While there are plenty of places to ride a fat bike on groomed trails in Colorado, most of them are cross-country ski trails and snowmobile trails. Grooming snow trails specifically for bikes has been slower to catch on out West than it has in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes states.
One place where that is changing is the Snow Mountain Ranch YMCA in Granby, Colorado, (near Winter Park). Nordic Center Director Bill Pierce, a recent Wisconsin transplant, groomed six miles of singletrack for fat bikes this season and is allowing them to ride on an additional 18 miles of dog and cross-country ski trails. So far, he said, fat bike rentals have been hugely popular with visitors to the Y, which just hosted its first fat bike race and has a few more planned.
Pierce said that trail grooming for fat biking has not caught fire in the same way because most Mountain West mountain bikers hang up their wheels in the winter and switch to downhill and/or backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Indeed, I spent the last four years doing just that—trading my bike for a board and sinking $500 into a ski pass each season. This is my first Colorado winter away from the hills, staying on the bike, and finding new places is a must to keep me entertained.
Pierce also thinks it just snows too much in the Colorado mountains. “In Wisconsin, you’re working with only a few inches of snow at a time. The riders go through, pack the trail down and then it freezes and is good to go for long stretches of time.” But in the Winter Park area, where powder is plentiful, keeping the trails packed is a much bigger job, requiring near-constant grooming.
I’m glad that they’re trying. Snow Mountain Ranch provided my first-ever taste of groomed snow singletrack, and I now know why those hearty Midwesterners are rigging up oversized cheese graters behind their snowmobiles and mushing through the woods. It’s ridiculously fun, more like being on a flow trail in the summer time—you can actually get into a rhythm and, depending on your tire choice, rail yourself around corners.
The roughly 26 miles of trails at Snow Mountain Ranch available to bikes offer a welcome variety. If you don’t want to, you don’t actually have to spend hours climbing (a standard feature of Colorado mountain biking). At around 8,000 feet of elevation, starting off on flatter dog trails and easy-level ski trails provides a nice warmup before you set about climbing higher into the majestic hills that surround the valley.
For not being able to travel very far, very fast (such is the nature of fat biking), the scenery changed significantly in just a few hours. I pedaled through an open valley on a trail ringed by dried orange grasses, up along pine tree-lined hillsides, past a small collection of preserved log cabins, in and out of Aspen stands, and in view of various mountains. It was gorgeous and quiet, with few other people on the trails.
If you have never been to a YMCA, know that they’re very youth and family focused. If you have kids, Snow Mountain Ranch is great place to rent a cabin, send the little ones off to one of a myriad of activities, then try your luck with fat biking, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing at Winter Park Resort (15 miles to the south), dog sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating and other wintery things.
On the map above, the purple, magenta and teal (upper right) trails allow bikes. The rest are snowshoe and ski-only trails.
If You Go
- Tires: I rode on 3.8-inch tires because that’s what I had. They were functional, but I’d recommend 4- to 5-inch meats, instead, to increase the fun factor. Don’t be fooled by the “groomed” nature of the trails; the more grip on your tires, the better. Some of the trails are very steep and you don’t want to have to slow down too much on the fun singletrack.
- Pass: If you’re just showing up to ride for a day with your own bike, you’ll need a $20 trail pass. If you’re staying at the Y, the trail pass is free.
- Rentals: No fat bike? No problem. Rental Treks are $60 for a full day, $40 for a half day or $20 for an hour. Rentals include a helmet, but do not include a trail pass (unless you’re staying there). Collect everything at the Nordic Center.
- Stay: Depending on what you choose, the minimum stay is two to four nights. I noted that the lodge (regular hotel-style) rooms have very thin walls, but the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet was a great way to start a day on the bike. If you want to go, rent a cabin or a yurt with a fireplace and stay a few days, instead.
- More info: snowmountainranch.org
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