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A mountain biker’s first fatbike ride

Lessons learned the fun way at Frosty’s Fat Bike Race

I’m swerving, catching snowy ruts and even getting what feels like sweet air. Even if it’s only a couple inches over a roll in the trail, I feel like I’m flying. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I’m thoroughly enjoying my first fat bike ride.

Frosty's Fat Bike Race Jasper
Waiting for the start with little clue what’s to come and definitely looking like it’s my first day. Image: Kent Sanchez / Frosty’s Fat Bike Race

It wasn’t always like this. The last 50 minutes since I first swung a leg over the Kona Wazo, rented from The Bench Bikes in Jasper have been a roller coaster of excessive sweating, heavy breathing and cartoonish sliding in all directions.

I’m on the groomed trails of Jasper Park Lodge for my first ever fat bike ride. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m having a great time doing it.

Frosty Fat Bike Race Jasper
Emma Maaranen and Goeff Montegue riding Jasper’s Overlander Trail. Image: Kent Sanchez / Frosty’s Fat Bike Race

Talking with Emma Maaranen and Geoff Montegue, two seasoned fatbike vets also in town for the Frosty Fat Bike Race, this is a sensation that never entirely goes away. In fact, it’s part of the attraction of the big tire bikes. A bunch of grown humans flailing around in the snow is never a bad thing, in my mind. It’s a direct connection to the joy we all had when we first learned to ride bikes. This is reinforced the next day, when we visit the local Jr. High for a fat bike demo and the teachers are having as much fun “supervising” as the kids are “learning.”

RELATED: Soft snow and sweet views at Frosty’s Fat Bike Race Endurance XC

Still, I can’t help but think I should have listened to Gabriel, our Jasper Park Lodge bartender the night before. While grabbing a meal with a couple other late arrivals, I’d disclosed that the race would be my first time on a fat bike. Gabriel paused mid-pour, looked at me and asked “… do you think you should, maybe … practice first?” I might not have caught all the intricacies of pushing big tires through soft snow on a 15 minute practice lap. I would have dressed better for the race, though, and been less of a sweaty mess. Maybe.

Here’s five things I learned from my first fat bike ride. Maybe they’ll help you navigate your first big tire experience better than I did, hopefully they’ll convince you I had a good enough time you should try it too:

Frosty's Fat Bike Race Jasper
This section looks like a false flat, but it was so soft only super-low tire pressure could keep you afloat. Kent caught a rare moment where I’m riding, not walking. Image: Kent Sanchez / Frosty’s Fat Bike Race

1) Tire Pressure

The first thing Frosty’s organizer Keith Payne says to me as I roll up is “How’s your tire pressure?” I immediately have flashbacks to cross season. It’s something I’ll hear him ask countless other riders over the weekend. Despite touching the bike for the first time less than 10 minutes earlier, I assumed my weirdly low pressure would be good, assured Keith as much, and proceeded to fishtail all over the first straight as my wheels dug into soft snow. Out of sight from Keith, I quietly let some air out. Then more. And was amazed at how I started to float on top of some of the softer snow. On the other hand, Geoff Montegue lost Saturday’s race when his went too low (around 1.0 PSI)

2) Layers are key

I don’t think I was dressed properly once during the entire three day Frosty Fat Bike Weekend. As you can see from the photos, I quickly started sweating so much in -3 conditions that I had my jacket and gloves off, and was doing my best to sweat through my helmets hard shell. The next morning, I was freezing standing around in the field. Bring all the layers, and expect to change constantly (or sweat profusely).

3) Falling is fun.

This is a goofy sport, and that’s part of the enjoyment. You’ll slide around, your friends will slide around, and everyone will go OTB at least once. But you’re usually landing in, or sliding on snow, so it’s less serious, right? The lowered consequences of falling make fat biking a great time to practice committing to corners, too, if you’re intent on adding learning in with the good times.

Frosty's Fat Bike Race Jasper
Why am I dressed in white and wearing no gloves in January? Because I was sweating so much everything else came off after Lap 1. Rookie move. Image: Kent Sanchez / Frosty’s Fat Bike Race

4) It’s harder than it looks

Not just staying upright, pushing those beefy treads around can be exhausting. If you think slows speeds mean low effort, think again. Half way down the first false flat start straight I was breathing heavier than I’d like to admit. If you’re winter bound, fat biking is a fun way to keep up that on-bike fitness, power and bike feel. Riding solid ground again will feel easy come spring.

5) Don’t get too serious

Yeah, it’s racing. Or riding, if you’re not racing. But fat biking is clearly about the fun factor. It’s a great way to get out side in the winter, is hilarious sliding around on what look like simple trails, and it’s definitely more fun than another four hours indoors on a trainer.

Frosty's Fat Bike Race Jasper
Trainer or snow covered bridges? Terry Hanas from Whitecourt, Alta heads out into the wild over Jasper’s Sixth Bridge trail toward Overlander. Image: Kent Sanchez / Frosty’s Fat Bike Race

The following day, our group heads out on the Overlander Trail, towards Japser’s historic Moberly Cabin. I still don’t’ manage to dress appropriately, but I’m feeling more comfortable on the trail. Until, that is, the trail comes to an abrupt stop. We’re only a week behind the last big snowfall to hit Jasper, and the trail to the cabin hasn’t been packed down yet. I get another lesson in exhaustion. Breaking trail as your tires squirm around is hard. It’s like riding through really slippery sand. We all laugh as we wiggle through the fresh snow, and sweat through our layers.

Riding through the beautiful trails of Jasper National Park, it’s hard to have a bad time. But even when we hit singletrack and the views of stunning Rocky Mountain peaks were blocked by trees, my first fat biking experience was way more fun than I’d expected. Sweatier, but fun.