Global Fat Bike Summit and Festival 2015 – Lessons to build on for the future

2015 marked the 4th Annual Global Fat Bike Summit and Festival, a celebration and gathering of bicycle industry representatives, land managers, tourism representatives, and passionate members from the mountain biking community.

With a record 150+ attendees, the event took full advantage of the hospitality provided by this years host venue, Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole, WY between January 23-25.  Friday was comprised of conference style presentations and panel discussions, highlighting best practices to gain further access to Fat Biking.  Shared-use, and specific-use trails dedicated to Fat Biking were discussed, exploring more opportunities for the public to enjoy this fun and healthy recreational activity.

Gary Sjoquist, QBP

QBP’s Advocacy Director, Gary Sjoquist, and Scott Fitzgerald, from Fitzgerald’s Bikes hosted the event.  The agenda was packed with a diverse set of topics ranging from the origins of Fatbiking, to next steps and the future of the sport.

The session began with an intro from Sjoquist and Fitzgerald, who commented on the humble roots of the Summit – from a handful of people around a table in 2012’s Montana venue, to 2015 where they were now standing in front of over a hundred delegates at the Snow King Resort.

The Grand Room, site of the 2015 Global Fat Bike Summit, Snow King Resort, WY

One message that Sjoquist was happy to share, “Fat Bikes are not a fad”.  With over 20 yrs of Fat Bike development since the early prototypes of welded rims and hand sewn tires in Alaska, we have seen some brands embrace these technical developments to produce the now more ‘mainstream’ versions of Fat Bikes.  Marketing in industry has also changed, highlighting the fact that these bikes with oversized tires can ride on all kinds of surfaces, not just snow and sand.   The market growth of Fat Bikes has certainly been due to these advances, but the overwhelming reason for their popularity is definitely that they are just plain FUN to ride!

With the increase in ridership also comes the search for opportunities to ride, and the rest of the morning was prioritized for discussions on access and best practices:  Fat Bike Shared Use & Separate Use and Fat Bike Management on Public Lands.  Land Managers representing both public and private realms spoke to the topics of shared-use trails, specific-use trails, grooming and the development of partnerships.

General best practices are continuing to be established and IMBA has had an important role in developing these along with several partners ex. Grand Targhee Resort and Teton Valley Trails and Pathways.

For more info please see: IMBA Canada - Fat Bike Best Practices

Linda Merigliano of Bridger Teton National Forest, highlighted the need to respect other stakeholders through positive attitude, communication and a priority on safety where muilti-use or shared-use trails are possible.  Merigliano went on to mention that “Respect for the Land”, would need to be part of the overall conversation and goals for sustainable Fat Bike use.  This is a new challenge for many Land Managers, with new variables to consider during a time of the year where biking was not normally taking place.  Snow conditions can deteriorate or vary wildly throughout the winter season, adding criteria to the management of the activity, like “trail firmness”.

Presentation slide courtesy of Linda Merigliano, Bridger Teton National Forest

Fat Bikes have the potential to be used at times when trail conditions are poor, or subject to damage, and rider education is the best defense to avoid these negative impacts in winter, as well as through the traditional shoulder seasons of spring/fall.  Andy Williams of Grand Targee Resort, mentioned specifically that without guidelines for shared-use trails, something they adopted from the beginning on their Nordic trail system, the potential for trail damage, negative trail experiences, and conflict were inevitable.  Still, it can be a daunting task to consider the demands of managing another trail user group, but Wendy Aber of the Durango Bike Company attributed their Fat Bike success at the Durango Nordic Center to providing a good groomed product, eliminating “what if’s”, and having an “inclusive mentality rather than exclusive”.

National and State Parks representatives provided insight into the adoption of Fat Bike use in particular areas.  John Sullivan of Idaho State Parks, commented that as a non-motorized activity, Fat Biking was accessible, easy to learn, and had a family appeal.  “Park diversity, expanded shoulder season use,…, create trails before they create themselves…, expanded revenue,…, mentally and physically beneficial” were only a few of the points that Paul Gritten of Wyoming State Parks brought forward in support of Fat Bike trail use and development.  Success in adopting Fat Bikes is largely due to supportive and progressive land managers willing to look towards the overall benefits of low impact recreational activities into the future.

Photo courtesy of Bob Allen, MTBR

The early afternoon session comprised an update from IMBA with an introduction by Mike Van Abel, President and Executive Director for IMBA’s U.S. Office.  Van Abel highlighted the parallels of early access challenges for mountain biking, with Fat Biking seeing the same issues that early adopters of mountain biking had in trying to gain access to trails.  Best practices, etiquette, and collaborative advocacy approaches were cited as being the most important strategies for gaining general acceptance for Fat Biking.

Igor Hoogendoorn, Co-Director for IMBA Canada presented an update from north of the border, this being the first time that the association has attended the conference.  Hoogendoorn mentioned it was honour to have the chance to speak in front of all the conference delegates, especially given the popularity of Fat Biking internationally.  He mentioned that public and private venues were generally accepting of the activity, with examples from affiliated clubs developing Fat Bike routes on their stewarded trails, to numerous Ski Resorts offering rentals and shared/specific use trails on their properties – for example Quebec has +10 ski venues now providing Fat Bike opportunities.  Here in Canada, we are very fortunate to have access to plenty of Fat Biking trails, largely due to existing shared-use agreements at the local or club level.  However, we could take a few cues from the work done in the US at the National and State level for access – Canadian National and Provincial land managers have yet to establish general statements on Fat Bike use in their jurisdictions, relying instead on location specific agreements in many cases.

IMBA U.S. Regional Directors (R.D.) provided a brief synopsis of current and ongoing advocacy development in their regions with comments provided by Jason Bertolacci, Colorado/Wyoming R.D., Anthony Duncan IMBA Mid Atlantic R.D., Andy Williamson, Great Lakes R.D., and Mike Pritchard, IMBA Colorado/Wyoming Associate R.D.  It was exciting to hear about numerous successes in gaining more Fat Bike trails, and the prospects for many more miles in the future.

The hot topic of “Groomed Singletrack for Fat bikes” took the stage during the late afternoon presentations.  Several accounts of groomed singletrack being the preferred experience with Fat Bikers were shared.  John Gaddo of QBP, summerized the evolution of trail grooming and presented different methods used to produce singletrack trail systems dedicated for Fat Bike use.  A few of the examples from the presentation included:

  • Human powered packing and grooming
    • snowshoes, bikes or drag/pull behind devices
  • Mechanical grooming
    • machine types
      • snowmobiles, Pisten Bully, tracked ATV’s, two-wheel drive motorcycle (ROKON), tracked motor-cycle with ski (Timber Sled)
    • grooming devices
      • sleds, skids, rollers, drags, augers, plows, and blades

Grooming roller/compactor from Grand Targhee Resort– photos courtesy of Mike Pritchard, Associate Colorado/Wyoming Region Director, RFMBA Executive Director

Doug Edgerton of Yellowstone Track Systems, presented on the “Art of Grooming”, and with his many years of experience, the talk focussed on the fact that some methods for compacting snow were better than others, depending on the conditions.  Edgerton described that the snow crystals created volume due to their 3-dimensional form, and the most effective method of compacting them tighter relied on breaking or shearing them into smaller pieces.  This Edgerton said, was best done using blades to shear the snow or tillers to break up the snow crystal lattice.  Also when grooming, the temperature was a defining factor, with warmer temps increasing the water/snow volume ratio, thereby creating a more well packed trail surface.  This fact could influence the time of day that grooming was planned, with afternoon being cited as the generally preferred timing window.

Yellowstone Track Systems’ new Fat Bike specific groomer

The Summit wrapped up in the late afternoon, with final comments summarizing the day’s presentations.  The resounding outcomes of the Summit were built on the fact that Fat Biking is here to stay, and that solutions were already well established for maintaining, expanding and creating more Fat Bike opportunities.

Festival events continued on Saturday and Sunday, with an Expo area at the Snow King Resort that showcased demo bikes and product from some of the major manufacturers in the industry, a Fat Bike route through the Cache Creek trail network, a Fat Bike Short Track Race, and a Fat Bike Pub Crawl on Saturday evening.

Global Fat Bike Summit and Festival Fat Bike Expo at Snow King Resort, Jackson Hole, WY

 

IMBA staff riding at Cache Creek Trails, Jackson Hole, WY

 

Igor Hoogendoorn suffering in the Short Track Fat Bike Race – “what elevation are we at?”  - photos courtesy of Jason Bertolacci, IMBA Colorado/Wyoming Region Director, and Mike Pritchard, IMBA Associate Colorado/Wyoming Region Director

 

Seeing the broad support for Fat Biking from so many different perspectives was a very positive experience.  With so many successes already a reality, nationally in the U.S. and internationally as well, Fat Biking has a bright future, and we are ready to continue to support its progression and development!

 

We want to extend a huge thank you to all of the Summit and Festival organizers, sponsors, and those that attended - it was a great event!

For additional coverage of the Global Fat Bike Summit and Festival please see the following media releases: