It’s a brisk winter morning and I’m on the snowy trails at Jay Peak in northern Vermont – but unlike everyone else enjoying the fresh air at this four-season resort, I’m not on skis or a snowboard. Instead, I’m on a bicycle. It’s one of Jay Peak’s new fat bikes, available for rent from the Nordic Center just downhill from the main lodge.
Biking in snow isn’t easy, especially with the fresh powder that had settled on the trails overnight. But it’s fun, and while I’m sure my face looks serious on the outside as I concentrate on finding my balance on unfamiliar terrain, I’m grinning on the inside.
What’s a fat bike, anyways?
A fat bike is simply a mountain bike with extra-wide tires – think somewhere between 3 1/2 and 5 inches – and a frame that can accommodate them. After lingering on the periphery of the mountain biking scene for years, especially among those with plenty of snowy or sandy terrain, they’ve begun to hit the mainstream, with big-name manufacturers jumping on the trend and releasing new models into the market.
When it comes to fat biking on snow, the idea is that wide tires with low pressure will help you float over the trails rather than sinking in, which leads to not just a better experience, but better trail etiquette, too, especially important when you’re sharing trails with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
At Jay Peak and many other resorts and trail systems that allow fat biking, your tires must be at least 3 1/2 inches wide and with the tire pressure no higher than a squishy 10 PSI. And if conditions are too warm, Ethan Dull, who runs Jay Peak’s fat biking program, suggests staying off the trails. “It’s bad etiquette to leave a rut,” he says.
Why ride a fat bike?
Fat biking on snow has become popular with hardcore cyclists as a way to stay in shape outdoors, rather than on indoor trainers, but that’s not the only reason to try it, says Dull. “A good fat bike day is not necessarily a good ski day,” he says. On a fresh powder day, you’re better off hitting the slopes, he adds, but when the slopes are skied out and the trails are nicely packed, a fat bike can navigate cross-country ski and snowshoe (single-track) trails with ease.
Who can fat bike?
Fat biking is accessible to anyone who can ride a bike, though you’ll have a better experience if you’re in good shape – the cardio can be intense. “It’s more of a terrain choice,” says Dull. “As with mountain biking, it’s as technical or fast as you want to make it.”
And with more and more ski resorts and parks offering fat bikes for rent, it’s an easy sport to try with minimal commitment. Currently, most fat bikes are adult-size only, but Dull notes that bike company Specialized has recently released children’s sizes, so it shouldn’t be long before they’re available for rent, too.
Where to try fat biking in Canada
Ready to give fat biking a whirl? Here are a few spots to visit:
Silver Star Mountain Resort, Vernon, B.C.
This Okanagan ski resort is now in its second year of fat biking trials. Bikes are available for rent and for use on two trails: the wider two-way Bridle Path and the one-way single-track Tin Can Alley.
Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, Canmore, Alberta
Horseshoe Resort, Barrie, Ontario
Just get a trail pass or rental, or book the Discover Fat Bike package, which includes a trail pass, rental and 90-minute guided ride.
Mont-Sainte-Anne, Beaupré, Quebec
Two fat bikes are available for rent in the cross-country ski shop and for use on three groomed and exclusive trails.