Posted by on in Cross Country News & Information
  • Font size: Larger Smaller
  • Hits: 5400

Fat Bikes - Marriage Of Cross Country Skiing, Mountain Biking

Snow Bikes

There was extensive coverage about fat bikes in the media last year (it’s hot) and there’s a photograph of a person riding a fat bike towing a Christmas tree on the cover of this year’s Patagonia Holiday Catalog. Fat bikes were recently dubbed the “Hummers of the two-wheelers’ world” in the Wall Street Journal.

These specially-made bicycles that accommodate ultra-wide tires that can be run at very low pressure. Less than ten pounds of pressure allow fat bikes to roll over soft, slippery surfaces like snow. XC ski areas from Vermont to Michigan and Arizona to California and Washington are now allowing fat bikes also called snow bikes to be used on their groomed trails and offering rental bikes, too.

Fat bikes are one of the fastest growing segments of the bicycle industry. They provide a great way for cyclists to stay in shape during the winter season. In eastern Washington’s MVSTA (Methow Valley Sport Trails Association), the winter season can be longer than all other seasons combined and it was one of the first trail networks to embrace fat biking.

They saw it as a new, exciting way to get outside and recreate and for the passionate XC skier interested in fitness, it provides another way to cross-train. Fat bike products are available from companies such as and and even the mainstream company among others.

According to a recent survey by the Cross County Ski Areas Association, there are at least 28 of the XC ski areas, which now welcome fat bikes on their trails. Flagstaff Nordic Center outside of Flagstaff, Ariz. is running a snowmobile on 25 km of the snowshoe trails to accommodate fat bikes. 

The bikes ride much better on packed trails compared to riding on soft snow. Fat bikes can be rented at Flagstaff Nordic for $35 on weekends plus a $10 trail fee, and they offer a 40 percent discount on weekdays ($20) while charging a lower trail fee on weekdays ($7), too. 

One avid snow biker describes the thrill of riding his fat bike in the winter like this: “Riding on snow has been a great alternative to my other winter love…Nordic skiing. Hopping on the snow bike has been a great way to mix up the winter activities. There’s an amazing sensation when you climb aboard a snow bike and find that you “can” ride where only skiers or snowmobilers had once been able to go!”

Fat bike trail offerings are assessed on a day-by-day, snow conditions, user compatibility basis. Information on the trails that are open to fat bikes is available daily on the MVSTA grooming report. Just like a skier, a valid MVSTA day pass will be required for snow bikes.

Fat bikes are available for rent ranging from $20 during the week at Flagstaff Nordic reaching $75 a day at New World Sport, a Fort Collins, Colo, shop that sends riders to local packed snowshoe and XC ski trails. It’s $55 at Village Sports Shop in Lyndonville, Vt. and they suggest riders use the bikes on the nearby Kingdom Trails. Methow Cycle and Sport in Winthrop, Wash. has a $35 half day rate or $55 for a full day. They have rental bikes at the store and onsite near 5 km of trails at nearby Sun Mountain Lodge

Reservations are recommended for weekends and holidays. Methow Cycle and Sport will also provide rack adaptors for customers who wish to transport rental fat bikes to the riding area of their choice. Other XC ski areas that have fat bikes on location to rent include Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton, Vt. at $10 per hour, and Cross Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon, Mich. at $15 per hour.

California areas with fat bikes include Bear Valley Cross Country & Adventure and Royal Gorge where there are 10 km of trails available and rentals for $20 per hour.

As one might imagine the price for purchasing a fat bike ranges greatly from a low-end of $200 (at Walmart) to $2,000-6,000). Like any other equipment, the low end is probably less reliable and the high end includes bells and whistles or are built with carbon fiber construction.

Fat bike riders are asked to follow a code of etiquette because they can damage trails groomed for classic and skate XC skiers. A typical list of XC ski area “conditions of use” include:

* Riders need to purchase a trail pass to use the area’s trails and tell the ticket vendor that they are planning on fat biking.

* Trail access is dependent on conditions and they should check the daily grooming report for detailed trail access information.

* Purpose built snow bikes only! Both tires must be wider than 3.7 inches and tire pressure must be less than 10 psi, no exceptions!

* Bikes should yield to all other users. Stay to right side of trail at all times, stay out of the classic ski tracks, and give skate skiers a wide berth.

* Stay off trails with more than 3 inches of new snow.

* If you are leaving a rut deeper than an inch, having a hard time riding in a straight line, or pushing your bike, the snow is too soft and you absolutely should not be biking on the trails.

* Be an ambassador for the sport – stay polite, educate other bikers, discourage bad behavior, follow the rules, and we’ll all have a good time this winter.

* Stay on trails designated for Fat Biking. 

Photo: MVSTA fat bike and XC skiing (Gunn)

Roger Lohr is Cross Country Ski Editor of He is founder and editor of and is a writer and marketer, based in Hanover, N.H. He’s been published in, SnowLink, NSAA Journal, Nordic Network, Cross Country Skier, SkiTrax, Ski Area Management and others. Lohr also conducted the CCSAA Skier Visit Study and created the Best XC Ski Area Poll and worked for Snowsports Industries America (SIA). On Twitter @XCSkiTravel.


  • patty jo Thursday, 02 January 2014

    Oh Jay, my man, you are soo wrong. We are not elitists at all. You really should try riding a fat bike, you would maybe even like it.

  • Jake Tuesday, 31 December 2013

    ^Yay for elitism!

  • Lou Tuesday, 31 December 2013

    Jay, you clearly haven't tried or encountered many fat bikers riding on snow. Your comparison of fat bikes to snowboarders and snowmobiles is absurd. On groomed tracks, the speed of a fat bike is very similar to that of a skate skier (I've never seen a skate skier with a bell). On single track the speeds are much less. With 5.5 hours of riding this past weekend, my average speed was 3.8 mph, certainly not enough speed to lump fat bikes with snowmobiles. You mention quietness. I had several people mention how quiet the bikes are this past weekend. Those who walk are frequently thanking me for making very nice paths for them to walk on. This is new and like Jay, many people have a hard time accepting change, but fat bikes will make for better winter trails for all to use.

  • SC Nomad Tuesday, 31 December 2013

    "Jay", you are uninformed. I am an avid skate skier, snowshoer and fat biker, and see no reason why all can't coexist. A group of us went for a night ski on groomed XC trails last winter. Due to an injury I could not ski but could bike comfortably. I was slower than some, faster than others, and we all got along just fine. A biker takes up no more space than a skier (much less than one skating) and travels at a comparable speed.

    I went for a ride yesterday and encountered XC skiers and sledders. We all chatted and got along fine. Don't let your preconceived notions get in the way of reality. fat bikes are just another clean, human powered way to have fun in the winter.

  • Jay Sunday, 15 December 2013

    This is so wrong. As a x-country & snowshoer, the prospect of having the pristine x-cntry & snowshoe experience obliterated by careening bikes, rutted, slushed trails, inconsiderate, hot-dogging bi-si-kul riders is upsetting & unsettling. Have you ever tried jogging/running/hiking on multi-use trails w/mountain bikers whizzing past you w/not so much as an "on your left"? I have. As have other runners/joggers & hikers. Sure every once in awhile you get a considerate, decent rider. But, sadly, that's few & far between. Usually that's just bull about them "yielding to pedestrians". I see no different prospect w/fat bikers while I'm x-cntry & shoeing. You're cautiously plowing a steep curve descent & wheeling down beside you comes a fat biker. No warning. No bell. No nothing. No concern. I'm shuddering at the thought. Also, the mention of truncating 1/4 of some (already short enough) snowshoe-only trails, which are usually single-track width anyway, is more than unfair….it's as I said in the beginning….just wrong!!! ATV's & snowmobiles aren't allowed on x-cntry & snowshoe trails….so what's the difference here? Belching gasoline? Take away THAT single odiferous pollution and you've got fat-bikes. But it's more than safety concern. It's the whole experience of X-cntry & snowshoeing that's at stake here. They're both unique. Neither share trails w/downhillers & boarders. It's a mindset. A nature thing, too. All are each to their own. Fine. As it should be. You want fast & whizzing scenery? You alpine or board. You want quiet, slower (in some cases) up to nature? You x-cntry & shoe. Bikes don't belong in any snow venue but maybe a park or previously designated multi-use trail. Please don't corrupt as historically a unique experience & sport as x-cntry & shoeing. Alpine venues added boarding to maximize their profit. Ask true alpinists how they feel about dodging whizzing-boarders? The majority will echo my feelings here about fat bikes invading nordic venues. We can all get along. In this case, separate IS equal.

    I can feel the tire treads on my back already. :(

Leave your comment

Guest Tuesday, 01 December 2015