To Hit the Slopes this Winter, Just Add Handlebars
Experience Colorado Winters in a Totally Different Light.
There’s nothing quite like the onset of winter along the Front Range: the crisp air, piles of fallen leaves and, yes, the sights of white peaks in the distance.
And as Coloradoans, we take great delight in shedding summer items for the layers of winter.
It’s still a great time to play outside. Maybe the best.
This winter, flocks will head to the many ski resorts and other slopes around Colorado to take part in the somewhat annual rite of the season: skiing and snowboarding or perhaps tubing.
While that might be fun and exhilarating for some, others are leaving their traditional skiing apparel at home and hitting the powder and packed powder in quite a different way.
Just add handlebars.
With ski biking and fat biking, outdoor enthusiasts have found two more ways to experience Colorado winters in a totally different light.
And one by one, sites around the state have welcomed and embraced these two unique activities.
“When I started making ski bikes, only a few places allowed them on their slopes,” says Devin Lenz, owner of Lenz Sports Bicycles in Fort Lupton who was one of the first ski bike manufacturers. “Here in Colorado, I’d say 75 percent of the ski areas have ski biking. There’s good access in Colorado, and it’s growing quite a bit.”
Simply put, ski biking takes off the wheels and replaces them with, you guessed it, skis.
Lenz goes all out, crafting full-suspension ski bikes made to conquer powder, moguls and everything in between.
And don’t worry about not having the proper equipment to get started; a handful of properties in Colorado offer ski bikes for rent – some offer lessons, too – so you can see firsthand what the rage is all about.
“It’s so different,” says Colorado Springs cycling and outdoors professional Jon Severson. “A lot of people haven’t seen an actual ski bike before. Wait until you see one you can take down a black-diamond run.”
The concept of ski biking has been around for nearly 200 years with the ski bob, where the rider wears a set of foot skis while maneuvering a bicycle.
But Lenz helped usher in a new, freestyle, era of upright ski bikes, made right here in Colorado, without the rider having to employ foot skis.
It does take some getting used to, though, and you’ll have to remember it’s not exactly like riding a bike.
“The freestyle has gained momentum in the last 10 years, and it’s much easier on the body, especially those with bad knees,” Lenz says. “It’s just not natural to jump on and go. Anyone can ride a bike, but with those instincts, when you lean into a turn, you have a hard time slowing down on snow. You have to learn how to make a turn without leaning and keep the bike upright and stay forward.”
Lenz thought about portability during a long day on the slopes as he kept all of his aluminum bikes at 30 pounds or less.
Conversely, fat biking takes place on a mountain bike, fitted with abnormally large tires with lower-than-average ground pressure to ride on packed snow.
It’s become a way of life in Leadville, which sits at 10,200 feet above sea level and, with year-round packed snow, makes fat biking here quite the ultimate destination.
“Being up here, winters last longer than most,” says Brad York, a mechanic at Cycles of Life, the town’s full-service bike shop. “When the snow is melted off everywhere else, we still have snow up here, and it’s always best to be on a fat bike and be outside.”
Leadville, home of what’s regarded as the longest-running winter mountain bike race series around, offers the Mineral Belt Trail, affording 12 miles of groomed paradise, and the nearby Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, which doubles as a Nordic skiing destination as well and gives fat bike riders access to groomed trails and singletrack paths, too.
According to York, peak fat biking season in Leadville is right around the corner.
“Last year, I didn’t get on a fat bike until mid-December, until there was a good layer of snow,” York says. “You’ve got to have a good base before we can groom. Fat biking is nice to do when there’s no powder on the ground. Those are the perfect conditions, when there’s no fresh snow.”
If you can’t make it up to Leadville, you’re not out of luck. Breckenridge, for example, offers fat bike guided tours and offers beginner and expert trails, as does Winter Park, just to name a few.
So get out there, saddle up, and ride. It’s that time of the year.
As you’d always check the weather and ski conditions before you head out, the same can be said about ski biking and fat biking. Resorts have different rules and stipulations regarding accessibility, terrain, number of lifts and ability to be loaded on chairlifts, among others.