Maybe you’ve seen them in the summer or winter: bikes with huge, nay, fat, tires streaming down the bike path or cruising winter trails, floating effortlessly over the snow.
Maybe you think these people are crazy to ride a bike like that, especially when it’s freezing out and there are so many other activities—ahem, skiing—to do in the winter. But in an area that so prizes its summer mountain biking, why wouldn’t bike enthusiasts hop on a bike made for winter riding to continue the sport year-round?
Fat bikes are much like regular bikes, except their frames are built to hold a bigger tire, making it easier to glide over the snow. Think of it as pulling out your wide powder skis or board to help you float over the snow much more effortlessly.
The modern version of the fat bike was initially developed and started to evolve for the desert in the 1980s. However,
the same tire fatness that makes it easier to bike on sand applies to snow.
Since then, fat bikes have come a long way—even in the last decade. And this is because fat bike technology has improved massively, resulting in lighter bike frames and even wider tires to make it easier to ride in the snow. And while there aren’t any major bike companies making e-fat bikes, there’s a good chance it’s not too far off, considering the new lightweight systems coming out.
Where to Rent/Buy
Several bike shops in town sell and rent fat bikes, a small contingent but a vital one in the lifeblood of the local fat bike community.
Where you plan to ride may influence whether you rent from Ketchum or Hailey shops.
For Ketchum, people can go to The Elephant’s Perch ($45/day, $35/half day, $255/week) or Sturtevants. Sturtevants also has a Hailey location on Main Street ($59.99/day, including helmets at both sites).
Also in Hailey is Trailhead Bicycles, which rents fat bikes for $50/day.
These shops also sell fat bikes, in case you want to truly commit to the sport. However, riding and maintenance of a fat bike are slightly different, so ask knowledgeable shopkeepers for their advice.
“There’s a lot that comes with fat biking, but once you’ve got it, it’s a blast and another way to go out in the winter and enjoy this beautiful place that we live in,” says Andy Solomon, co-owner of Trailhead Bicycles.
Where to Ride
Within the Wood River Valley, there are currently four places to ride: Sun Valley Nordic and Snowshoe Center, the SNRA headquarters, Quigley Nordic in Hailey and the Wood River Trail, aka “the bike path,” which runs 32 kilometers from one end of the Valley to the other.
The Sun Valley Nordic and Snowshoe Center, located at the Sun Valley Club, has five fat bike trails, which provide 16km of terrain in town. Bikers will need a Sun Valley Nordic pass, which can be purchased as a full-season, half-day, full-day, two-day, or three-day pass. There is also a fat bike trail fee ranging from $0-$15, depending on age.
The Nordic Center also plays host each year to the Snowball Special Fat Bike Race in February. Started in 2016 by local bike pro and fat bike enthusiast Rebecca Rusch, the race takes place at the Sun Valley Nordic trail system. The race is unique because Sun Valley’s trail systems are usually closed to fat bikes. So instead, riders go along the Diamondback, White Cloud, Dog Loop, Boundary and Proctor trails. The race starts and ends at the Nordic Center and usually draws about 100 participants each year.
To get out of town a bit, drive north on Highway 75 to the SNRA headquarters, where a network of Nordic ski trails winds its way up to Galena Lodge. Unfortunately, the only trail groomed for fat bikes is the 7km Durance Loop, which requires a Blaine County Recreation District (BCRD) pass.
In Hailey, the Quigley Nordic Trail features a 5km Dog & Fat Tire Loop. The loop is perfect for beginners to enjoy a flat and comfortable ride on groomed terrain. A BCRD Quigley Nordic pass is required.
If you’re game to truly get out of town, head up to Stanley, which has its own fat bike scene. Bikes can be rented from Balance Bike Works for $50/day, and with tons of accessible trails right from town, the world is your oyster.
The Fat Bike Fondo was added to the annual Stanley Winterfest in 2016. This 30km or 40km fat bike race winds through the varied terrain of the surrounding Sawtooth Mountains, starting and ending at the Stanley High Country Inn.
The town of Victor, Idaho, located in the Teton Valley near Jackson, Wyoming, and a roughly 3.5-hour drive from Ketchum, is a fat biking hub in the winter and something for Ketchum to aspire to. Trailhead Bicycles owners Andy Solomon and Kyle Wies have been selling fat bikes since 2014 in shops in the Tetons that served the Victor and Jackson populations.
They witnessed an explosion of fat bike trails by working with local groups and advocating for the increase of trails in that area. Since opening their shop in Hailey in April of 2022, they see parties interested in bringing that same kind of expansion here. Mostly, the lack of grooming on the trails typically used in summer prevents the Wood River Valley from increased fat bike access.
“The big thing is getting that singletrack trail grooming where it’s fun for bikers to go for a ride, which is different than where it’s fun for Nordic skiers to go,” says Wies. Recruiting people who know how to groom a trail, so it rides well and gets the infrastructure in, is key, and Wies says it’s likely a five- to 10-year process.
“But once you get the infrastructure in, it gets used a lot,” adds Wies. “There are a lot of people who want it; we’ve had customers here who take trips to Victor, ride, come back, and ask how we can do this here.”
Unfortunately, there is little demand for increasing trail access thus far. Morgan Buckert, director of development and communications for the Blaine County Recreation District (BCRD), says there are currently no plans to increase fat bike trails; according to her, their community surveys suggest there are very few fat bike users on winter trails.
Another advocacy organization for local trails is the Wood River Trails Coalition (WRTC). But similarly, the organization plans to focus on summer trails, primarily due to a lack of demand for fat bike trails in the winter.
“That’s outside of our current scope of work and focus,” says Sara Gress, executive director of the WRTC. “We have more than enough work in the business of singletrack dirt trails in the summer, so I don’t want us to get spread too thin by expanding into winter stuff. Right now, we are focused on building our current programming and building the groundwork to do more. Maybe someday we will have the staff and capacity to do winter activities, but not at the moment. I would rather do one thing really, really well than be mediocre at too many things.”
Solomon and Wies maintain that it’s about advocating for fat bikes, getting the community involved, and creating a demand. They’re working on this by introducing fat bikes to a greater population locally. According to Solomon, fat biking is the perfect activity to complement your other winter sports. “It’s just a whole other toy to have fun outside with, especially when the snow’s really bad for downhill skiing; that’s when fat biking’s good. Fat biking’s really bad when you have a lot of good snow, and you’d rather go skiing anyway.”
Making A Comeback
Snowshoeing is similar to fat biking in that it can’t take place necessarily on all the same trails as Nordic skiing does. But on the plus side, with snowshoes, you can take off onto whatever trail, ridge, or path you find!
Snowshoes are available for rent from The Elephant’s Perch, Backwoods Mountain Sports, Sun Valley Resort and Galena Lodge.
Sun Valley Nordic
& Snowshoe Center
Snowshoes are available for rent and trail passes are available in season for half-day,
full-day, two-day and three-day varieties.
Galena Lodge offers an extensive trail system of 35km of designated snowshoe trails maintained throughout the winter by the BCRD. The Lodge also offers snowshoe rentals and guided snowshoe tours.
A snowshoe-designated loop, North Fork Loop, is 4km long and a great little outing on a crisp, clear day.
Billy’s Bridge Snowshoe Loop
Located 16 miles north of Ketchum, this 8km loop is maintained throughout the season by the BCRD.
Wood River Trail
The bike path is open to all, including snowshoers, who can access the entire
32km of this winter-groomed trail.