Friday, March 8, 2013

Kingdom Trails Winterbike 2013

Desperate for something to do during our January thaw, I fell head over heels for winter mountain biking. Snowshoe trails had been frozen solid as a rock and bordered two inches of the oldest, hardest snowpack this side of Greenland. Studded tires were a revelation. I was becoming an expert at making lemonade out of yet another miserable ski season. Ascutney, Kingdom Trails, Boston Lot - New England's best trails were mine for the riding.

Fast forward to the first week of March. With daily temps in the 40s all week, my miracle tires were proving to be nothing more than overweight potato mashers. My icy hard single track freeway had turned to instant mashed potatoes. Was the winter bike season dead already?

Although some energy had drained out of our interest in winter biking since learning that the Catamount Trail Association wouldn't appreciate all the free publicity our end-to-end fat bike ride would give the Trail, we still love the idea of biking in any season. It's just going to take some energy from within the cycling community to convince CTA landowners that winter biking is good for the Trail and good for Vermont.

Tomorrow is a great chance to get out and stump for the cause at the second annual Kingdom Trails Winter Bike. As I reported back in February, KT has been doing great things to pioneering this sport, and at KT in particular, there's plenty of room for growth and improvement.

Master trailbuilders CJ Scott and Tim Tierney
During my February doubleheader day, I met with KT executive director Tim Tierney and trails manager CJ Scott to discuss recent efforts to bring winter biking to their summer trail network. Both were eager to discuss what Tim described as, originally "a grassroots effort led by a few avid locals."

Tim was quick to admit that, while Kingdom Trails sports over a hundred miles of dedicated single track, none of it was created with winter use in mind. "We don't exactly know what makes good winter biking, so this is a work in progress - We're using our existing trails to figure out what kinds of terrain is rideable, and what will hold up through the spring thaw cycle and won't wear out."

One of the big concerns is that summer trails might be damaged by winter bike use. CJ takes a lot of pride in KT's summer network. And rightfully so - he's been hand-crafting the country's best single track for more than a decade. "When someone rides out there in the wrong conditions and leaves a rutt, come spring that rutt is going to freeze up and channel water that could lead to unpredictable erosion." 

Right now the winter trails at KT are situated on the east side of Darling Hill, abutting the river. Tim explained the two-fold reason for using these trails as the testing ground for winter biking in the Kingdom. First, these trails get the least amount of cross country ski use. "Cross country skiing is important to our land owners, and we couldn't exist without them. So, it's important to us that we continue to offer quality, dedicated cross country skiing that won't be impacted by winter bike use." 

The second reason is that trails like Ridge, Rim, and East Branch, along with other Darling Hill offerings, are some of the oldest in the network - meaning, they've proven to be sustainable year to year. "If they can't hold up to winter bike use, we'll figure out why" CJ said. "We've been grooming primarily with snowshoes, but there may be other features we need to add to control runoff and keep everything in good shape."

Right now Tim and CJ are moving carefully but, between their positive outlook, the quality ride I had on thier experimental trails, and the excitement behind KT's second annual Winterbike event, it feels like fat bikes are here to stay. 

So, if you've got a fat bike and a backyard full of mashed potatoes, no potatoes, or just buckets of festering dog turds, it might be worth a trip north tomorrow to congregate with your fellow overweight fat bike riders. If you're like me and own a pair of useless studded potato mashers, this might just be your last chance this winter to try out the next big thing in cycling. 

If you think I'm kidding, hop over to MTBR forums and look at the 2 people reading about mountain biking in Colorado right now. Then check out the 300 people reading about fat bikes. If that's not all the proof you need that 29ers are already going out of style, I don't know what is. 

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