Snowshoeing and Fatbikers: We can all get along!

By Sheila Goss

Day Hiking Ambassador

Fatbikes…have you seen them? They are a great new development in the outdoor recreation world, and have really taken off in our area. These amazing bikes, with their oversized and underinflated, high-traction tires, can negotiate winter trails previously accessible only by skiers, snowshoers,  hikers, or snow machines.  Though I have yet to attempt this exciting winter sport, my extensive time on the trails has led me to encounter such bikes  and their tell-tale tire tracks in the snow. I have learned that their ideal conditions require snow to be packed and compacted ; as much as we love light fluffy powder, the fatbikers want trails to be firmed up before they ride.  So, snowshoers can enjoy the trails, while also making them more suitable for fatbikers.

As an avid cyclist, I follow bicycling social media sites, especially those from our local area. As a snowshoer, I also follow local hiking and shared use trail networks sites, always looking for information on new trail opportunities. In the past year or so, I really took note of posts on some of these groups’ Facebook pages. On the Ascutney Trails page there was this post: “Snowshoe hikers, you’ve done a great job keeping a lot of our trails ready for this part of the winter, and we’d love to have your help getting others reopened and bikeable”.

On a local trail, I was once thanked by a fatbiker, since I was on snowshoes, and hence was not leaving behind the dreaded “post hole”. Post holes are left behind in the snow when someone walks in soft snow in boots, leaving behind a track of deep holes…those holes then freezes, leaving a treacherous hazard for skiers, dogs, wildlife, and bikers. In Vermont, we often get roller-coaster temperatures and snow conditions. The Stowe Trails Partnership  posted this earlier this winter:  “The freeze thaw cycles we’re having are making for some big, soggy spots and non-snowshoers (no offense) are cratering the trails something fierce–these craters freeze and make the trails tough to use for fatbikers and XC skiers. So if you plan on going out PLEASE, wear snowshoes and be mindful of the wet areas.”

I have complimented fatbikers, thanking their mountain bike clubs for maintaining the trails, and permitting access to other non-motorized uses.  It dawned on me that there is certainly a symbiotic relationship between fatbikers and snowshoers, that benefits participants in both activities.

I recently spoke with my local bike shop guy, who maintains a local trail network for 4-season biking. I told him that I had recognized what a cool relationship was developing between snowshoers and fatbikers. His immediate response was “We love snowshoers!” .  He said he wants to make a pair snowshoes available to bikers at a local trail head, so the bikers can help with trail packing and grooming before they ride.

Some fatbiking areas have purchased mechanical groomers, but for smaller, non-commercial trail networks, snowshoers remain the groomer of opportunity and practicality. Some fatbikers have been known to wear snowshoes while pulling pull tires, weights, and manual grooming sleds behind them…all in an effort to pack down the snow on the trails, making them suitable for the fat-tired bikes. For snowshoers who are working to help groom trails it is suggested that they travel  in wider paths than they normally might; Chuck advised that a “three snowshoe wide” track is the best for bikers!

So this is a true partnership between winter bikers and snowshoers that benefits many trail users; the bike organizations provide flowy, scenic, and often challenging trails, and are willing to share with other quiet users.  We support their efforts by assisting with regular use and grooming, trail maintenance, and pre-event specialized trail packing. And of course, both groups advocate following the principles of Leave No Trace, which include not leaving post holes, or damaging trails in a manner that hinders others’ use.

Snowshoers and winter fatbikers love getting out into the woods, onto winding snowy trails, or into the mountains, to enjoy the special winter experiences provided by our respective activities. Respecting and encouraging other trail users is a wonderful practice, and we can all take pleasure in the results of such a partnership!