Steamboat Springs Two local ski areas are going to let a new type of winter athlete use their groomed Nordic ski trails this winter.
Lake Catamount and Howelsen Hill for the first time are allowing snow bike riders onto the trails along with skiers and snowshoers.
The bikes have larger and flatter tires and are designed to be ridden on snow.
Craig Robinson, Howelsen Hill's facilities supervisor, said Tuesday that the city learned that other ski areas in the country — including the Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyo. — successfully were adding the bikes to their trail systems, albeit with some new rules.
At Howelsen, for example, the tires on the bikes can't be narrower than 3.7 inches or be inflated to more than 10 pounds per square inch.
Riders also will have to purchase trail tickets or passes, and they won't be allowed on the Alpine trails.
“As this industry has grown and the sport has kind of evolved, we were able to talk to other ski resorts that had implemented this program and thought it would be a great fit for Howelsen and Steamboat,” Robinson said. “As the technology has evolved, there is less and less impact from the bike.”
Dave McAtee, the director of lake operations at Catamount Ranch & Club, rode one of his coworker's fat bikes in the winter and had enough fun to conclude they should be allowed on some of the 25 kilometers of groomed trails at Lake Catamount.
“You've gotta add new things to see if they work, and this is something new, and it seems like the sport is growing big real quick,” McAtee said. “We want to be on the cutting edge instead of chasing it.”
McAtee said a small number of the cross-country skiers who use Catamount have threatened not to buy passes if the bikes are allowed.
But he said the bikes have less of an impact on the trails than skiers, and some of the skeptics were invited to try it out, and they “fell in love.”
“We don't think it's going to be a big issue out here,” McAtee said, adding that Catamount has been researching what rules should be in place to avoid conflicts. “The issue is passing, and who has the right of way on some of the hills.”
Emily Lovett, the Nordic coach at Steamboat Springs High School, said the addition of bikers on the trails could benefit everyone.
“The more multiuse we can make the trails out Howelsen, the more it benefits the community,” she said. “If you have bikers on there, too, I just think it's a shared trail, and we all have to respect each other and our passions and what we do.”
Fat bikes have become a more common commodity in Steamboat in recent years.
Riders mostly take them out on the groomed snowmobile trails on Rabbit Ears Pass and on some singletrack trails on Emerald.
“In terms of percentage growth of the sport year after year after year, it's tremendous growth,” said Brock Webster, the owner of Orange Peel Bicycle Service on Yampa Street. “For us, every year I sell twice as many bikes as the last. It was like one bike the first year, four bikes the next and eight bikes the next."
He said fat bikes are “opening up places you never thought you could ride a bike before.”
Still, the sales of these bikes comes nowhere close to the sale of bikes made to ride in the snow-free months.
And they can be pricey to purchase. Webster said the “decent” ones cost $1,500 and more.
If that's out of your price range, Orange Peel and Ski Haus rent the bikes.
Howelsen passes for sale starting Nov. 5
Howelsen Hill Ski Area will begin selling season passes Nov. 5 at the Howelsen Hill concession stand, according to a city of Steamboat Springs news release.
Howelsen Hill and the Nordic trails will open Nov. 30, conditions permitting.
The concession stand will continue to sell passes during normal operating hours during the season. Prices go up Dec. 2.
Prices increased this year, and the new pass structure includes an Alpine pass, a Nordic pass and the third option of a combined pass, which offers access to the lifts and the Nordic trails. Price breakdowns can be found here.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10
Join the Yampa Valley VIP email club