By Estela Villaseñor, photos by Bob Allen Images
Island Park, Idaho, is the winter mecca for snowmobilers. However on January 25, 2013, this small town situated in the scenic Yellowstone ecosystem and world-renowned for its gnarly winter weather, had a new kid visiting the ‘hood. Winter fat bike enthusiasts from eight states, 40 strong—and some with young families, filled festival headquarters at the hospitable Sawtelle Mountain Resort while the first epic snowstorm of 2013 anointed the 2nd annual Winter Fat Bike Summit & Festival.
The Summit, co-hosted by Minnesota-based Quality Bicycle Products and Fitzgerald’s Bicycles in nearby Victor, Idaho, had presentations and Q&A sessions with public land managers from Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, two Idaho congressional staff, Montana and Idaho chambers of commerce, a private Nordic ski area executive, tourism professionals, non-profit land and trail organizations, the International Mountain Bicycle Association (IMBA) and members of the bicycle industry.
The 3-day weekend featured seminars and discussions on fat bike winter trail access issues, safety and maintenance, the important role of gateway communities and the benefits of fat bikes for winter recreation-based economies.
Private and public land managers spoke positively of current efforts while emphasizing the increased need for public education and safety on shared trails, maintenance and volunteer efforts, and cost sharing for trail grooming. Highlight of the seminars was the frank discussions with land managers ranging in policy from Yellowstone National Park, which currently bans winter bicycle presence in the park and prohibits summertime pedal-powered trail access, to Grand Targhee Resort’s Nordic Ski Center, the first private nordic trailsystem in the country to allow winter fat bike access. Advocacy groups representing trail conservation, bicycle access and tourism associations rounded out the summit with their input.
Industry professionals complimented the festivities with fat bike demos, winter riding clinics, a 25K race, raffle and prizes, customized trophies, guided tours and of course a local brew—the official fuel for winter fat bicyclists.
A multi-media presentation by professional endurance fat bicycle athletes, Tracey and Jay Petervary, was a weekend favorite. Their winter expedition imagery across Alaska’s backcountry inspired the crowded but cozy yurt, our festival conference room.
On race day, a crystal light radiated the winter stormy trails. Virtually a whiteout at times, Janine Fitzgerald pedaled the foggy 25K contest while towing 2-year old Braden in a snow chariot! Bright-eyed, five-month old Erza Montegull kicked his little legs vivaciously at each passing bike, while Dad, Geoffrey, finished first in his category and claimed 5th place overall. See all the race results here.
Fat bicycling, as the fastest growing sector of the bicycle industry, has the potential to retire the debate and substantiate year-round diverse terrain trail riding as a healthy outdoor activity with relatively no impacts to the environment and important economic boosts to communities surrounding public lands.
Bicycles have been an historical presence in the Yellowstone region since the mid-1800’s by blue-collar workers traveling on low-budget, two-wheeled vacations and by the US military as non-equine, pedal-powered troops, called Buffalo soldiers. Fat bicycles represent a viable response to ever-changing social needs, and overall bicycles have been an obvious tradition of ecological-friendly recreation and transportation, contributing economically sustainable opportunities for local businesses and communities.
The future of fat bikes, a user-friendly recreation regardless of age or ability, relies heavily on establishing: year-round trail access, good natural resource maintenance, and shared trail etiquette, education and safety. Direct exchanges on perceptions of bicycle recreation in an open diverse forum and setting a clear agenda: first, always first—for fun and the love of bicycles, for healthy dialogue, for public education on social impacts and wildland-preservation benefits, and for compassionate debate. Ultimately for timely resolutions and prudent regulation to protect bicycle access on public trails and preserve our wildlands, a national heritage.