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Saturday, March 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Bill Jennings: Frost Fight pits bikes racing in the snow

By Bill Jennings For The Spokesman-Review

An unusual event that has emerged recently at a few ski resorts around North America will make its Inland Northwest debut at Silver Mountain Sunday. The Frost Fight is a dual slalom competition pitting riders on fat bikes against each other in head-to-head racing on the snow. Mountain bikers are also welcome. But in this race, obesity is an advantage.

People have been riding and racing mountain bikes on snow for years. But conventional gear won’t stand a chance against fat bikes, equipped with tires at least two inches wider under a miniscule amount of pressure that nearly float on top of the snow.

“I went out and tried the course yesterday,” Willy Bartlett, marketing manager at Silver Mountain said on Monday. “It was pretty darn challenging. But it’s amazing how much control you really have with a fat bike. I didn’t crash, but going head-to-head will get exciting really quick.”

Fat bikes were a curiosity just a few years ago. But this style of riding has become more common. Anyone hiking a local trail recently has probably noticed a few wide waffle treads mixed with footprints in the snow.

“Fat bikes used to be a little heavier, a lot more clunky,” said Skye Shillhammer, an employee at the Bike Hub’s downtown location. “But a lot of them are light enough that people are using them for their year round bikes, not just on snow. There used to be only a select few models, but now almost every manufacturer makes one and the price is going down.”

Fat bikes are also trending at ski areas. Schweitzer set aside a fat bike loop in its Nordic trail system a few years ago. A growing number of destination resorts have started offering cross-country fat biking trails and tours. A few early adopters are taking the sport even further.

In January, Crested Butte, Colorado, started admitting fat bikers on some of its groomed terrain before and after resort operating hours. They can’t ride the lifts, but those willing to pedal their 40-plus pound balloon-tired Humvees up the slope are welcome to cruise down a few select runs.

Spirit Mountain, a resort outside of Duluth, Minnesota, is going all-in with lift-served, downhill fat biking. Spirit Mountain is a typical midwestern ski area, with a 1,320-foot summit, 175 acres, 22 trails and 700 feet of vertical. A detachable quad provides a safe way to board/off-board with a fat bike. After a mandatory bike inspection, riders have access to a pair of groomed intermediate trails. Most of them venture off-piste into the woods to ride berms, singletrack and rock drops.

Sunday’s course will be carved from freshly groomed corduroy on rolling terrain. After Bartlett sets the gates, members of the Silver Mountain race team and ski school will do some laps to rut it out.

“It’s going to be kind of like flat track racing,” he said. “You’ve got your foot out sliding into the corner, then a little bit of a berm will catch you to line you up for the next turn.”

Racers can register on Sunday in the gondola village for $25. An $18 lift ticket is also required to enter. The event starts at 9 a.m. A qualifying run in the morning sets the field. Non-qualifiers and riders who are eliminated can exchange their lift ticket and ski or ride the rest of the day for less than the price of a regular day pass.

Competitors race head-to-head for two runs and the winner moves on to the next bracket. Top riders win medals. Everybody can win schwag in a post-race raffle. Several local bikes shops will be there with some fat bikes to try out on snow.

“The event is as much a social gathering as a race,” Bartlett said. “Competitive, but mostly fun and doesn’t require any special skill level. It’s a total crapshoot as to who is going to be good at it.”

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