All photos by Jake Goss.
Words by Mark Tucker.
Fatbikes! Fatbikes everywhere! That was the scene at the third iteration of Winterbike at Kingdom Trails Nordic Center. A couple hundred riders showed up Saturday to ride bikes on the snow and generally have a good time. Each year this event keeps getting bigger and more fun. The first year the crowd was relatively small and only a handful of people had those strange, new bikes. Last year was bigger and pretty evenly split. This time around, not only were there even more people, there were only a few riders on regular mountain bikes – not that they weren’t welcome or didn’t have a good time. The sport has grown like crazy.
The first two years Winterbike was held, it was more like spring skiing with warm, sunny weather that turned the snow to soft corn by the afternoon. Not this year. Winterbike was wintery. The temperatures started around -12F when I left the house that morning and didn’t even get above zero until sometime mid-morning, at least according to these folks. That wasn’t enough to dampen the mood though; we were all there to have a good time riding, and that’s what we did.
This year, Winterbike was relocated to Kingdom Trail’s new winter office at the Wildflower Inn. Initially, I wasn’t sure how well that would work out since I really enjoyed myself at the previous venue. It turned out to be a pretty big improvement. Being central to the network of singletrack on Darling Hill opened things up to even better riding options. When the event was held at the end of Dashney Road, all that great singletrack was more of a peripheral aspect with only a small group of riders getting the experience.
I ended up helping lead the “epic” ride in Jeff Hale’s absence. Our ride was the first to leave in the morning and we got off to a cold start. Every group ride is required to have at least one stop for a mechanical. Thankfully, our small group was able to get those out of the way early on. With repairs and adjustments put behind us, we spent the first couple of hours hitting much of the terrain on the east side of Darling Hill. Occasionally, we ran into another group ride at trail junctions. Some of the groups were surprisingly big this year – I was starting to feel like I was stopped at a train crossing in Kansas, only enjoying the wait a little more.
Late in the morning, we hit the aid station located at the pavilion at the top of Old Webs for a brief refuel. The floor of the pavilion was covered with some of the most polished, low-friction ice I’ve seen in quite a while. It would have been great for curling, but not so great when you’re walking around in bike shoes or boots. Eventually, things were moved outside before anyone actually got hurt. When we arrived, there were only a handful of riders there; but by the time our small group got moving again, several other groups converged on the location. There were easily fifty bikes strewn around the snow and enough people that it took several minutes to navigate out of the crowds before we could start riding again.
After taking in some additional calories, our group picked up the pace for the remainder of the ride. We covered a good portion of the west side of Darling Hill. The snow there had seen less riding and, being softer, was a little more work to ride. This was one of the very few times I honestly felt that a set of 4.8″ tires might have been better than my 4″ Nates. Regardless, it was still fun to ride.
Riding in the winter can vary tremendously with the snow and weather conditions. This weekend the trail conditions were nearly perfect. The snow was firm and grippy as long as you stuck to the packed trails. A LOT of work went into getting the trails into shape after last week’s rain. The KT staff put in a lot of hours and many of us who are local to the area went to work with snowshoes packing and shaping the trails. (Kudos go to Orion for the packing job on Pines!). It all paid off.
Back at the Nordic center, the Market Cafe was serving up soup, sandwiches and some awesome burritos for lunch. We also had the option of going across the road to Juniper’s restaurant. There was no shortage of Long Trail Ale to go with lunch if that was your desire.
After lunch, the 6X race commenced. With the new venue, the course was laid out so we could have a good view of the entire race. The groomed course still left some soft snow patches to keep things interesting for the racers and to provide ample carnage for the crowd to enjoy. Those that made the podium, both men and women, received some decent prize money and a respectable bag of bike goods.
The remainder of the afternoon was filled with raffles, various contests for schwag, a bike balance contest, bike demos from several shops or just hanging around the fire. There were a lot of vendors this year and enough demo bikes available that you could spend the entire afternoon just trying out different fatbikes.
Once again, Winterbike turned out to be a great time. I’ve looked forward to this event every winter since they started having it and I’ve never been disappointed. My only regret is that we only do this once a year.