“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”
Here in the Canadian Rockies the seasons have traditionally dictated our outdoor activities. The warmer months were the realm of hiking, camping, rock climbing, mountain biking, and paddling while the coldest parts of the year were reserved for skiing, snowboarding, ice climbing, and snowshoeing. But with recent advances in technology and gear development some of our favourite outdoor pursuits are no longer dependent on the confines of the seasons. Activities like kayaking and river surfing are now performed twelve months of the year and with the invention of fat bikes, mountain biking is also a year-round sport that is only gaining in popularity.
Fat bikes are off-road bicycles with oversized tires and wider rims that are designed for riding over unstable surfaces, such as snow. The bikes feature extra-wide forks to accommodate the considerable rims and tires and typically sport rigid frames as the large air chamber in the tires provide the most natural form of suspension. The tires are designed to be used with low inflation pressures (sometimes as low as 5 psi) to create a smooth ride over the roughest terrain and increase traction during inclement conditions.
Recently I had the opportunity to try fat biking for the first time. I was invited take part in a guided tour with Kananaskis Outfitters, a rental and retail space in Kananaskis Village that also offers guided excursions into the surrounding landscape. Claude and Michelle, a husband and wife guiding team and co-owners of Kananaskis Outfitters, were both present for the day’s adventure; offering expert advice on technique, safety, and attire. We would be riding their brand new Rocky Mountain Blizzards and touring several of the trails in and around the village including the newly constructed Ribbon Creek Trail. The trail was built by Alberta Parks employees specifically with fat biking in mind. It’s fast and flowy and crosses Ribbon Creek several times, utilizing new bridges that were built to replace old ones that were destroyed during the devastating floods of 2013. The tour, aptly called the Frozen Waterfall Tour, ended at the impressive and partially frozen Troll Falls where we enjoyed hand-picked Labrador tea and homemade cookies.
There was a thin layer of snow on the trails, which provided optimal conditions for fat biking. Although the riding is quite similar to traditional mountain biking you do have to be aware of the unknown under the snow. Balance is key, especially on the downhill sections, as the front tire can slip while rounding corners. You also have to be conscious of your weight placement on the uphill sections or the tires will spin-out in the snow. Even without the suspension fat bikes are typically heavier than traditional mountain bikes. The additional weight coupled with the oversized tires and the variable trail conditions all make the climbs more strenuous.
You’d be mistaken if you thought the tour was solely about fat biking, but cruising through the snow on a trail-eating machine is really just the beginning! Combined, Claude and Michelle are a wealth of knowledge about the wild flora and fauna, the area’s history, and local secrets you won’t find on any tourist map. The tour really comes alive when its sprinkled with informative tidbits about the medicinal properties of Aspen Trees, what critter made the tracks in the snow, or the approximate age of an ancient tree stump (spoiler, it’s been there over 1,600 years!). The personalization of each trip and the passion displayed by the guides are truly what make these adventures so special.
My first taste of fat biking was one I won’t soon forget! It was almost like I was a kid again, just out riding for the sheer joy of it. My initial fears about sliding around every corner on hidden ice quickly evaporated and I was able to relax and revel in the whole experience. With the biking world’s newest phenomenon carving out its own niche it’s safe to say Alberta’s coldest months are no longer the sole domain of skis and boards. Better start making space in the gear room!
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Claude and Michelle for making this tour a reality and to Chelsea for setting the wheels in motion; it’s very much appreciated! For all the latest information and to stay up to date please follow Kananaskis Outfitters on Twitter and Instagram and give them a ‘Like’ on Facebook.