When the sun sets at 5pm, that leaves plenty of time to hatch crazy ideas. Take, for example, the sport of fat-tire biking. Who would have thought that riding oversized, seemingly underinflated tires over snow and ice would be possible—never mind fun?
If you live someplace where trails freeze over and enough snow falls to make traditional riding impossible, a fat-tire bike can be the difference between a serious case of cabin fever and a groovy goggle tan. Because here’s a little secret: The worst conditions for skiing typically lend themselves to a perfect day on a thick rig. It’s one reason why towns around the country aren’t just embracing the sport, they’re making it part of their identity. Here are six destinations that are turning ice, hardpack and frozen ruts into white gold.
When the putting greens freeze over at Bear Creek Golf Course, the links opens its trails to fat-tire bikers, cross-country skiers and snowshoers. One of a handful of golf clubs around the northern United States from New Hampshire to Minnesota embracing the sport, the 18-hole course earned a place on this list because its 5 miles of beginner-friendly trails are easy to thread together with the groomed routes at adjacent Pearrygin Lake State Park and Lloyd Ranch for an epic day in the saddle. After you’ve had enough of the winter views of Gardner Mountain and the North Cascades, head back to Bear Creek to recall your best frozen wipeout over drinks and coffee at the clubhouse.
East Burke, Vermont
After fall’s reds, oranges and golds fade and the leaf-peeping tourists head home, this little town in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom gets ready to rip. Each winter, some 25 miles of the Green Mountain State’s best singletrack are impeccably groomed, turning the region’s Kingdom Trails into a fat-tire mountain biking hot spot. You’ll swoop in and out of the woods for glimpses of the pastoral Vermont landscape and Willoughby Gap, one of the region’s famous mountain passes. There’s also a killer fat-tire biking festival each spring that’s a perfect opportunity to get your mitts on multiple demos before committing to an oversized steed of your own.
You can blame the creation of fat-tire biking on an Alaskan. One origin story has it that the balloon-tire idea was developed in response to a challenge to cycle the Iditarod Trail. Located six hours by car from both Fairbanks and Anchorage, Valdez usually escapes the typical tourist’s gaze—unless you’re a downhill bike racer in the off-season. Last year’s annual Valdez Fatbike Bash was the first time the three-day event included a downhill fat-tire biking race, where thrill seekers descended 2,520 feet of snow and ice in just 1.75 miles. Time your visit to coincide with the Bash, which usually takes place the first weekend of April, or plan your own trip to take in the icebergs, glaciers and mountain passes surrounding the Prince William Sound from behind your handlebars.
When the mines surrounding Crosby, Minnesota, were abandoned beginning in the 1960s, the barren landscape became a target for illegal trash dumps. That all changed, in part, when a group of bikers decided to create a trail network where the pit mines and waste piles still scarred the earth. The first route opened in 2011, and today more than 30 purpose-built mountain biking trails crisscross the steep, red-dirt hills. In the wintertime, the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew grooms 25 miles for fat-tire biking, opening up the landscape to riders of all levels. If you’re a beginner, hop on the Galloping Goose Trail, previously known as Easy Street, to build your skills. If you’re looking for thrills, climb the ridge above Yawkey Mine Lake to rip down the snow-covered berms of the aptly named Bobsled Trail. New to the sport? REI’s flagship store in Bloomington offers intro to fat-tire biking courses to get you started.
Just because Jackson is an iconic skiing destination doesn’t mean you can’t cheat on your planks for a day or two during your vacation. You’ll find close to 50 trails in and around town, ranging from snow-packed dirt roads that dead-end at hot springs (bring $8 to take a dunk) to snowmobile tracks with big views of the Tetons. And if you just can’t quit the chairlift by day, strap on a headlamp and head to the groomed berms and manicured trails at Grand Targhee Resort where the Jolly Green Giants Trail offers beautiful views of the valley lit up below.
Just over 140 inches of powder fall on this town on the banks of Lake Superior each year, making it tough to maintain buff, rideable trails for fat-tire biking. (Yes, there actually is such a thing as too much powder.) So it’s a real testament to the resourcefulness of local riders that they’re able to maintain some of the fastest, flowiest winter singletrack in the country, thanks in no small part to their custom-made grooming tools. But if that’s what it takes to maintain their 60-mile winter trail network with windswept views of the lake and the chance to glimpse the northern lights, we’ll raise a beer to their efforts.