Big mountains, fat bikes, (freezing) cold hard cash, and a race director duo that have traveled two days to put on a race in Jasper National Park, way up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This is Frosty’s Fat Bike Series Jasper race, three days of events, rides and races centered around fatbiking in one of the most picturesque National Parks in Canada. By the the event’s end, there will have been $5,000 awarded in race prizing, two races, an incredibly cold group ride, a fat bike conference, and various dinners and social gatherings. I caught up with Randal Gibb and Keith Payne, Frosty’s organizers, to find out more about the Jasper event, and how their Utah race series ended up in Canada, handing out what is likely the largest prizing amount in fat biking.
Frosty’s Fat Bike race series has a solid, six event calendar part way through its sixth season, but it started much smaller. The first year was a single event in Nordic Valley, Utah. When other venues started approaching Gibb about the idea of new races, he says, the series started expanding. While the number and type of events expanded, there’s now XC, endurance, and even a fat bike downhill race, Frosty’s events all took place close to Gibb and Payne’s home state of Utah. This changed in 2016, when the duo was contacted by Tourism Jasper about the idea of adding a stop north of the border, to help promote the groomed fat bike and hiking trail network that spreads out from Jasper town-site.
That summer, Payne and Gibb visited the park to see if an event there could work, Payne’s first visit to Jasper since passing through on a family trip as a child. Starting with a warm weather trip was a smart move on the part of Tourism Jasper. Frosty’s organizers agreed there was potential for a great winter event in the area, and Frosty’s Jasper was born. The event still sees sunny skies in January, but the temperatures have bottomed out at -30 both years the event has run, usually around Thursday’s group ride from Maligne Canyon. Anyone signing up to race through the mountains in January likely knows what they’re signing on for, weather wise, and Gibb says there’s been nothing but smiles even in the extreme cold. Besides, it’s a dry cold, right?
Having post-ride events planned for racers warm up at Jasper Brewing Co. and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge probably helps participants disposition a little. Outside riding, Frosty’s has a steady schedule of social events, from a welcome gathering at Jasper Brewing, to post-race dinners and a fat bike industry summit for those who want to learn more about fat biking. This years summit presenter was Gary Sjoquist, Quality Bicycle Products Advocacy Director, covering topics from grooming techniques to equipment choice.
This years group ride saw ten riders head out for a 20 km loop on the Overlander trail towards a turnaround point at the historic Mobery Cabin. With temperatures hovering around -20 F, riders ranging from pro fat bikers, to cycling industry reps and participants from B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan set out from the Maligne Canyon parking lot for the social group ride, held as a fundraiser for Jasper Park Cycling Association. JPCA works year round to maintain the Parks network of mountain bike accessible trails, and its members acted as guides for the group rides. During the winter, JPCA flat-packs an impressive network of trails for hiking, fat biking, and trail running. In the summer, the network expands to several different riding areas. The 10 km stretch of Overlander trail covered by Frosty’s stretches out into a 30 km point to point ride that passes through the meadows surrounding Moberly Cabin before traversing a beautiful bench cut directly above the Athabasca River.
Social events aside, Frosty’s is about racing. There were two races in Jasper this year, starting on Friday with an XC race on the snow covered golf cart tracks of Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. This made for fast paced racing in the expert field, but also an approachable course for beginners and anyone looking to give fat biking a try. Ability categories range from Abominable (Expert) and Bigfoot (Intermediate), to Chilly (Beginners).
The weekends marquee event is Frosty’s XC Endurance race, where the $5, 000 in prizing is up for grabs across the men’s and women’s Abominable categories. The race starts in downtown before rising up onto the Pyramid Bench trails, directly above Jasper town-site. Like the Overlander, Pyramid Bench trails are open to mountain bikers in the summer months. Mountain bike trails flat-packed groomed by JPCA makes for an exciting course, with plenty of flowing singletrack to bring you back down from the tough, but scenic climb out of town.
The endurance XC took place on the Pyramid Bench, directly above Jasper Townsite. This allowed the race to start straight out of town before heading onto the trails. Like the Overlander trail, Pyramid Bench trails are open to mountain bikers in the summer months. This makes the XC Endurance course a proper fat bike mountain bike race, with plenty of flowing singletrack. Following a solid, but scenic climb up out of town. Mike Sarnecki and Blaine Sherman, both racing for Kokanee-Redbike, used their local advantage to push Ty Hopkins off the podiums top step, though Hopkins still told organizers the course was one of the most fun he’d ever raced. High praise from a pro who’s raced events across the continent. On the Women’s side, former national fat bike champions Ami Steward and Emma Maaranen faced a tough challenge from Jena Greaser, of Barkhamsted, Conn., who won the Abominable race both days.
Keith Payne, far left. Randal Gibb, upper right : Frosty's Fat Bike Series : Photo: Kent Sanchez
Women's Abominable podium : Frosty's Fat Bike Series : Photo: Kent Sanchez
Men's Abominable podium : Frosty's Fat Bike Series : Photo: Kent Sanchez
Randal Gibb : Frosty's Fat Bike Series : Photo: Kent Sanchez
When I talked to Gibb and Payne, they were at the end of a long three days of race directing and event organizing in the substantially sub-zero temperatures of a Canadian winter. Gibb was also staring into the start of the two day drive back down to Utah the next morning, adding to the two day drive up with all Frosty’s timing and event equipment necessary to run the race. The duo, while tired, were still very stoked on the event and already talking about where they wanted to take Frosty’s Jasper in 2019. In only its second year, the event had doubled in size, attracted pro fat bikers from south of the border, and smoothed out the kinks that come with cross-border race organization. With the duo already scheming ways to making the event bigger, this is one race you can already start looking forward to for next winter. Frosty’s fits in to Tourism Jasper’s month long promotion, Jasper in January as well. So if you’re looking to make plans, maybe book a bit of extra time off and pack the skis, snowshoes, or whatever else you use to pass your time when your not on the bike.