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By Hal Wheeler | December 11th, 2018
Tourists and locals alike appreciate Jackson Hole for its world-class skiing. But as a biking enthusiast and owner of The Hub Bicycles in Jackson, I’m partial to appreciating the natural beauty of the region year-round on two wheels. Winter in particular is pretty special.
Fat biking (or fat tire biking) lets you see Jackson and the surrounding area from a whole new angle. From biking in open country surrounded by lofty mountain peaks to cycling on tree-lined singletrack trails, fat biking in Jackson gives you a perspective not many have experienced — and one you can tailor to fit your adventure and comfort level as well as your timetable.
There’s really no down time for fat biking in Jackson. In general, when the skiing is good, the fat biking isn’t so good. When the skiing is bad, the fat biking is world-class. I’ve seen more and more people who came to Jackson for a ski vacation, encountered a dry spell and opted to go fat biking until ski conditions improved. Fat biking is best when high-pressure comes through Jackson and temperatures plummet to 10 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit, because the snow has had a chance to pack down, becoming firm and rideable. That’s your cue to hop on a bike and take to the trails.
Here are some recommendations to make your fat biking experience memorable.
Begin your day of fat biking with a hearty meal at Picnic. There you can choose from an assortment of hot breakfasts and pastries, and enjoy a cup of what I consider the best coffee in Jackson.
Then make your way to one of Jackson’s local bike shops, where you and your group can rent fat bikes. (Most of the bike shops in Jackson do offer fat bikes for rent; be sure to call before to check for availability.) Talk with the shop staff about where they’d recommend you go. At our bike shop, we do a lot of one-on-one work with customers to answer their questions, meet their rental needs and get them excited about biking any time of year. The locals will be able to tell you their personal favorite areas.
You can also look at the JH Nordic website, which features interactive maps of local fat biking and Nordic skiing (similar to cross-country skiing) trails as well as trail grooming schedules.
Photo credit: Jay Nel-McIntosh
Where to go
One of my favorite places to fat bike is Cache Creek, which is Jackson’s most popular singletrack biking area in the summer. In the winter, Cache Creek contains a multi-use main groomed trail, with a classic cross-country ski track and a flat groomed area that’s great for fat biking. It also offers a number of singletrack biking trails that are groomed by snowmobile, so the snow is packed down regularly. Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming, and the Gros Ventre Snowmobile Network also offer great fat biking opportunities.
About 8 miles west of Jackson, the Teton Pass Trail Network offers groomed singletrack that mountain bikers use in the summer and that have been adapted for fat biking. More and more snowmobile-groomed trails are popping up around the town of Alpine, Wyoming (about 37 miles outside of Jackson), and Victor, Idaho (about 25 miles west of Jackson). Singletrack trails that are groomed by snowmobiles are much narrower than traditionally groomed tracks — 2 to 3 feet wide as opposed to 10 feet wide. This allows you to go through more stands of trees and over more hills, making for a more interesting and fun experience. Groomed singletrack has been enthusiastically embraced by fat bikers.
Turpin Meadow Ranch is about 45 miles from Jackson, but it’s one of the best places to ride fat bikes. It’s essentially a dude ranch with a large network of cross-country and fat biking trails. It also has an incredible restaurant, and cabins and chalets are available for overnight stays.
What to wear
First off, wear really warm boots — the warmest winter boots you have. And make sure they’re high in case you step into deep snow. Most people wear ski gear, but you’re going to be working a lot harder than if you’re downhill skiing. So dress in a couple of light layers, then cover those with a breathable layer and a good jacket to go over it in case you get cold. Layer up, because winter in Jackson is chilly! Wear warm gloves too.
It’s hard to wear thick gloves when fat biking and still work the brakes and shifters, so consider investing in pogies (covers for the grips). Pogies go over your arms, your handlebars and all your controls, and they keep your hands warm with just a thin winter glove or your regular cycling gloves inside. They’re the best layering tool for fat biking.
Photo credit: Jay Nel-McIntosh
What to bring
The tricky thing with water is preventing it from freezing. Put warm water in an insulated water bottle, where it will stay thawed a bit longer. You can also add a flavored hydration mix if you’d like. My preference is tea, because it’s great to drink something warm. If I go on a longer fat bike ride, I’ll bring a camelback and put a thermos in it, because if it’s cold enough, just about anything you put on the bike itself will freeze. Sometimes even an insulated water bottle doesn’t work so great if temps are 10 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring snacks along as well (I like chocolate) for quick energy.
At any point in your ride, you need to be prepared for a flat tire or other small mechanical failure, making it necessary for you to walk out of the area. The good thing about fat biking is that you generally don’t go as far away from civilization as you would on a mountain bike or a road bike, so if you do need to walk out, you shouldn’t have a long way to go. And you’re not going to be stuck anywhere where you can’t walk out because the snow will be packed down.
Bring a really warm layer in your pack in case you do get stuck somewhere — a good down jacket at the very least. I always bring several hand warmers to throw in my boots or gloves if need be. Of course, you should always have your cell phone with you. But since cell service can be spotty, don’t rely on it as your primary emergency tool.
When you’re done riding for the day, stop by Local to fuel up for your next adventure. Local is an awesome steakhouse and really cool bar right in downtown Jackson. After that, settle in and prepare yourself for another great day of fat biking!