Thursday, February 23, 2017

Our Newest Winter Obsession - Family Fat Biking

"Obsession" might be a strong word but what else do you call something that has completely captivated you and that has changed the way you look at life around you? An avid skier who dreams of gliding through pristine snowy meadows on my cross country skis, I have now started looking at  trails with fresh eyes and am wondering what they'd be like on a bike. I'm taking a brand new look at all of my favourite trails and am starting to imagine what it would be like to explore them with a fat bike as opposed to skis or snowshoes. I'd say "addicted" or "obsessed" is hence fairly accurate for how I'm feeling about my new winter "interest."

A new winter hobby for us - Fat Biking!

Fat biking had been on my list of new things to try for a couple of winters now but I'd been putting it off for a few reasons:

  1. I was terrified to try fat biking. I'd seen photos and heard stories from friends, and thought I had to be this extreme mountain biker to participate in this sport. I didn't associate fat biking with the casual mountain biking enthusiast and couldn't fathom how I'd manage to bike up snowy hills (when I already struggle with ascents in summer.) Add twisty, windy single track trails and steep descents, and I just couldn't picture myself trying it on a snowy (possibly icy) trail. I equated fat biking with being a bad ass mountain biker - and that, I am not!

  2. There are not a lot of places to rent fat bikes. (And buying one was out of the question due to the $$$.) I also didn't picture myself renting one and driving it out to the mountains, so I needed to find a good trail system with on site rentals.

  3. I didn't know of a single place renting fat bikes for kids - and if I tried this new sport, I wanted my son to be able to try it as well. He loves mountain biking and had been begging me to try fat biking. I told him that if he could find me a place renting 20" kids' fat bikes, that I'd happily take him (and we'd walk the scary hills together.)

Trying winter biking for my first time at Nipika Mountain Resort (and it wasn't scary!!)

Fat Bike Trail System with On Site Rentals - Found!

Step one if I was ever going to try fat biking was to find a trail centre or winter sports destination with on site rentals. I also needed to find a place that had EASY trails for beginners.

Easy winter riding at Nipika
Fortunately, I was planning a ski weekend with some girlfriends at Nipika Mountain Resort located on the border of Kootenay National Park outside Radium Hot Springs, and I knew Nipika had fat bike trails.  I'd also heard that they were super mellow and chill as compared to the resort's regular mountain bike trails (which are very challenging.)

I planned to spend most of my weekend skiing at Nipika on their amazing network of groomed cross country trails but figured just maybe, I'd rent a fat bike for a quick spin and see what the fuss was all about. I suspected they wouldn't have kids' bikes (and I was initially right) but I could at least try it myself before introducing the activity to my son.

Luck or fate intervened and Nipika was hosting a "Demo Day" with Specialized bikes while we were there so you could try out some cool winter bikes on the Nipika trails. While my bike wasn't technically a "fat bike," it still had bigger tires that enabled me to try out some of the trails at the resort. And the result - instant addiction!

Ok, so there's a "small" learning curve when the trails are soft

Dedicated Fat Bike Trails at Nipika Mountain Resort

Nipika maintains, grooms, and packs two different trail networks on their property. First, there is a great system of cross country trails for skiing. Second, there is a dedicated trail network for winter biking - and only biking (so if you see somebody on your bike trail who's hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing, you could actually tell them to get off and to go find their own trail!) Snowshoers and winter hikers don't get their own groomed trails but they are welcome to use the summer mountain bike trails or to hike on the main ski trails (staying off the tracks.)

Dedicated fat bike trails at Nipika Mountain Resort

I can't even begin to explain how amazing it is to bike on a snowy trail that has no foot prints, (other than where people have had to walk up a hill or have stopped for a break,) no crusty indentations from people post-holing through soft snow, and no ski tracks to accidentally ride into. Nipika's winter bike trails are pure perfection, groomed for easy riding, and well signed so that you always know you are on one of the bike trails. (And if you get lost, you can always hop onto the ski trails, find the nearest junction, and orient yourself.)

Easy riding on the South Trails at Nipika Mountain Resort

If for whatever reason you find the fat bike trails to be too challenging, you can always get off and ride on the packed ski trails (wide and well groomed for easy riding) but I can assure you that the South Trails are EASY PEASY and I had zero challenges on them. My 8 year old got to ride them too and found the trails well within his ability range.

Crossing a ski trail at Nipika while fat biking

For riders looking for more of a challenge, the North Trails are hillier with more twists and turns. I rode these trails when I was first at Nipika and then checked out the South (easier) Trails on my next visit. Whichever set of trails you choose to ride, there is something at Nipika for all abilities and challenge levels.

My girlfriend riding across a snowy meadow on the north trails


Family Fat Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort

When I do something, I do it with all my heart (and that includes falling in love with a new sport.) Fortunately, we had planned to be in the Columbia Valley staying in Radium Hot Springs over the Family Day Long Weekend - just a short drive from Nipika. How could we not go back??

I also new that Nipika had just purchased a 20" kids' fat bike at the extreme begging and pleading of a crazy Calgary woman (yes, me.)

So, off to Nipika we headed with friends to check out the South Trails and to find out if this could become a family winter sport for us.

My son LOVED his fat bike at Nipika. He was very proud of how "fat" his tires were

The Family Fat Biking Experience at Nipika:

  • Arrive early if you want to rent the kids' fat bikes. Nipika currently has one 20" bike and one 24" bike. We were there for 9am and managed to claim the smaller one that was perfect for our 8 year old.

  • Consider going with friends and sharing the cost of bike rentals. We were with another family who also just has one child so we rented three bikes and took turns with them. While we biked, our friends skied. And then while they biked, we skied. Afterwards, we headed to the sledding hill and played there for a bit before the drive home. There is plenty to do at Nipika for a day so you'll be fully justified in making the drive out from Radium Hot Springs or Invermere. There's also a great lodge beside the parking lot where you can have your lunch, warm up, and even just hang out between activities.

  • Start on the South Trails and then if everything goes well, try a short loop on the North Trails. I love the meadow area around the first warming hut on the north side for its easy gentle terrain. The south side though gives you that same easy experience the entire time. It's ALL easy flat meadow riding and great for families.

  • Rent actual fat bikes. While my first experience on an all-season Specialized bike was ok, my second experience on a real fat bike was much better. I stayed on top of the snow better, I wasn't slipping or fish tailing, and I didn't sink in fresh snow. When we were there as a family, it had snowed a bit overnight and we were easily able to break trail with our fat bikes. (My 8 year old broke trail most of the time if that says how easy it was with the big tires.)

  • Try not to get your kids' hopes up too high about the actual fat biking, and plan to visit Nipika for either skiing or biking. If you get the kids too excited and then discover that the kids' bikes are already rented out by a family in one of the cabins on site (for the full day) your kids would be quite upset. We tried to emphasize to our son that hopefully we'd bike, but if we couldn't (or if conditions were too challenging with the fresh snow) that we'd ski - and have a simply lovely time doing so.

  • Have a back-up plan in place. If you are visiting the Columbia Valley for a weekend and can't get on the bike trails at Nipika, you can always head out to Panorama Mountain Resort which also rents winter bikes (and has kids' bikes too.) I'll be writing more about our experience at Panorama in another story very soon so watch for that one.

  •  Bring your own bike helmets with you. Other than that, wear any gloves that you find to be comfortable and warm. I recommend the thinnest snow pants you have (rather than bulky ski pants) and you'll want a buff or something under your helmet to keep your ears and face warm. Other than that, you can wear your normal winter boots (or warm hiking boots.) Remember that you don't have to look like professional winter bikers here - you just want to be warm and comfortable.

  • Choose a warm day to try fat biking for the first time. You don't want to try it when it's -30 and your hands/feet are freezing from being inactive. I was blessed with warm weather on both of my days at Nipika and it made the winter biking experience much more pleasant.

Easily biking through fresh snow on the groomed fat bike trails at Nipika

Fat Biking - Not what I expected at all!!

Fat bikes for the whole family at Nipika
If you go back to the beginning where I listed my fears and reasons for not having tried fat biking yet, you'll see that most of my fears were unfounded.

Yes, there are EASY fat bike trails out there - and you only have to plan a weekend getaway to BC to access them.

No, you don't have to have previous experience. If you've done some easy mountain biking in summer, you can bike at Nipika in winter.

Yes, you can rent fat bikes for the whole family and take them onto a great trail system without having to load them into your vehicle.

Yes, at least one magical amazing place has kids' fat bikes!! (Thank you Lyle and Steve!!!)

 Fat Bike AND Stay Overnight at Nipika Mountain Resort

Nipika has several cozy cabins on the property that you can rent for a couple of nights. Each cabin has a kitchen and living area. There's also a house that sleeps 10-12 people. We've stayed at Nipika several times now and it's one of my favourite places for a girls' ski weekend. We also love staying here in the spring for a mountain bike weekend.

You can read about our previous stays at Nipika in these stories that I've already written for my blog.

Kids on Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort

Everything for a Family to Love at Nipika Mountain Resort

The ultimate Girls' Ski Getaway at Nipika Mountain Resort 

Exploring the Nipika trail network by bike

For more information on rental rates, trail fees, accommodations, or ski trails at Nipika, please visit the Nipika Mountain Resort website.

Disclaimer: This story was not sponsored by Nipika. I paid for my recent stay at the resort and we paid for our own trail fees and bike rentals on our last visit. This story is written out of pure love for a great resort.

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