Snow Biking – Finding Singletrack to Ride in the Winter

at the trail head of a sweet, snow packed, bike trail

Winters in Canada are long, and if you happen to live in the Rockies, as we here at BikeFAT do, then your trails usually disappear for up to six months under meters thick snow cover.  As a Mountain Biker, six months can seem even longer if it means you won’t be riding at all between November and April.  Unless you can get away to drier climes, you will be losing bike fitness by the day.

Snow covered bridge on a local mountain bike trail
It is possible to get some sweet, singletrack riding in the middle of winter.

But there is a chance that you can get some time on the bike this winter, without having to go look for dirt.  In the town I live, we have a very active winter sport community of skiers, snowmobilers, snowshoers and good old fashioned dog walkers.  Many of these activities, pack down the snow, turning it into something that can be ridden, depending on the rider’s ability and conditions.  This is especially true if it’s been a week or more since the last snowfall.  Read ahead to find out more about finding singletrack to ride in your own snow covered backyard.




First of all, during a snowy winter there would never be anywhere to ride your bike without the work of other user groups.  Without cars and plows you couldn’t ride on the roads, and without snowshoers, cross-country skiers, groomers, or snowmobilers, you couldn’t ride any thing off the road either.  Luckily for us, where I live we have all these groups of people out in the backcountry.

Much of the mountain biking community turns to snow sports in the winter time.  My favorite user group in winter has to be the Snowshoers.  It is fine to ride your bike on the groomed xc-trails, but these are basically roads.  Snowmobiles pack the snow down okay too, but these often get a little messy, and it still lack that singletrack quality.  Snowshoes however make a perfect trench of singletrack, and a well packed snowshoe trail typically has the best traction since they don;t tear up the surface like Cats and sleds do.  They just pack it.

I don’t know exactly what it is about the people on snowshoes around where I live, but they seem happy to follow in each others tracks, leaving a trail behind them packed well

Looking down a snowshoe trail.  It looks really prime for mountain bikes.
This is a perfect example of what snowshoes may be doing to your local bike trails. These are incredibly fun to ride!

enough to be hiked in running shoes.  It seems to defeat the purpose of the snowshoes in a way, but I am grateful that they do it.  Those of us who enjoy biking on these trails think of the snowshoe gangs as our own personal trail groomers, as it seems like the finished product was made just for biking on!  And that is as it should be, I suppose, since the trails that they are using for their hike, are the ones bikers made for them in the summer time.  It is a perfectly symbiotic relationship.

Therefore, the key to finding singletrack in the winter time, is to find out the popular trails for snowshoing in your area.   If you have a rich mountain sport scene near your home, then there might be some trails that are used on a regular basis by groups on snowshoes.  Check some of your local trailheads.  The popular trails in the summer, are usually the most popular in the winter time too.

So go out there and give your bike legs a good wake up. Why bike in the winter? Because it is crazy fun, and a crazy work out.  Traction is at a minimum while climbing (the colder the temperature the grippier the snow is.) Pedaling up your favorite trail requires much more energy as most of your pedal stroke just slips away behind you!  It will make you a much better rider.

biking up a fire road covered in sled tracks
These snowmobile tracks look like a firm surface to ride on, but they are actually quite loose. Good candidate for a super fat tire bike.

When trying to find good stuff to ride, seek out first the snowshoe trails, if you think there are any, other wise, snowmobiles are probably the next best thing.  The downsides of the sled trails is that as the sleds go up, they are constantly chewing up the surface of the trail.  They keep you fishtailing and spinning constantly.  One kilometer can feel like the equivalent of five or more sometimes, and take nearly as long.

If you are really into it, there are bikes available that are made especially for this task.  They have tires almost 4 inches wide (but even wider wheels are in the works: Check out the Surly Moonlander) Because they offer so much more float, you can ride softer conditions than would be possible on a traditional 26″ tire.

The fat tire bikes are great.  I’ve tried the Surly Pugsley, and it is a lot of fun, but buying a bike dedicated to riding just a few days in the winter time is not an option for most of us.  I don’t own one, and I still have tons of fun.  The only changes I recommend would be to ditch the clipless pedals, if you have them, in favor of wide and grippy platforms, and wear some good flat soled shoes or hiking boots.

ditch the clips and put on some platties for safety sake
Platforms aren't necessary, but they should help you feel more comfortable should things get loose, or you have to hike a tricky section of trail.

If you want, you can also install some studded tires, but don’t feel that you need to.  They can really help you grip if conditions get really hard and icy, but they are also heavy, expensive, and really don’t help at all if the trail is even a little soft.  Personally, some of them look like they would tear your pants wide open if you caught a stud in crash, (and believe me, you will crash sometimes! But into snow at least)

If it is winter in your backyard right now, and you are feeling a little restless for the bike, then I would like to encourage you to get a little creative, and go see if you can find some sweet snowy singletrack to ride.

If you have anything to add, or that you wish to discuss concerning riding your bike in the snow this winter, then feel free to use the contact form on the Contact Us page, or enter a comment in the box at the bottom of this post.

Looking for more info on winter biking, check out these links:



Bikes dedicated to riding in the snow: Surly Pugsley, Surly Moonlander, Salsa Mukluk, Fatback Bikes

About BikeFAT 135 Articles
Mountain Biker, Trail Builder and Bike Tech

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