Fat Bike Summit Wins New Allies for Recreational Access

IMBA Lends Support for Advocacy Efforts
Last weekend, more than 100 fat bike enthusiasts, bike and outdoor industry professionals, land managers, and congressional staff braved whiteout conditions to attend the 2nd Annual Fatbike Summit and Festival at Sawtelle Mountain Resort in Island Park, Idaho. Gathered to discuss fat-bike access in national and state recreation areas, attendees got hands-on experience through demos, group rides and a 25K race. By the end of the three-day conference, event organizers emerged with new allies and a strategy for supporting this rapidly growing winter sport. 

“We hit one out of the park,” said Gary Sjoquist, QBP advocacy director. “Our Friday session was attended by about 40 land managers and included folks from Yellowstone and various U.S. Forest units. They all got to ride fat bikes and learned how minimal their impacts are to groomed Nordic ski and snowmobile trails.” 

Conference-goers also learned about private and state recreation areas that have successfully integrated fat bikes. Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming now allows limited fat biking along its 15 kilometer Nordic trail system. The key, says Resort Manager Andy Williams, is establishing standards of trail etiquette, and actively managing when and under what conditions fat bikers can ride the trails. 

In Washington, the Methow Valley Sports Trail Association (MVSTA) adopted similar practices for fat bike corridors along some of its 120 miles of groomed trails. Fears among Nordic skiers have dissipated as they realize fat bike tires cause little disruption. And Methow Valley land managers are beginning to see an economic opportunity. “This year, the MVSTA is hosting more fat bike events than Nordic because fat bikes draw more racers,” said Sjoquist. Methow Valley organizers note that ski ticket sales have increased because fat bike cyclists purchase trail passes, too, Sjoquist added. 

And while the Summit’s most visible focus was creating partnerships beyond the bike community, it also strengthened alliances within. Before coming to Island Park, Anna Laxague, IMBA regional director for the Pacific Northwest, had never ridden a fat bike. Her presence in Idaho sent a strong signal that the influential national advocacy group takes the emerging sport very seriously. Laxague, who reportedly loved her first fat bike experience, said IMBA will support advocacy efforts to build industry and grassroots support; unite diverse trail users through common goals; and help communities use fat biking to boost their recreation economies.

Flush with the success of the Fat Bike Summit and Festival, Sjoquist is optimistic about the future and ready to take on an ambitious agenda. Projects include fat bike pilot programs at national parks and forests, and continuing outreach and education for land managers and politicians across the U.S. The goal, Sjoquist emphasized, is to open new territories for this rapidly growing sector of the bike industry.

“There are 10,000 fat bikes in existence today, and it’s estimated that number will double by next year,” Sjoquist observed. “That will put a lot more demand for access to national parks and state forests. Land managers will need a strategy for how to will handle it all. It opens tremendous possibilities, and challenges, too.” 

Notable attendees included employees from Idaho Parks and Recreation, Bureau of Land Management, Yellowstone National Park with U.S. Forest Service administrators and rangers from Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Staff members from Senator Mike Crapo’s office and Congressman Mike Simpson were joined by local business representatives. 

Co-hosted by QBP and Fitzgerald's Bicycles in Victor, ID, the Fat Bike Summit and Festival was supported by presenting sponsors Surly and Salsa Cycles. Other sponsors included IMBA, Fat-Bike.Com, Q-Outdoor, Adventure Cycling, BicyclArt, 45NRTH, 9:ZERO:7, BikeFlights, Revelate, Grand Targhee Resort and Snake River Brewing. Photos and race results from the Fat Bike Summit and Festival are available on www.fatbikesummit.com.