Some people consider winter bicycling to be idiotic. Since this blog isn't authorized to determine who's an idiot and who's not, let's instead question whether winter bicycling is or is not extreme. Humans do lots of extreme stuff, and as long as a lot of people participate in that activity (or at least in their wildest dreams wish they could), nobody has an unkind word to say.
This being Colorado, I imagine I don't have to push this argument too far. We, for example, have this guy, whom everyone loves for nothing but his extremism and devotion. The number of winter riders in Denver is growing, and if motorists don't yet expect to see us riding on snowy days, we're nearing the day when they will. If you live in Colorado, there's a good chance you ski, snowboard, climb frozen waterfalls, dogsled, snow pogo, ice dive, glacier snorkel, or slush surf, so if you drive by a cyclist and wonder what that idiot is doing, then you are probably thinking tribally and not globally, my friend.
I said all of that to say this: fat biking in the snow is awesome, and if you haven't tried it, you should. With the price of ski passes moving into four-digit territory (that's $2000 (!) for Aspen or Telluride) and with traffic on I-70 moving slower than a corn cob through a terrier, there's no reason not to try fat biking. If you haven't tried it already, here's a story about what you might sort of expect.
My compatriot J-Mix (J Mikks (J Miques)) and I recently had ourselves quite a time on fat bicycles. It was fifteen degrees when we met at the Apex parking lot.
In minutes we had stripped down to our base layers. I wore only a merino wool Icebreaker shirt (that's about as thick as a t-shirt) and some summer gloves for a majority of the climb. I'm sure this would be a different story if the sun hadn't been out, but still, it was by no means unpleasant or even chilly.
The snow didn't make much about the climb more difficult than it would've been on a dry day. The only tricky sections were where rocks warmed in the sun and then melted the surrounding snow. This made the larger rock slabs wet and muddy. Rocks the size of volleyballs were slippery enough to throw my rear wheel sideways. The texture of the snow varied so that switchbacks in the shade were a cinch, while sunny switchbacks and wet water bars proved a little slippery, but neither J Micks nor I dabbed more than we would've on a dry run.
Since we weren't blazing trail, getting started on steep slopes was easy. I was riding a Surly Ice Cream Truck with Bud and Lou 4.8 tires that, on the sunny front side of Apex, were the very definition of authoritative.
The backside of Apex (after the new Grubstake cutoff cut off) had more snow and fewer tracks, so we had to break our own trail on Sluicebox and beyond. Breaking uphill trail in five plus inches of snow was difficult. Getting started was especially tricky, but we took turns and stopped where the snow was thin and things were fine, though neither of us brought enough food. We figured (any by 'figured' I mean made up without any real data) we exerted about 1.5 times as much energy as we would've in summer, which means we wanted snacks in a bad way. Hot chocolate, snacks, and whiskey are three things we absolutely should've had.
Quick tip: keep all of your weight over the rear wheel while simultaneously keeping all of your weight over the front wheel.
At the top, we opted to turn around and descend the tail we'd just made instead of braking trail downhill. We descended. It was hilarious. I won't speak for J-Micz, but I personally navigated the fine line between having the time of my life and also fearing for it (my life). Wrecking, though, hurt about as much as a pillow fight.
Quick tip: when you want to turn in deep snow, don't use the handlebars. Use the Force.
Descending the front side, where the snow was thin and heavily traveled, was just like riding a bike.
Glove liners were almost too much on climbs, while ski mittens weren't enough on descents. You need a larger pack than you normally carry, so you can haul extra layers and a shell (also a thermos, buritto, goggles, etc.) uphill. Mittens, by the way, won't give you the dexterity you'll need to hold onto the bar and operate the brakes with frozen fingers. You'll need lobster claws, and if there's one activity where Bar Mitts really shine, this is it.
Even if you are completely worn out and cold and tired and have a millions things to do, you will probably immediately make plans to ride your fat bike at Three Sisters the following day, no matter how much you don't want to. Because you will really really want to.
While J Mixe and I drank hot cocoa on this rocky outcropping, we talked about how nice it was to have a winter sport again. Both of us have fallen away from the land of lift lines and interstate parking lots, and not getting outside makes winters long and unbearable. When you don't get out and play in the snow, winter is just something you have to shovel. These trails border on urban areas, and yet are silent and isolating. Just a few miles outside of the city, the winter woods feel just like the vast and remote woods I grew up wandering around in, and are exactly what I need to see in order to return restored to grocery store lines, stoplights, unabating liter, and junk mail.