Ride Don’t Slide – Snow Biking in the Wasatch

Park City Snowbiking. Photo by: Mike Schirf

By Scott House

It’s a sunny winter day; temps are in the mid 20’s and it is a perfect day to be outside.  You head for freshly groomed trails and perfectly packed single track, not with your skis but with your bike!  That’s right, your bike, that most wonderful machine that has been sitting in the garage begging to put a smile on your face.

In recent years snow biking has taken winter by storm.  Now the desperate cyclist who spent their winter on two wheels indoors; a slave to the trainer, finally has another option.  It’s not a day in the dirt but it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and much better than listening to the hum of your rollers.

A couple of things have helped snow biking start to work its way into the mainstream.  First and foremost; bikes have come a long way.  Your standard 26” wheeled mountain bike will work just fine on the snow.  Today’s wider tires and the ability to run lower air pressure with tubeless tires makes the snow a great median.  The 26” wheel is a bit more squirrelly on the snow and is going to take some effort out of the pilot to get and keep moving but it’s possible.

Then there is the 29” wheel.  These bikes LOVE the snow!!  The larger wheel diameter keeps the bike rolling over the inevitable trails variations.  This larger diameter wheel also puts down a larger footprint giving the rider better “float” on top of the snow as well as better traction for cornering and climbing.  The 29” inch wheel excels in the snow and is a great weapon for the frosty trail but there is still one better…

Enter the snow bike!!  Snow bikes are a relatively new concept over the past 7 or so years.  The first and probably most popular was the Surly Pugsley and since there have been a lot of options introduced.  What’s so special about these bikes you ask?  A lot of things actually.  Snow bikes feature tires that are between 3”-4.5” wide in a 26” diameter compared to 2”-2.5” wide in standard tire.  These tires are like balloon tires; they require very low pressures, around 10 psi, and float effortlessly on top of the snow.  The handling will take the rider some time to get accustomed to because the wider tires change everything from concerning to climbing efficiency.  The frames and wheels are designed around these wider tires.  Initially these bikes were quite heavy but like most things in the bike industry; things have been constantly progressing and you can now get a great snow bike under 30lbs.

Park City Snowbiking. Photo by: Mike Schirf
Park City Snowbiking. Photo by: Mike Schirf

Aside from the bike technology changing we have also seen a change in our trails.  More trail users are on the trail year-round now.  Some people might consider this a bad thing but for the snow biker it’s great.  More snowshoers, hikers and trail runners on the trail create more compaction on your favorite trail.  This compaction is what allows the snow biker to ride summer singletrack year round.  When you combine this compaction with a bit of sun and some nice temps (upper to mid 20’s) you get the trifecta that creates great snowbiking.

In Utah we have also seen an increase in the amount of groomed trail open to the public and all user groups.  Areas such as Round Valley in Park City and trails such as the Beaver Creek Trail off the Mirror Lake HWY offer snow bikers just getting started a great place to learn.  Riding these groomed trails is like cruising a smooth bike path when conditions are right.  They will allow the rider to get used to the new medium, snow, and figure out the handling before hitting the more technically demanding snow packed single track.

As trail users we need to keep a couple of things in mind when out snow biking so we keep trails open long into the future.

  • You should always give the trails a chance to get packed in after a storm.  Not only will the riding be near impossible but you’ll put in ruts that will ruin the riding when the trail does get packed firm.
  • If you plan on riding groomed trails open to all user groups you need to do the same.  Allow groomed trails time to firm up before putting your wheels down.
  • When riding groomed trails avoid any classic skiing lanes that have been set and try to stay off to the margins of the trail.  You don’t need to ride on the edge of the groomer but avoiding the middle will help keep all users happy.
  • As temps warm up you’ll need to get your riding done early in the morning or late in the evening when things are firm enough that you are not leaving deep ruts.
  • Like any trail; follow standard etiquette.  Yield to uphill traffic, hikers, horses, runners and skiers.  Ride in control and within your ability.  Be friendly; a smile and a wave go a long way.

Before you head off down the snowy trail to enjoy the winter wonderland make sure you are dressed for success.  Snow biking is going to get your blood pumping but it’s still winter.  Make sure you are using an insulated style glove; Nordic ski gloves work really well, and companies like Specialized and Giro make a couple of great options.  You are going to want to run full tights, preferably insulated, or you could run a motocross style pant with long underwear depending on how hot you run.  You’ll want a non-cotton base layer on top under a layer that breaks the wind (for going super-fast).  Some people may want to add arm warmers, again this depends on how you run.

Park City Snowbiking. Photo by: Mike Schirf

You’ve got your bike, identified your first trail and are dressed to battle old man winter!!  Now load up your car or jump on your bike and hit the trail!!

For more information on riding the Round Valley trail system in Park City you can visit: www.mountaintrails.org.

If you are interested in renting a Snow Bike you can contact White Pine Touring in Park City; they have two Surly Moonlanders ready to get you on the trail. 435-649-8710 or www.whitepinetouring.com.

Saturday Cycles in Salt Lake City rents and sells Snow Bikes. Visit them at www.saturdaycycles.com or 801-935-4605.

Beehive Cycles in Salt Lake sells Snow Bikes. Visit them at www.beehivebicycles.com or 801-839-5233.

Epic Biking also rents snowbikes in Utah County. You can find them at epicbiking.com or 801-653-2039.

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