Ski clubs cautiously welcome fat bikes to their ranks

As fat biking grows in popularity, cross-country ski and outdoor clubs are figuring out how to welcome the new sport, without upsetting established users.

Separate trails, designated times recommended to avoid conflict

The popularity of fat biking is growing in Northern B.C., where heavy snow requires thicker tires for riders. (Troy Lee)

As fat biking grows in popularity, cross-country ski and outdoor clubs are figuring out how to welcome the new sport to their trails without upsetting established users.

"It can be a user conflict, but it doesn't have to be," said Shane Landreville, nordic manager for Silver Star Mountain Resort near Kelowna, B.C.

For five seasons, Landreville has been developing space for winter bikers to ride alongside Silver Star's cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

At first, the bikes were limited to multi-use trails, but now they have roughly 15 kilometres of dedicated terrain, separate from skiers. 

Silver Star Ski Resort in Kelowna, B.C., has added dedicated fat bike trails. (John Bowes)

With Canada's largest network of cross-country ski trails, Silver Star has plenty of room to keep bikers and skiers separate, but in communities with less space, learning to share the trails can present more of a problem.

"It's a pretty contentious issue in the cross-country ski world," said John Bowes, general manager of the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club in Prince George.

Bowes said the topic of fat bikes has come up at two recent conferences he attended, with a split between those who welcome the new sport and those who see it as a problem for skiers.

"They want cross-country trails to be cross-country trails," he said. 

Insurance worries

For now, the use of fat bikes at the club is being "researched," Bowes said. The same is happening at the Omineca Ski Club in Burns Lake, west of Prince George, where fat bikes are increasingly being used on cross-country trails.

According to the club's website, the primary concern is insurance.

"All of our skiers are covered by insurance that is paid through their membership fees," the message reads. "But it only covers specific activities — and fat biking is not one of them."

Some trail users welcome fat bikers as they pack down snow, making them easier to traverse. (Lynda Foreman)

The message then asks members to research fat biking and come forward with ideas at the next annual general meeting.

Tom Skinner believes it's in everyone's best interest for cross-country skiers and fat bikers to get along. And as someone who both skis and fat bikes, he believes it's fully possible for that to happen.

"It's a win-win," he said from Prince George, where he is organizing the city's second annual fat bike festival this weekend.

The primary issue, Skinner explained, is that fat bikes can damage trails when temperatures get above freezing or the snow is fresh. To that end, he said bikers need to carefully choose where and when to ride so they don't ruin things for others.

"Conditions determine whether you can or can't ride on cross-country ski trails [with a fat bike]," he explained. 

At Silver Star, bikes are not allowed on trails when the temperature is above freezing or when snow is fresh.

Rules limit where and when winter bikers can use the trails at Silver Star Ski Resort. (John Bowes)

Landreville recommends clubs experiment with allowing cyclists to choose specific times, or even days, when riders are allowed on the trails, and making sure other club members are aware.

Skinner hopes to organize a demonstration of fat bikes at the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club later in the spring, when the trails have turned icy, to show skiers what the sport is about.

For now, though, he's sticking to multi-use trails in the woods maintained by the Cranbrook Hill Greenway Society, where board chair Robin Draper said feedback on the addition of fat bikes has been "positive," especially among winter runners.

"The fat bikes make a nice packed trail for them," he said. 

Ultimately, he said, it's all about getting people outdoors in the winter months.

"To me, the more people I see out being active, the happier I am."

With files from Nicole Oud


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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. Email: andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca | Twitter: @akurjata | Secure PGP: http://www.akurjata.ca