The Global Fat Bike Summit reported that fat bike sales doubled from 2011 to 2012, then doubled again from 2012 to 2013. The category is growing, and the ease with which the oversized tires float over sand, snow and technical rock sections is to thank. Whether you’re looking for something to ride casually through the winter months or a race monster, we’ve got five bikes to cover your needs.
Big Races, Fat Bikes
Fat bike races are a great tool for carrying fitness into the winter, building your base for the coming year, or letting out your inner nutso cyclist. During some of the longer hauls, riders should expect to carry everything from sleeping bags and tents to locator beacons and cooking infrastructure. Just a few years ago your race options were limited, but the rapid growth in the category has created a number of race options and formats to choose from. Here are some of our favorites.
Gear for the diehard winter rider
Fat bikes can effortlessly glide over snowy conditions like a set of snowshoes, and they’re cushy enough for riding in frigid temps without shattering your frozen tuchus. But the bike can only take you so far. Staying warm and dry — and returning home with all your fingers and toes — requires the right set of gear for when the weather decides to take a serious turn for the worse. These winter fat biking essentials will help you battle the worst Mother Nature can throw your way.
The Iditarod, by Bicycle.
The Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) is the world’s longest winter ultramarathon by mountain bike, foot and ski. It follows the historic Iditarod Trail from Knik, AK, over the Alaska Range to McGrath and on to Nome. If you like to run and ride in severe winter conditions and sleep outside in the frozen tundra, then this is the race for you.
Raising the Bar
As a greater number of athletes experiment with more natural fuel sources, nutrition bars have followed suit with ingredients heavy on nuts, berries, dates, chia seeds and agave syrup. Many are organic and gluten-free. The result is a better bar for athletes, one easier to digest than ever before. Here are a handful we’re eating now.
Shed the winter coat
Dropping some extra winter weight or jumpstarting your fitness goals for summer is no easy task, especially if you’re staring down something crazy like your first Ironman 70.3 or GORUCK Challenge. Sure, you could shell out some cash for a personal Jillian Michaels or Tony Horton lookalike at your local Globo Gym, but unless you want to feel like a boot camp recruit or Biggest Loser contestant, there are better options. We’ve been testing a few home workout programs this winter to help keep our edge. Here are a few of our favorites.
Less Space, More Power
Twenty years ago a home gym required an entire basement. This was ridiculous. Our ideas about fitness have progressed in breadth and scope — generally toward functional workouts that have real-world application — and the equipment required has diminished in size and price. If you’re looking to set up the perfect home gym that gives you the opportunity for a huge variety of exercises, it helps to have a few more tools in your kit.
Live From Salt Lake City
We like to get our hands on new gear early, and short of theft and corporate espionage one of the best ways to do that is by checking out Outdoor Retailer, a biannual product show for retailers, manufacturers and other industry pros. We were on hand at the Winter Market 2014 show at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, UT, where every brand with a stake in the great outdoors showed off their future cold-weather wares. Of everything we touched, tasted and saw, this gear stood out most.
A board meeting you want to be part of
Nostalgia is an attractive creature, and we often find ourselves getting sentimental over microbrews about our gear of yore and cool vintage finds. But like the skis we came across in Park City, neither the Snurfer nor the Burton Backhill were performance decks. Nobody back in the day was talking about carbon and kevlar layup or cambered medley — not sober, anyway. Today the construction materials and technology that go into snowboard making produce rides for every body type, terrain and personal preference. These five boards are some of the finest in each category.
From My Cold, Plastic-Ensconced Feet
To Whom It May or May Not Concern,
There is a menace roaming these hallowed hills. Ever since that infamous Muskegon, Michigan snow day some 49 years saw the debut of the “Snurfer”, the world has been burdened with those who choose to lash themselves to a single board and careen through our mountains like an errant shot from a misfired handgun.
It is today, my fellow skiers, that we must look deep within ourselves to rid this menace from our freshly driven slopes.
Killer Pow, Bro
Skis have become impossibly technical — not with complicated gadgets and moving parts, but other things that engineers geek out over like ski geometry, core materials and physics. In this photo essay we recall a bygone era of skis when color schemes were impossibly neon, patterns were questionable and bindings were more like door hinges.
The pipe dream of skis built to fit your style and body has long been the realm of pro racers and big mountain free skiers. Decidedly unsponsored skiers like us have always had to make do with off-the-rack solutions — until now. One small Telluride, Colorado boutique manufacturer, Wagner Custom Skis, has a secret formula for designing and building the best personalized skis in the world at prices that are accessible to most serious skiers. Together with Wagner’s engineers we designed a pair of ultimate ski mountaineering boards; then we put them to the test among the famous 13,000 foot peaks of Telluride Mountain Resort.
Don't lose your head
These days, seeing someone without a helmet on the slopes is a rarity; more than 70 percent of all mountain-goers are donning them, and countless brands are releasing offerings onto the market. With hundreds of brain buckets to choose from, though, the task of finding the right one can be daunting — but, with your IQ and major bodily functions on the line, we beg you to persevere. To help, we’ve rounded up our five favorite snow sports helmets covering the spectrum from high-tech to lightweight.
Ski-in, relax, Ski-out
Telluride is a mountain destination without peer: lift-served ski terrain pushes above 13,000 feet; five-star restaurants share main street with dive bars; accommodations in historic downtown and in the resort-oriented Mountain Village range from luxury hotels to cozy lodges. It’s the ski vacation we dreamed of as kids, and when we finally got to take it, we stayed at the Inn At Lost Creek, a ski-in/ski-out boutique hotel on Sunset Plaza in Mountain Village.
Heads-Up on the Hill
In 2012, Oakley partnered with Recon Instruments, maker of groundbreaking Heads-up Display (HUD) technology, to create the Airwave goggle and bring data and entertainment right into the wearer’s field of view, a la Minority Report. The second generation Oakley Airwave 1.5 ($649) launched at the end of 2013 with improvements across the board. We got our hands on a pair to test while shredding pow in Revelstoke, BC.
Deep powder is a religious experience, and it takes just one perfect day of blue skies and bottomless snow to become a pious worshiper. From Alyeska to Taos, powderhounds feverishly monitor weather reports for the next big storm, and after spending a weekend skiing 12,000-foot ridges in Telluride, we know exactly why: powder skiing is as close as man can get to flying in the mountains. The best way to enjoy the fluffy stuff is with the right gear. Here’s what we pack on Powder Day.
Weatherproof Jackets for the slopes and otherwise
There’s no such thing as bad weather — only bad gear. And in the age of industrial manufacturing and waterproof fabrics, there’s no good excuse for bad gear. Modern hardshell jackets are designed to provide a first layer of defense between you and the elements, whether “the elements” are an alpine whiteout or an afternoon thunderstorm. They’re the crown jewel of any outdoor kit: they’ll keep you warm, they’ll keep you dry, and most of them weigh less than a pair of blue jeans.
Bound for Success
Bindings often go overlooked in favor of the flashiness of a new pair of skis or boots. But as your only contact point for control and power transfer along the 170-180cm boards you’re strapping on, and your final line of safety in a major crash, they’re the most important piece of gear for a successful and safe season. Read on for a breakdown of the best ski bindings for this season.
Two Boards Good
A new pair of skis is more than just a new piece of expensive gear: it’s an investment in winter stoke. It doesn’t matter if you’re a stone cold powder hound or a retired gate-crashing racer, we’ve got five pairs of skis to cover your needs this season.
Sculpting the Mountain
Now in its seventh season, the Salomon Freeski TV channel has covered the sport exhaustively. In “The Architect”, Vice President of Resort Design at Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, Ryley Thiessen, explains how resort development has changed from the 1960s to today, bringing us from mom-and-pop mountains (now all but extinct) to four-season resorts in China.
Cold weather, cold smoke, cold beers.
Most of us calculate Paid Time Off based on formulas that are too sad to enumerate. Suffice it to say those hours rarely add up to week-long ski vacations at our leisure. But parse them out just so and you can be taking long weekends whenever the heavens open up. Make the most of it by choosing mountain resorts with bankable terrain and close proximity to an airport — like any of these 10 world-class ski areas.
Outdoor adventure in Kyrgyzstan
Combine partial nudity and breathtaking landscapes and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty good movie; throw in world-class alpinist Kyle Dempster, a bicycle and the Kyrgyzstan wilderness, well, then you get an unexpected and touching adventure film. Dempster set out in 2011 for a six-week trip in the Central Asian country, armed with a bicycle for transportation and a bag of climbing gear for soloing unclimbed alpine rock and mixed routes. The result is an award-winning film, The Road from Karakol, that’s raw, funny and insightful.
Crash into me, baby
Bouldering is a relatively new evolution in rock climbing, and lacking ropes or other protection makes it one of the more dangerous. With steep overhangs and extremely technical moves, you’re going to spend a significant portion of the day falling on your butt, making a good crash pad absolutely essential. We recently had an opportunity to practice bouldering in the limestone caves of American Fork Canyon and the sandstone crags of Moab, where our well-worn Evolv Iceman Crash Pad ($135) was a constant source of support.
No parks? No problem
Our trip with Gerard is an audible. A group of journalists organized by mountain bike tour operator Sacred Rides, we came for a taste of the company’s newest offering: a tour of the Southwest’s outdoor adventure gems, from singletrack bike trails to world-famous slot canyons. But with Zion National Park closed by the federal government shutdown, we’ve changed tack and hired him to help us navigate nearby Yankee Doodle Canyon — a technical descent that promises to mimic Zion’s architecture. The road to Yankee Doodle, usually deserted, is littered with dawdling sightseers who walk the road in place of a trail. The shoulder has become a makeshift parking lot full of cars with out-of-state plates.
Pushing ourselves, and you
The launch of Limits in June was one of those moments when everything seems so logical and inevitable, and then the announcement goes live, you have a sip of coffee, and think: Wait, how did we get so wrapped up in endurance sports? Isn’t it a pretty niche category? Does this mean we have to do an Ironman every year?
The answer to the latter two questions is yes, sort of. The field of competitors and the quantity of staggeringly difficult races grows each year, and you’ll find us in the field reporting, usually wearing some kind of spandex. The answer to the question about how we got so wrapped up in this world helps explain how our sports and adventure coverage has evolved over the past year and where we see it going in 2014.
The soul of endurance sports is finding that point when you don’t want to go any further, when it feels like physically and mentally like you can’t, when all but a fraction of a percent of people quit — and then continuing anyway (with negative splits). As our athlete-adventurers reported back from their journeys, we realized that, in fact, this unites all sports, from rock climbing and mountaineering to surfing and cycling. To thrive in any of these disciplines requires a commitment to raise the middle finger to pain and frustration — and monotony, sometimes — in the hopes of achieving a goal that previously seemed impossible. Maybe we discover something new about ourselves, maybe we just have one hell of a day.
What we ended up with is Limits, a section grounded in enduring and yet inclusive of all adventures that test the will. These are some of our favorite stories — and we can promise that year will be even more exciting.
The end of everyday outdoor cycling weather creates a fork in the road: some choose to move to a winter regimen that builds on the past year; others veer off to partake in holiday cheer and return to riding when the snow melts. While we’re no strangers to mulled wine and a sweater with reindeer on it, we know from experience that breaking for winter makes having a strong race season much more difficult. Rather than risking disaster on icy roads, consider one of these indoor trainers to keep pedaling through the off-season.
Inside cycling's hottest discipline
Sometimes you sprint at the end of a cyclocross race. But you always sprint at the beginning. As I straddle my top tube on the starting grid waiting for the whistle to send off my category at the Coyote Point Bay Area Super Prestige, I know this sprint start will hurt more than most.
Cyclocross racing pits riders on bikes with drop bars and knobby tires against each other on multi-lap courses over a mix of grass, dirt, pavement, sand, mud and sections that force riders to carry their bikes over barriers and up stairs and hills. Racers attack from the line, and the intensity doesn’t diminish for the duration of the 30- to 60-minute events — it’s a redline-all-the-time, full-contact affair. With participation doubling over the past five years, it’s also the fastest growing segment of competitive cycling in America. Some attribute this growth to the more laid-back, beer-primed environment at cyclocross races, but cool bikes certainly don’t hurt. We’ve got three rigs that make the grade from the starter’s gun well past the finish line.
Be faster than the freeze
‘Tis the season of calorie intake, so keeping one’s running regimen going strong should be a priority. Thing is, winter weather — the snow, slush and cold — is prohibitive at best. Fortunately, gentlemen, we have options. These are the best winter running shoes for facing the cold on pavement, trails and mountains.
Comfort and sturdiness, put to the test
Over the years we’ve owned a number of different hiking boots in a continuous search for just the right balance of sufficient support, stability, and grip without being so rigid and heavy that they feel like Tony Soprano concrete specials. Recently we had the opportunity to try the BIOM Terrain Plus ($230) from ECCO, a brand we knew only as the maker of grandpa’s “most comfortable shoes you’ll ever wear!” Of course we were skeptical about where they would rate on that scale of comfort and stability — and, equally as important, whether we’d want to be seen wearing them on the trail.