Fat bikers hungry for more mountain terrain

Sun Peaks is lagging behind other resorts in the fat bike territory, say members of the Kamloops Fat Bikers.
Four members of the Fat Bike Kamloops group pose with their bikes on a snowy bridge.
Members of the Fat Bike Kamloops group. Photo provided.

Lockdown limitations in the early months of the pandemic turned many people on to biking and, once hooked, it seems many didn’t want to stop pedalling during winter. 

As a result, fat biking — riding with special tires designed to cruise through snow and ice — has seen a recent renaissance.

Sun Peaks has its own fervent fat bikers, but Kamloops has the greater concentration. Fat Bike Kamloops, a Facebook group created five years ago, now has over 340 members. 

Members organize group activities in and around Kamloops and plan away trips to SilverStar Mountain Resort, which offers activities like skiing and snowboarding, skating, tubing, snowshoeing and fat biking. The resort has 15 kilometres of single and double-track fat bike trails that are maintained with snow groomers to create the optimum packed snow for fat biking.

While Sun Peaks is lagging behind somewhat in the fat biking territory, the Kamloops Fat Bikers are keen to see the development of more facilities here. 

The Sun Peaks Resort (SPR) website includes a map detailing designated fat biking territory on the Valley Trail network, the new Family Man Loop and shared terrain on some of the Nordic trails. 

However, temperatures must be below 0 C and fresh snow must not exceed 5 cm in order for fat bikers to hit the trails. 

Kamloops Group member Marie Mudry came with her husband to Sun Peaks in January to follow the fat biking map. 

“We biked for an hour and a half to two hours … [on] McGillivray, Whiskey Jack, Raven Ramble and Raven Return [trails] as well as some of the village trails,” she said. 

However, comparing her day visit with other away trips, Mudry added the single-track dedicated fat biking trails at SilverStar are the most attractive to her and her friends who are planning a trip there soon. 

Brad Heyman, manager of the Fat Bike Kamloops network, has organized three-day weekend trips to Winthrop, WA, as well as regular day jaunts to Isobel Lake. He told SPIN having another nearby trail network would be a major draw for members.

“If you have the product, people will come,” he says. “I know our group would go to Sun Peaks for a weekend if there was enough trail. Some would just come for the day but quite a few of us would want to stay for the post-ride festivities.” 

Heyman suggested a figure-eight trail at the Sun Peaks Golf Course, a single-track forested route to McGillvary Lake and a lakeshore loop. He added the resort could also adapt existing snowshoe trails. 

Increasing the price of fat bike day passes from $5 would be one way to offset trail maintenance costs if SPR is keen to develop its trail network, Heyman said.

“I would say a minimum of 20 to 30 kilometres of dedicated groomed trail that is for the most part rideable in both directions, that gives you close to 60 kilometres of trail [would be ideal],” Heyman advised. He also recommended SPR introduce clear multi-use trail etiquette to create a good working relationship between visitors sharing the trail.    

Funding for fat biking in other regions comes partly from mountain biking associations, local communities or resorts intent on diversifying their appeal. 

Here, the Sun Peaks Recreational Trail Association (SPRTA) is working with the province to develop trails in an area of crown land adjacent to Sun Peaks, which may provide increased fat biking opportunities in the area in future. 

“The Sun Peaks Resort team has done some great work on expanding the fat bike network this winter, with a new three-kilometre dedicated fat bike trail recently opening,” SPRTA president Sam Loxton told SPIN. “We have had discussions with the resort over the past few years about ideas to help make this happen.”

SPRTA has experience adapting summer trails for winter use, like The Family Man trails and SunBurf, which are open for both fat bikers and snowshoers. 

“One potential solution we’d like to see to increase trail options for fat bikers relatively quickly is to have the existing snowshoe trail network in Sun Peaks become multi-use and allow fat biking,” Loxton said. “This is a model that is used in SilverStar and other areas successfully.”

“We are keen to collaborate with local snowshoers and Nordic skiers to develop a winter trail network that works well for everyone,” he added, pointing out that building fat bike trails doesn’t require an existing trail as it is just re-shaped snow with no digging or groundwork needed.  

Having identified potential terrain, the funding problem persists. 

“The biggest obstacle SPRTA faces in trying to expand fat biking in Sun Peaks is not having enough resources available to develop and then maintain a network,” Loxton explained. “Trails need to be groomed regularly, especially after new snowfalls, to keep them rideable for fat bikes.” 

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