On a sunny morning in McCall, I drive south to Jug Mountain Ranch to meet up with some friends to go fat biking — one of the fastest growing winter activities in America. I’m stoked to show them around on Jug’s extensive 25K cross country trail system. Local groomer Gregg Lawley told me that some of the singletracks were groomed and ready to ride! That’s a bonus!
Jug Mountain Ranch was the first resort in Valley County to open its Nordic trails to fat biking and offer rentals, and it’s drawn regional attention with the Snowy 45 fat bike relay race (costumes encouraged), typically held each year in February.
My friends Mark and Jerri Lisk have been mountain biking for many years, but today, they’re trying fat biking for the first time on Vibe custom-made fat bikes made by Jerri’s brother, Dave Kelly of Eagle. Dave’s been riding fat bikes since 2011, but he’s never ridden at Jug Mountain Ranch. Mark’s son Wyatt, a serious mountain bike racer, is with us as well as my pointer Huck.
We pay our $10 trail fees at the Nordic Center and drive up to the golf clubhouse parking lot to start the ride. The trailhead is just a few steps away. I take the group out on the South Elk singletrack to start the ride, a super-fun twisty trail that’s been groomed about 2 feet wide just for fat bikes. The trail winds through huge pine and fir trees (I’ve seen great gray owls in here), plunges downhill for a mile or so, and then you climb back to the South Boundary cross country ski trail.
We climb South Boundary to Jug Mountain Reservoir. It’s a couple of miles of climbing at a fairly steep grade. I get into my granny gear and grind it out. It helps to keep your tires soft for climbing and traction if that becomes an issue. Once at a saddle junction, we ride over to the reservoir and tour a beautiful open spot in the trees below 8,310-foot Jughandle Mountain.
We take a break, eat some snacks and enjoy the view. Wyatt breaks out some tasty bourbon shots for an apertif, and we zip downhill on Mainline, a wide cross country trail, and I’m seeing big grins everywhere. At the Landing, we veer right on the Rolling Rock singletrack and enjoy a sporting ride of tight corners and ups and downs through aspen and fir, and more zippy features on North Elk before we drop out to the trailhead and parking area.
“Woo-hoo that was fun!” Wyatt exclaims. “I want a fat bike!”
“Fat bikes put a new zeal in mountain biking for me,” Kelly says. “It’s something different, something new and something fun all wrapped into one bike.”
For me, fat biking makes me giggle. You ride slower and bounce up and down on the big 4-inch-wide tires, almost twice as wide as regular mountain bike tires. You don’t mind if you ride at a slower pace. The wider tire provides more traction, and more stability in ice and snow. Basically, it’s a bike that’s perfectly designed to ride in snow.
After our ride, we head to Lardo’s in McCall for burgers and beers to cap off a great day of riding.
If you’re looking for other options in Idaho, here are three other fat biking destinations I’d recommend:
Big Wood Sports Park in the Ketchum/Sun Valley area. Rebecca Rusch, known affectionately as the “Queen of Pain” as an international mountain biker racer, partnered with the Big Wood Golf Course to create a new fat bike park in Ketchum. It opened in December 2015. It has six miles of singletrack trails groomed daily. Rentals are available and dogs are allowed, too. Trail fees are $8 per day.
“Riding in the snow, you kind of feel like you’re a kid again,” Rusch says in a video about the new bike park.
After riding the bike park, head to Grumpy’s or Lefty’s for a beer and food. Grumpy’s has chilled schooners of beer and great burgers. Lefty’s is another popular local hangout with a sports bar feel, and an affordable menu of sandwiches, subs, burgers, hand-cut fries and beer.
Grand Targhee, in Wyoming just beyond the Idaho border, is a world-class fat biking, skiing and snowboarding destination. It was the first resort to open its cross country ski trails to fat bikes and groom custom singletracks. Plan a long weekend trip to Targhee and bring all the toys for the best experience. “We get a lot of snow, so it’s not always perfect for fat biking, but if it’s a powder day, you can go skiing, and when the sun comes out, you can go fat biking. Mix it up,” says Andy Williams, special events manager for the resort.
Fat bikers can sample about four miles of groomed singletrack at Targhee including the fun-tastic Jolly Green Giant Trail, and 15 miles of groomed cross country ski trails. There also are fat bike trails in Victor. They groom daily, weather permitting. Trail fees are $10/day. After your ride, head to the Trap Bar, on-slope at Targhee or the Grand Teton Brewing Company in Victor.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort in northern Idaho offers fat biking on 19 miles of cross country ski trails at the base of the resort. Schweitzer has a cool green and red system for fat biking, alerting riders to stay on certain (red) trails when the riding conditions are too soft. On clear and cold days, the green system is in place, and the whole trail system is open to bikes. Trails are groomed daily seven days a week. Trail fees are $15/day.
On a green day, try riding from the trailhead on lower GRR to Overland and then do the Coyote Canyon Loop to Cloud Walker and ride out on Wolf Ridge for a great view of the mountains and Lake Pend Oreille below. After your ride, visit the Taps Lounge on slope. It has 24 beers on tap, plus a full bar, big screen TV, pool tables and live music.
Fat Bike tips:
- Dress warm, but dress in layers so you can peel them off when you’re climbing.
- Carry a pack with water and a pump, basic bike tools, snacks and food.
- I wear my ski helmet for warmth and safety. A regular mountain bike helmet with a skullcap or headband underneath works too.
- Wear warm gloves on cold days and light gloves on warmer days.
- Hiking boots or shoes with a firm sole are best for platform pedals.
- Ski pants or cross country ski leggings work great for the bottom half.
- If you don’t have a fat bike, rent one at the destinations mentioned above and try it out.
Steve Stuebner is an avid cyclist of all kinds and a widely published outdoor writer in Boise. Read more at http://stuebysoutdoorjournal.blogspot.com.
Feature image credit: Big Wood Fat Bike Park. This is a sponsored post.