Steamboat Living: The Season of the Snow Bike |

Steamboat Living: The Season of the Snow Bike

Local trails see spokes as well as skis in low-snow winter

Snow Rider: Nate Bird, of Honey Stinger, hits the snowy singletrack on Emerald Mountain.

Poor ol' Ski Town USA. Not only does the moniker have Bike Town on its heels, but now its followers are even on its trails.

While a subpar early ski season had skiers spinning their wheels, mountain bikers used it to spin theirs, especially on the trails of Emerald Mountain.

"They're awesome this year," says local convert Kyle Pietras, a Steamboat Powdercats guide. "They're super smooth, with every bump completely covered. It's the best winter-riding season I've ever seen."

Don't be swayed by those wackos racing slalom gates down the face of Howelsen during Winter Carnival. People snow-ride for fun and exercise, and it's actually safer than its summertime counterpart. It's technical, without the consequences; rocks, logs and other bumps are covered, and you don't go as fast, making falls less painful. "Everything is cushioned," Pietras says.

Helping, of course, are technology advances, primarily in tires. While some riders retrofit rims with oversized tires to boost traction, others adorn treads with studs. Still others rent or purchase oversized bikes specifically for the task. But you don't really need either, especially on the trails of Emerald, where the singletrack is seemingly made for snow riding.

"Normal mountain bikes work great, especially if you let a little air out of the tires," Orange Peel owner Brock Webster says.

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Regardless of what you ride, the movement is gaining steam, and not just in Steamboat. Moots' Eric Hindes recently competed in Minnesota's Arrowhead 135 snow-bike race, and Winter Park launched a snow-bike race circuit this year.

Orange Peel's Essam Welch regularly rides Uranium Mine, Fox Run, lower Spring Creek and West Summit. He's even ridden from Dumont Lake along the Continental Divide Trail to Buffalo Pass and down. "To me, it's way more fun than skiing," Welch says. "There's tons of great winter riding here."

The craze is gaining enough of a cult that you're likely to see bikers right alongside skiers, snowshoers and hikers the rest of this winter and more to come.

"It turned out to be the season of the snow bike," says Moots' Jon Cariveau, also an avid winter rider. "And now that people have gotten a taste of it, they'll probably keep doing it year after year."

Tips for winter riding

There’s still plenty of time to break out your bike this winter before mud season shuts down the trails. Here are some tips:

■ Use your front brake and steer with your rear brake.

■ You’ll get cold feet from post-holing, so wear thick socks.

■ Swap out your clipless pedals for flats so you can ride in boots. If you stick with clipless, wear a size bigger shoes to accommodate thicker socks.

■ Bring two pairs of gloves: a thin pair for the ride up and a thicker pair for the descent.

■ Bring a neck gaiter and thin hat to wear under your helmet for the descent.

■ Keep your tire in the track;

otherwise prepare to shoulder roll.

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