Once upon a time, every autumn, bike aficionados would sadly, lovingly, rest their bikes on their garage racks. It was time for skis, snowboards, cross-country setups, and snowshoes to come out. Those unfortunate few who were unable to give it a seasonal rest (but seriously, have they ever skied powder?) were stuck making frequent long-weekend trips to southern Utah to get their kicks.
But now, there’s a new sport in town, and all that’s changed. With the advent of fat snow bikes and the discovery of more and more snow bike-friendly trails, there’s no need for the pedal-powered to hang it up in the fall. No, they just need a different bike.
Why a Different Bike?
Well, to sum up: Biking on snowy and icy surfaces with a regular mountain bike (or, even more terrifying, a road bike) is a quick recipe for a broken collarbone (or worse). But a snow bike is a little different: It boasts oversized, under-inflated tires with lots of nubby traction, plus extra-wide forks to hold ‘em. That’s why a special bike frame (and, therefore, bike) is required. You can’t just slap some snow bike tires onto a regular frame and call it a day.
“The end result is a little heavier, no doubt about it,” sums up Greg Steele, owner of Beehive Bicycles and local snow bike enthusiast. “A less expensive snow bike might weigh in at 34 pounds, while a top-of-the line one will come in closer to 22, which is actually pretty darn decent.”
Of course, everything is highly customizable, as is the norm for bike goods, and a full setup will run anywhere from $1,700 to $6,000. But at some shops, including Beehive Bicycles, offer demos so you can try before you buy.
“As with all things bike, it can be as expensive as you want to make it,” Steele explains.
Also on the Gear Menu …
Fortunately, if you’ve demoed or borrowed a bike and you decide to pony up for one, the bike itself is the main investment. From there, you decide how elaborate you want to get. Your regular helmet will probably do just fine unless it’s a truly frigid and worthy of swapping for your ski helmet. (Although thank goodness it never gets quite that cold in Utah.)
Ski gloves will work, although it’s nicest if you pick up some pogies, which are essentially oversized mittens that fit over your handlebars so you can shift, steer, and brake from within the comfort of the mitt. You can also wear your choice of regular bike shoes, winter hiking boots, or specialized winter bike shoes (just like bike shoes but warmer and more expensive).
“You don’t have to have all the fancy winter-specific stuff, but if you do invest in creature comforts, it makes for a better experience,” Steele explains.
Winter biking may seem like a hyper-specialized sport for only the most fanatical mountain bikers, but actually, it’s a perfect complement to skiing.
“When it’s a bad ski day—no new snow, everything’s packed down—it’s a perfect snow bike day," Steele notes. "And vice versa. So you can have two winter sports and enjoy the best of both. Ski because Utah skiing is awesome, and bike on your off days for cardio."
And what do you get out of it? A whole new way to enjoy the snow. A way to get winter cardio without slipping around on a cross-country setup like a penguin skidding around an ice rink. A way to cover real ground on the trails you know and love, without saying goodbye at the end of summer.
Where the Rubber Meets the Snow
Most summer bike trails are excellent snow biking terrain too. But here are a few favorites for fat biking around Salt Lake City , all within a quick drive.
Round Valley Trail
The Round Valley system is just a quick jaunt off Highway 40, about 30 minutes outside Salt Lake. Park at the Park City Sports Complex and find the nice, flat trail heading west. This trail system is known for being beginner-friendly and incorporating various sized loops that let you adjust the length of ride you’re signing up for.
The hardpacked snow covering this summer road at the top of Big Cottonwood is primo for snow bike tires to grip into, and you get the added bonus of the best views around. Take in all of Big Cottonwood’s majesty as you huff and puff up to the top of the pass looking into Midway.
This perennial Utah biking trail is just as fun in the winter as it is in summer, except with zero snakes. Access it from Rattlesnake Gulch (ha, no rattlesnakes!) or Church Fork, just as you would in the warmer months. The Pipeline’s proximity to town makes it a great choice for weekday rides when driving time to the trailhead needs to be minimal.
This canyon road at the top of Emmigration Canyon may be closed to cars in the winter, but that doesn’t stop snow bikers. In fact, this scenic snowpacked road winds uphill for miles, topping out at a mountain pass perfect for picnicking and photos.
This go-to summer trail is just as great when snow-covered, except there are fewer people out. Park either at the Jewish Community Center or the small lot across the street from Hogle Zoo, and work your way onto the Bonneville trail connecting the two. It’s hard to find a better ride closer to town.
The Glenwild trail system is just off the Kimball Junction exit from I-80. If you invest in this quick drive from town, you gain clean Park City air and a lovely switch-backing ride up to the top of the Glenwild ridgeline. Just park on Glenwild Drive a few blocks east of Kimball Junction, consult the trailhead map, and take off for adventure.