Fat Bike Ski Area: Lift-Access For Winter Riders

A ski area overlooking Lake Superior in Duluth, Minn., this week opens its lifts to cyclists. It is among the first resorts in America to blend fat bikes with skiers and snowboarders on downhill terrain.

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All Photos (c) Joe Johnson

Helmets are required, and so are 3.5-inch tires (minimum) on your bike. But beginning this weekend (Jan. 17, 2016) Spirit Mountain in Duluth, Minn., will for the first time give snow-biking enthusiasts access to a chairlift and multiple runs.

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Fat biking on snow is common in Minnesota. The advent of big-tire bikes has extended the season through all 12 months.

But the lift access to groomed ski trails at Spirit is a first in the state, if not the entire U.S.

Spirit Mountain is a midsize area in northern Minnesota with 22 trails and a 700-foot vertical drop.

Bikers will be allowed on two groomed ski trails as well as snow-covered mountain bike trails that wind through the woods.

Fat Bike Terrain

Riders will access the top of the hill via a 4,000-foot detachable quad chairlift. The trails downhill are about a mile long, and they include beginner and intermediate (green circle and blue square) ski ratings.

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Steep terrain at Spirit Mountain

In the woods, bikers will find snowy berms, singletrack, rock drops, and more challenges.

Fat-biking lift tickets cost $39 (purchased online) or $48 at the chalet. Season pass holders at the area can choose to ski or ride.

Fat Biking At Ski Areas. A Trend?

Beyond Spirit Mountain, a handful of areas around the U.S. are embracing winter riding, including some designating riding on Nordic trails.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado this month announced it would allow winter biking before and after ski resort operating hours.

You cannot ride the lifts with your bike at Crested Butte. But the resort will let riders pedal uphill and cruise down on some of its groomed terrain.

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With the rise in popularity of fat bikes, the resort reported, “we realized the opportunity of allowing bikers access to the mountain terrain under a similar policy as uphill skiers.”

Erica Mueller of Crested Butte said with mountain biking being a popular activity at Crested Butte in the summer “it makes sense for us to continue the trend in the winter by being one of the first areas to offer fat bikers access on the resort.”

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Stephen Regenold is Founder and Editor-In-Chief of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for nearly two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of four small kids, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.

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