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Fatbike Friday FAQ Check

Mon, Mar  31, 2014 - By Andrew J. White

When Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails Inc. (TART) announced “FatBike Fridays” on the VASA trail last fall, I was concerned that the information that TART presented – “Fatbike Fridays FAQs” - was very inaccurate at best. It was as if someone, in their enthusiasm for cyclists and skiers eventually sharing all of the trails at the VASA, all of the time, had shown a regrettable tendency to inflate the facts to justify their perspective.

So I began to research this issue myself. What follows is the text of “Fatbike Fridays Faqs” as it originally appeared on the TART webpage, quoted verbatim, with my additional comments: What do other Nordic trails do? We are not the only, nor the first organization to tackle this issue. There are a variety of approaches other places have used:

Marquette: NTN plans to groom 20 plus miles of single-track on the NTN South Trails for winter biking. Fatbikes are allowed to use Nordic trails that are dog friendly. Riders can support snow bike grooming by purchasing a “support the Groom” card at Marquette bike shops and the NTN Office.

Fact Check: “A goal of the NTN is to give every non-motorized user of our trails the best possible outdoor experience. To this end we believe that different types of users should be separated wherever possible. Accordingly, we as a Board have designated usage on various trails consistent with the terrain and member needs."

"At this time we are unable to completely separate snow bikes, skiers, snowshoes, dogs, and traditional skiers, so we need to share different portions of the trails. Future trail segments to allow for separate users will be developed as money for construction and landowner permission occur” (Source: Noquamenon Trail Network website).

Al Quaal Recreation area, Ishpeming: Fatbikes are allowed on ski trails with purchase of a pass.

Fact Check: True, fat bikes are allowed on all of Al Quaal’s trails. Al Quaal’s policy statement is “We fully expect some conflict on the trails between user groups. Snow bikes are the “new kids on the block” and will be required to earn their future presence/privileges. XC skiing will remain the priority for our trail maintenance but all users will be required to use proper trail etiquette. We will be working with other facilities that have already approved snow bike use to develop our trailhead signage and policy for this new group. There are no time restrictions on when snow bikes will be permitted on the trails, but we suggest avoiding them a minimum of 24 hours after grooming activities. Other basic rules will include proper tire pressure to minimize impacts to trail conditions and avoiding damage to the track.” (Al Quaal is owned by the City of Ishpeming).

Keweenaw: Michigan Tech trail system, where nearly 15 kilometers of groomed ski trail and ungroomed single-track are open to fatbike bikers. Restricted to purpose-built snow bikes only. After 6pm on Tuesdays snow bikes are allowed on all Swedetown trails. A season or day pass must be purchased.

Fact check: True, but fatbikes are not allowed on their other trails - Michigan Tech grooms 35 kilometers of Nordic ski trails altogether including their “competition trails” used for the NCAA championships etc. (Source: Michigan Tech webpage). The Swedetown trails are in an entirely different city (Calumet).

Round Valley, Park City, UT: 25 km of trails shared by all: skiers, dog walkers, snowshoers, dog walkers, snow bikers.

Fact Check: True - but there are also 20 km of trails groomed for cross-country skiers only at White Pine Touring right in Park City (fee-based). And the Soldiers Hollow Cross Country Ski Resort, where the 2002 Winter Olympics were held, is 21 miles (30 minutes) away.

Levi Mounds, WI: Fatbikers use different trails than skiers, groomed by snowmobiles but share same warming hut.

Fact Check: True

Grand Targhee, WY: The first ski resort to open large sections of their Nordic Trails to bikes.

Fact Check: True

Methow, WA: Open large section of their nordic trails last winter to fatbikes. It was a huge success and will do it again this year.

Fact Check: The Methow Valley Sport Trail Association grooms 200 kilometers of trails that are only for Nordic skiing. Fatbikes are permitted, at this time, only on an additional 25 kilometers that they groom as “multi-use trails.” There are 40-50 additional kilometers of multi-use trails in their area, maintained by others, some of which fatbikes can use. (Source: phone conversation with director 1/30/14).

Royal Gorge, CO: Opening parts of trails to fatbikes this year.

Fact Check: “Royal Gorge’s 6,000 acres of cross-country skiing and 200 kilometers of trails across six distinct track systems give cross country skiers endless skiing possibilities on an impressive trail system dotted by lakes, canyons, meadows, majestic alpine peaks and eight different warming huts.?In addition to cross country skiing and snowshoeing, fat tire snowbiking will be offered on narrow, bike-specific snow trails, giving the riders of fat-tired, winter-specific bikes the feeling of riding singletrack trails through the snow..” (Source: “Sugar Bowl Resort to Unveil $20 Million in Upgrades This Winter “ – press release from Sugar Bowl Resort August 26, 2013).

Tahoe Donner, CA: Opening parts of trails to fatbikes this year.

Fact Check: “We are not currently providing trails for fat biking as our trail system is not currently conducive to such multi use. Royal Gorge and Tahoe XC do have dedicated trails though.” (Source: e-mail communication from Tahoe Donner Cross Country).

Kingdom Trails, VT: Nordic trails open to fatbike when conditions permit.

Fact Check: Fatbikes are no longer permitted on their groomed Nordic ski trails at all – instead separate single track trails are now groomed for fatbikes. (Source: phone conversation with their office – this is a very recent policy change).

Anchorage, AK: Any of the multi-use trails are open to everyone. They are groomed by the Nordic ski club.

Fact Check: The Nordic Sking Association of Anchorage grooms both multi-use trails and trails that are just for cross-country skiing. This is what is stated on their webpage:

"The Municipality has designated some trails as cross country ski only trails in the winter and NSAA grooms them primarily through the voluntary donations of cross country skiers. Basically ski trails are to ski on in the winter, and everyone else gets to use them the rest of the year! The trails would not be groomed if not for the skiers who financially support NSAA and who expect the designated trails to be ski trails. There are many parks and woods and multi-use trails available in Anchorage other than the designated cross country ski trails. Footprints leave divots that freeze into holes which catch ski tips. Walkers with or without dogs on ski trails put themselves in a dangerous position. Dogs, leashed or not, behave erratically. Dog poop makes a mess of the trails for all users. There are now dog parks for dogs, just as there are ski trails for skiers, dog mushing trails for mushers, horse trails for horseback riders, and multi-use trails that everyone uses.”

White Pass Ski area, WA: Allowed every day after 3:30pm, conditions permitting.

Fact Check: True

Alberta, Canada: Snow bikes allowed everywhere except certain restricted trails.

Fact Check: I don’t know what “everywhere” refers to – the Calgary Herald a few weeks ago reported that “None of the local ski resorts that I asked have accommodated fat biking like Silver Star Mountain (at least officially), but that doesn’t mean Calgarians are missing out. Apart from the occasional fat bike spotted being ridden by commuters, much of the growth of the sport is happening on the region’s mountain bike trails.” [Source: “As winter fat biking surges in popularity, ski areas accommodate to avoid conflicts” The Calgary Herald March 17 2014). At the Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park (where the 1988 Winter Olympic Games were held) “over 65 kilometers” (natural snow and the higher elevations) are groomed just for Nordic skiing - snow bikes are not allowed there. They are allowed only on single track trails and groomed machine-made snow trails (there are “over 30 kilometers” of these at the lower elevations where they make snow). (Source: Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park webpage. N.B., Silver Star Mountain in British Columbia announced in March that fat bikes will be allowed on a trial basis on two of their snowshoe and Nordic skiing trails )

I hope you will take away from this research, as I have, the conclusion that, contrary to what we were told when “Fatbike Fridays” was announced, there are very few examples of groomed Nordic ski trails, where having skiers and cyclists share all the trails (even if for only one day of the week as in “Fatbike Fridays”) has been tried and has worked successfully. There are, however, a number of trail systems where some trails are open to fat bikes, and other trails are just for cross-country skiers. That seems to work well.

There seems to be an emerging consensus among other trail organizations, and in the fat bike industry, that the preferred approach is to groom existing single track mountain bike trails during the winter for fat bikes, and perhaps to work towards developing additional separate dedicated trails for fat bikes to use. We could do that here, in Traverse City...