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On the Trail: Winter biking 101

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The Hummocks Trail in Big Sky Town Center offers a great location for intermediate fat biking. PHOTO BY MATT JENNINGS

By Sara Marino BSCO Community Development Manager

Take a look around the trails of Big Sky, and you’ll see that you don’t need to put your bike away just because the snow starts flying. Winter biking, or fat biking, is a growing sport and you don’t need to be a hardcore rider or invest in all new gear to try it out. I spoke with local biking enthusiast and Big Sky Community Organization winter grooming volunteer, Matt Jennings, to get some tips on how to get started.

Layer up

Even though its cold outside, fat biking is a workout like cross-country skiing. Dress in breathable layers to keep warm and comfortable without overheating. Put on warm socks and winter boots and you’ll be set if you find yourself off the trail.

Take it slow

Riding on snow will be slower than what you’re used to when riding on dirt. Be aware of conditions on the trail changing from packed snow, to ice, to soft snow. When riding downhill, stay in control and light on the brakes to avoid skidding off the trail. Keeping your weight to the back of the saddle and your body relaxed also helps.

What to ride

A fat bike comes equipped with tires 4-5 inches wide compared to a typical mountain bike tire that would max out around 2.5 inches. And whereas the tire pressure in a mountain bike is kept around 28-30 pounds per square inch, fat bike tires are kept at about 6 psi. This allows the tire to flatten out across the snow, creating a stable surface and flotation.  If your bike leaves deep ruts in the snow, let some air out of the tires.

Where to go

If you’re new to fat biking, a good place to start will be the groomed community trails in Big Sky Town Center and the Big Sky Community Park. The trails are wide and mostly flat to give you a good feel for the bike. Once you’ve mastered that, the Hummocks trail is a local favorite to try. This trail is packed down by users, so try to stay on the packed trail or you will find yourself quickly sinking in the snow.

If you’re looking to get out of town, consider Harriman State Park, located south of Island Park, Idaho, about a 1.5-hour drive from Big Sky. The park features 24 miles of groomed multi-use trails, and yurts for an overnight stay.

Fat biking is a great way to extend your biking season, stay in shape, and just have fun. Fat bikes can be rented at Gallatin Alpine Sports in Big Sky.

For more information about Big Sky’s parks, trails and recreation programs, visit The Big Sky Community Organization engages and leads people to recreational and enrichment opportunities through thoughtful development of partnerships, programs and places.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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