Bike retreat looks to maintain winter trails

September 20, 2018

A few years ago Cricket Butler saw a trend - fat bikes were becoming more popular as a way to get out on winter trails, but there wasn’t a groomed trail system for those wanting to ride.

“People were renting fat bikes, but there was nowhere to ride,” she said. “People were trying to ride on ski trails, which ruins the trails for skiers.”

Butler, owner and founder of the Whitefish Bike Retreat, decided to create a solution. She invested in snowmobiles and a groomer, and began carving winter single track with a 33-inch packed trail winding through her property. She also began grooming the gravel roads in the Beaver Lakes area including creating trails to Beaver, Murray, Woods and Dollar lakes over an estimated 12 miles.

“Fat biking there allows access to places that wouldn’t be accessible in the winter,” she said. “It still opens up territory for those wanting to do other recreation like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.”

A fat bike is an off-road bicycle with oversized tires designed for low pressure to allow riding on soft terrain such as snow.

Butler says she enjoys the four seasons of Whitefish, which usually means biking for three and skiing during winter. But fat biking changes that.

“Fat biking is really just a different way to get into the wilderness,” she said. “It’s a different way to get back to these beautiful areas where you can ride and coast down hills.”

Grooming of trails, especially for beginners, adds to the experience, she explains, making it easier to ride and not fall from the bike.

“It’s fun to ride if there is no soft edges and then anyone can do it,” she said. “I wanted trails everyone can use a fat bike on.”

Winter use of the trails at the Whitefish Bike Retreat has been entirely by donation. Some 350 people used the trails in winter, and the donations thus far have been enough to keep gas in the snowmobiles, she says.

But Butler said that running the grooming equipment most nights for two hours and maintaining the equipment to keep trails open now means asking for more donations to keep going.

Whitefish Bike Retreat is holding a winter trails fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 22 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the retreat to raise money to maintain the winter trail system around the Beaver Lakes area. Events include fat bike demos by Glacier Cyclery and Nordic beginning at 11 a.m., food from S&M Taco Truck, live music by the Luke Lautaret Project, beer for sale and community resources.

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