Four years ago, there were 3 snowbikes in Whitehorse – not exactly a critical mass. This year, rumor has it there will be almost 90 bikes floating on top of snow packed trails. With all the new bikes in town, I thought it time to share some of the things I’ve learned over 4 seasons of fat biking.
1. Pulaski-less Trail Building
Snowbiking is a lot more fun on purpose packed trails. Sure, you can keep your adventures limited to popular walking trails – but, if you want to have a really good time, you’ll probably want some singletrack. Trail building/maintenance for snowbiking is probably even more work than summer trail building, because every time you think things are perfect, it snows.
How do you maintain and build snowbike trails? It’s easy – you just have to snowshoe them. If you don’t have snowshoes, small steps in big boots are just as good. Feeling adventurous? Build and pack up a berm or two on the corners.
Because of the constant snow and wind, it’s easiest to pick one route to maintain for the winter. In Whitehorse, the Hillcresters/Porter Creekers tend to maintain Quickie; while the Riverdalers concentrate their efforts on Boogaloos/Go-T. With all the new bikes and riders, there could be an expanded network this year. If there’s a route that you like – let your fellow bikers know, so that you have the necessary numbers to keep the trail in good shape. Remember that there’s different criteria for good snowbike trails. Ridges are beautiful, but wind exposure kills a trail quickly. Try to find routes that stay in the forest, where they are protected from the elements or you might find yourself frustrated.
2. Make Friends
There may be a whole bunch more fat bikes, but we are still a new phenomena in the Yukon forests. Snowshoers, snowmobilers and dog sledders aren’t used to seeing bikers in sub-zero conditions. Some folks might be curious, others will be crusty – but no matter who you encounter give a smile, a wave and a friendly hello. When you run into the nice neighborhood lady with her dog – don’t make her step off the path into 1.5 feet of fresh snow – pull over and let her keep walking on the path. If you see a dog team coming – grab your own mutt and let them pass without creating a mess of lines, dogs, and flying fur. Make friends on the trails!
The winter also brings with it a whole other world of potential partners – partners that help us expand our trail network and our access, there is only so far that you can hike. Klondike Snowmobile Association is a great example – thanks to their regularly packed routes, snowbikes can venture all the way to Braeburn Lodge with a stopover in a stove-equipped cabin. Biathlon Yukon is another snowbike friend, that packs and hosts a trail event for winter riders. If you are going to ride the Dawson Overland or Jackson Lake routes – think about buying that $20 KSA membership with a note that you are a snowbiker. It’s well worth the packing and the cabin. If you are going to play on the biathlon trails, give an hour or two as a volunteer shot counter at their next competition. The more we all work together, the better it is for all of us.
3. Know where to Ride
Part of making friends is knowing where you are allowed to ride. To figure out where you can and cannot go you can check out your City’s trail network information. For the City of Whitehorse, I look at their Trail Plan.
All trails in the City of Whitehorse, with the exception of the Mt. Mac ski trials are multi-use trails. The trails at Chadburn and Magnusson are designated non-motorized multi-use, with no snowmobile access allowed – except for volunteer groomers at Chadburn. You are allowed to have your bike at both of these areas. That being said, respect the work of the volunteer groomers at Chadburn and don’t ride in the tracks. Generally, the groomers try to place their tracks over to the side, so that other users such as walkers, snowshoers, etc… can still access the trails. There is no volunteer grooming at Magnusson, so finding a ski track isn’t always easy. But, if there is a track, try to stay beside it instead of on top of it.
The ski trails at Mt. Mac are single-use designated. Snowbikers continue to work with the club to see about eventually opening up some of the singletrack trails, but until there is some agreement, they are for ski use only.
All other trails are open, but use some common sense when deciding where to go. Don’t ride on the Yukon River at the same time as the Yukon Quest starts. Bad idea… Riding on the most popular walking trail mid-day on Saturday will not be fun for anyone – you’ll spend as much time getting on and off your bike for pedestrians as you will riding.
That’s the basics – any other snowbikers have tips for the newbies?