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Winter Trail Etiquette: Fat Biking

How to Respect the Trails & Fellow Trail Users

For some, winter doesn’t just mean the start of ski season—it’s the evolution of bike season. And for those with access to snowy singletrack, it’s time to bust out the fat bike. But with more and more people pedaling through packed snow, practicing the right trail etiquette out there is more important than ever. 

We talked with Lora Smith of the Park City Mountain Trails Foundation and Todd Henneman, co-owner of Storm Cycles, a local Park City bike shop, to get their expert winter trail tips and best practices for fat biking.

Recreate Responsibly

As with every activity this winter, take a few extra steps to help your community stay healthy in light of COVID19. Keep at least six feet of distance from other riders and wear a mask during your ride, or at least when passing others. Especially at crowded spots like the trailhead or major junctures, wear a face covering or have one handy as you gear up to ride. If you wear a neck gaiter, it’s easy to pull it up over your nose as you pass other trail users, especially if proper distancing isn’t possible. The #RecreateResponsibly campaign has more pointers on getting out there safely right now.

Follow the Right of Way on Multi-use trails

Most winter trails are multi-use—check at the trailhead or ideally before you go to see whether your trail is fat bike-specific or, more commonly, open to cross-country skiers, hikers, and other users. As with most trails open to cyclists, uphill riders have the right of way and cyclists should always yield to all other users (Nordic skiers, hikers, horse riders, etc.). Always be aware of other users on the trail, especially around blind corners or in thicker forests.

Avoid Freshly Groomed Trails

Stay off soft freshly groomed Nordic trails—it’s no fun riding soft trails anyway! Your stout tires will leave a trench down the trail if it’s just been groomed, making it difficult for skate skiers to get their glide on. Be kind and give groomed trails a day or two to firm up—be sure to check your local grooming report each morning.

Be Mindful of Trail Closures

After packing and grooming trails, trail maintenance organizations like the Mountain Trails Foundation will often close the trail temporarily to give the snow time to set up and get firmer. Respect closures and don’t poach—you will be public land enemy number one after you leave a giant rut down a freshly groomed trail.

Also, avoid trails when temps get warm enough to make the trails slushy and soft. Just like on freshly groomed trails, soft trails are prone to rutting, and if the trail freezes overnight, the hardened grooves will make the trail very difficult to ride for others.

Dial In Tire Pressure

You will need at least a 3.8in tire with very low tire pressure for snow biking. For snow riding, we recommend 3 to 6 psi—the exact pressure depends on snow conditions and rider weight. Generally, the softer the snow and the lighter the rider, the lower the psi. This low psi will allow you to float over the trails, rather than sink in, which helps keep the snowy terrain in good shape for other users.

Step Aside and Communicate With Fellow Trail Users

The same rules of mountain biking apply when it comes to fat biking: If you come across someone else on the trail, alert your group and let the other party know if more riders are coming along behind you, and how many to expect. A simple “just me” or “two more” will let the person know how long to wait and when the trail is clear.

Speaking of passing, no matter how speedy you are on the bike, there is almost always someone faster. It’s proper bike etiquette for the slower rider to pull aside—when there’s room to do so safely—to let the faster rider pass.

Layer Up

It takes a lot of energy to power those heavy tires up a snowy trail, which is why it’s easy to be fooled by the cold temps and overdress. We recommend always starting cold and wearing lighter active winter wear. You will sweat up a storm if you wear your downhill ski clothes! 

Typically, your hands and feet will get cold even when your body is sweating up a storm. Proper footwear and gloves are essential. For those really cold days, Handlebar Mitts are awesome. Fat biking boots are also a worthwhile investment if you plan to pedal frequently in the winter. And wear your mountain bike helmet with a thin cap or buff underneath.

Be Prepared

As with any bike, make sure your fat bike fits you right. Using a poor-fitting bike will make the sport that much harder. And always make sure you’re prepared with the necessary tools and parts for trailside repairs—a spare tube or tubeless repair kit, tire levers, a multi-tool, a pump or CO2 inflator, and a replacement chain link, as well as a first aid kit.

Leave No Trace

No matter what you’re doing on the trails, it’s important to always keep in mind the seven Leave No Trace Principles. Regardless of whether you are exploring a more remote area on your bike or an established multi-use trail network, remember to always pick up trash, respect wildlife, stay on trail, and be considerate of others.