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From No Bikes to Snow Bikes
Article by Sharon Hogan
Photos by Scott Escott and Sharon Hogan

Winter in Moab can be Christmas-card beautiful with a sparkling frosting of snow and icicles. But to the cycling-obsessed amongst us who live to ride, the snow-covered desert causes a bad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Lucky for us, there are places like Alaska where winter prevails most of the year and the Alaskan cycling-obsessed have responded to Mother Necessity with the invention of snow bikes. Think monster trucks with two wheels and pedals. Really big tires that make regular mountain bike tires look anemic. Fat, four-inch-wide, soft, knobby tires that can grip slippery snow and push the limits of traction far beyond what’s possible on normal knobbies.

Although it seems as if snow biking would be like dashing through the snow in a one- horse open sleigh, it rarely is pure fluffy fun. Desert conditions, which usually include sun-crusted and wind-packed snow, add interesting challenges to each ride on a snow bike. First tracks in deep powder aren’t the Holy Grail they are on skis. It’s hard work to break trail in more than a few inches of snow, especially uphill. The best trail conditions exist after several riders have busted through and packed a solid snow track at least a foot wide. But what was a perfect trail yesterday can have icy bits hiding in the corners and muddy stretches on sunny slopes today. Or a mini blizzard can blow through and hide all the obstacles in the track in a solid white crust even the fattest tires can’t bust.

Even the easiest trails are tricky to ride in the snow, but snow bikes are the ticket for tackling them. Summertime speeds are best forgotten. The goal changes to honing your slow, slippery cornering skills, and maintaining balance on the skinny tracks through deep snow. Focus is narrowed to preserving traction at creeping speeds uphill and controlling the harmonic bounce the fat tires develop in rhythm with pedal strokes in bumpy sections. However, there is huge satisfaction in conquering all the snowy challenges of those easy trails. Wahoo!

The most beautiful time of day in the desert, in the summer, is early morning and this holds true for wintertime. Sunrise sparkles on the hoar frost feathers that decorate the boulders and trees. The air is crisp and glowing, the shadows sharp. The snowy landscape is quiet expansive and inviting. It is the best time to ride snow bikes because everything is frosty frozen, including the places on the trail that are thawed and muddy later in the day. It’s cold, but the trick is to dress in layers and peel as temperatures rise with the sun. Warm gloves and shoes are a must, and a hat under the helmet helps.

The Grand County Trail Mix trail builders have started using snow bikes all year as a tool to pack soft new dirt trail surfaces as they build, burning in the trails immediately. Fatback Cycles out of Anchorage, Alaska, has loaned the trail crew snow bikes to build the Intrepid Trails expansion in Dead Horse Point State Park. And since the winter snows have shut down active trail building in the park, the snow bikes make it possible to keep riding on the finished trails. Dead Horse Point is welcoming all snow bikers and mountain bikers in February to ride the new trails free of charge. Just ask at the pay station how to find the Prickly Pair, Crossroads, Twisted Tree, and Whiptail trails.

The desert in snow offers a rare and fleeting beauty, inevitably melting into familiar red dirt. Snow bikes give SAD cyclists a way to access this spectacular winter wonderland and get the two-wheeled therapy they need to be happy.

Sharon Hogan moved to Moab from Telluride with her husband Scott Escott in 1990. She supports her mountain biking habit by working as a bookkeeper. She is the Trail Mix Committee Treasurer.

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