyday.
I’ve put together a list of my favorite local trails that are close to home. This only scratches the surface for fat biking. Grooming or packing the trails will be happening on many trails this year. It’s rumored that Corner Canyon and American Fork will have groomed singletrack snow bike trails. Check our website the most current grooming information at ThinAirCycles.com
Name of trail: Corner Canyon – Canyon Hollow
Location Draper, UT
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Trail description: These trails are at lower elevation starting at 5,000 and climbing to 6,000 feet. Canyon Hollow and Ann’s trail are the go to favorites and will most likely be the first trails packed down after a snow storm. These trails are the best single track snow bike trails of the 4 trails listed. 11 miles, 1,200 vertical feet. Plan 1-2 hours.
Name of trail: Millcreek Canyon
Location Millcreek, UT
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Trail description: The main road is closed for the winter a few miles up the canyon. Park near the gate ¼ mile past the Burch Hollow Trailhead. The trail is usually groomed by a snowcat and it 8-12 feet wide. The trail is closed to public snowmobiles, which makes for a peaceful ride. The trail/road climbs 4 miles from the gate to the top. The pipeline trail is a fun alternate on the way down. 8 miles, 1,200 vertical feet. Plan 1-2 hours.
Name of trail: American Fork – Tibble Fork – Mineral Basin
Location Alpine, UT
Difficulty: Intermediate – Experienced
Trail description: Trail begins at the Tibble Fork Reservoir. Follow the North Fork road which is open to snowmobiles. Remember snowmobiles are your friend, they pack this trail and make it possible to fat bike. Dutchman Flat is 4.4 miles from Tibble Fork. The climbing
relaxes for the next .9 miles to the left turn up Mineral Fork. Ascending up Mineral Fork depends your fitness and firmness of the trail. 13-15 miles, 1,600 vertical feet. Plan 2-4 hours.
Name of trail: American Fork – Alpine Loop
Location Alpine, UT
Trail description: Trail begins at the parking lot ¾ of mile past Mutual Dell campground. The trail is well packed by snowmobiles that follow the summer road for 4 miles to summit. The fun part of this ride is exploring other side trails around Timpooneke Trailhead and Salamander Flats Trailhead. 8-10 Miles 1,250 vertical feet. Plan 1-3 hours for this ride.
I opened Thin Air Cycles in Draper with a passion for cycling especially fat biking. You will giggle like a kid when you first ride a fat bike. A fat bike can be N+1 bike. If don’t know this formula it’s easy. N= the number of bikes you currently own.
ThinAir sells and rents fat bikes. They can be found at 1223 E. Draper Parkway, Draper UT, 801-553-BIKE or http://thinaircycles.com/.
Fat bikes can be purchased or rented at a number of fine bike shops in Utah including Bingham Cyclery, Hangar 15 Bicycles, Salt Cycles, Saturday Cycles, Cottonwood Cyclery, and many of the other shops listed in the Bicycle Shop Directory .