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Vasa Pathway implements "Fatbike Friday" on ski trails

Sat, Sep  28, 2013 - By Scott Howard

TART did recently decide to implement a program called "Fat Bike Fridays." You can see the details of the program below. Please understand a couple of very important points:

  1. The DNR currently allows fat bikes on the trail without restriction. The program is an attempt to work with the fat bike community to provide a single designated day (Fridays) for skiers and bikes to share the trail.
  2. In light of the North American Vasa ski race's decision to hold a fat bike race on the trail, and in light of the fact that the fat bike community knows they are allowed on the Vasa, TART made a conscious decision to try and get out ahead of a potentially volatile situation.
  3. I strongly believe that through the program either fat bikers and skiers will get along just fine, or we will gather enough evidence of user conflicts to convince the DNR to ban bikes from the trail in winter.

- Scott Howard, TART board member and fellow skier


The Vasa Pathway will allow fatbikes to use the ski trails this winter on Fridays. The Vasa Pathway has always been a multi-use trail open to all non-motorized users year-round. The DNR is not considering banning fatbikes from the Vasa.

In the past, bikers have been very respectful of staying off the trail during ski season. Over the past few years there has been an increase in fatbike owners locally and nationally. In response to the growing user group and interest in a fatbike race, the North American Vasa is hosting a Fatbike Race on the Vasa Pathway in conjunction with the 2014 Vasa Festival of Ski Races on February 8th. The DNR, who owns the Vasa Pathway, and TART Trails, who manages the grooming program, have also heard a lot from the fatbike community about their desire to ride the Vasa Pathway. To help meet this demand, and ensure a safe and enjoyable trail experience for skiers and bikers, the North American Vasa, Vasa Ski Club, Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association, DNR and TART Trails are working together on “Fatbike Fridays.” Fatbike Fridays is a temporary solution to help accommodate the growing user group. The long-term goal at this point is to work with the fatbike community to develop a fatbike specific trail and grooming plan.

Fatbikes will be allowed on the Vasa cross country ski trail

Fatbikes in the Farmers Fatbike race in 2012 (photo from

More information....

  • Why the Vasa? Can’t they find their own trail? The best solution may be to have a dedicated fatbike single-track trail. This takes time. As that plan is implemented, Fatbike Fridays is a way to meet the needs of two user groups. Please remember the Vasa Pathway, although originally built as a ski trail, is a multi-use, non-motorized trail owned by the State of Michigan. The DNR is not considering restricting fatbikes from the Vasa.
  • How about snowmobile trails? The Vasa single-track trail? Snowmobiles can travel at very high-speeds, making it a safety concern for fatbikes to be on the same trail. For the best trail experience, fatbikes prefer groomed conditions similar to a skate lane, just not as wide. At present time, the Vasa single-track is not wide enough for a snowmobile to groom.
  • Will fatbikers support grooming? Fatbike Badges will be sold for $25. We hope all fatbikers, like skiers, will support the grooming program. CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR BADGE!
  • Aren’t fatbikes a fad? Industry analysts expect fatbike ownership to double in the next year from 10,000 to 20,000.  More fatbikes will only increase demand for places to ride.
  • Will fatbikes wreck the ski trail? Yes and no. If the snow is soft from warm weather, yes a fatbike can damage the trail, just like a skate skier can. That is why the grooming report will also include a Fatbike report for Friday. If conditions are too warm, then fatbikers will be asked to stay off the trail just like skiers. There is a Fatbike Etiquette that should be followed to prevent trail damage.
  • Is it safe to have skiers and bikers on the same trail?  Just like hikers and mountain bikers sharing trails in the summer, the way we use the trail is important to providing a safe and enjoyable trail experience. On Fridays, all fatbikers are asked to go clockwise on the Vasa trail. We will also post trail etiquette at the trailhead and on the website.
  • Why Friday? Data collected by TART surveys shows Friday is one of the lesser used Vasa Pathway days for skiers, hopefully helping reduce any potential conflicts between skiers and fatbikers. Having the designated Fridays also allows fatbikers from out of town a day to use the trail. Fridays are also compatible with our typical grooming schedule. Weather permitting, the TART Trails Grooming Crew will groom early Saturday morning to provide a beautiful trail for weekend skiers.
  • What if fatbikes try to use the trail every day?  We are thankful that the fatbike community has been respectful of the potential for conflict and stayed off the trail and we hope they will continue as we launch this new initiative to try and accommodate a growing recreational use. Some fatbikers would like more days and some skiers don’t want fatbikes there at all, so let’s hope we can all compromise and work through this process.
  • Why ride when you can ski? First off, not everyone digs skiing. Fatbikes provide a fun way for cyclists to stay in shape during the winter season off their trainer holed up in their basement. Fatbikes also provide a way for skiers to cross-train! Simply bundle up like you would for skiing and get out and ride. No waxing required.
  • What if it doesn’t work? TART is working with members from the skiing and cycling community on this initiative, including representatives from the DNR, North America Vasa Race, Cherry Capital Cycling Club, Northwest Michigan Mountain Bike Association, Vasa Ski Club, a Vasa Groomer, and others. In January, this committee will meet again to review how the season is going, the condition of the trail and any improvements or changes that might need to be made.
  • What do other Nordic trails do? We are not the only, nor the first organization to tackle this issue. There are a variety of approaches other places have used:

Marquette: NTN plans to groom 20 plus miles of single-track on the NTN South Trails for winter biking. Fatbikes are allowed to use Nordic trails that are dog friendly. Riders can support snow bike grooming by purchasing a “support the Groom” card at Marquette bike shops and the NTN Office.

Al Qual Recreation area, Ishpeming: Fatbikes are allowed on ski trails with purchase of a pass.

Keweenaw:  Michigan Tech trail system, where nearly 15 kilometers of groomed ski trail and ungroomed single-track are open to fatbike bikers.  Restricted to purpose-built snow bikes only. After 6pm on Tuesdays snow bikes are allowed on all Swedetown trails. A season or day pass must be purchased.

Round Valley, Park City, UT: 25 km of trails shared by all: skiers, dog walkers, snowshoers, dog walkers, snow bikers.

Levi Mounds, WI: Fatbikers use different trails than skiers, groomed by snowmobiles but share same warming hut.

Grand Targhee, WY: The first ski resort to open large sections of their Nordic Trails to bikes.

Methow, WA: Open large section of their nordic trails last winter to fatbikes. It was a huge success and will do it again this year.

Royal Gorge, CO: Opening parts of trails to fatbikes this year.

Tahoe Donner, CA: Opening parts of trails to fatbikes this year.

Kingdom Trails, VT: Nordic trails open to fatbike when conditions permit.

Anchorage, AK: Any of the multi-use trails are open to everyone. They are groomed by the Nordic ski club.

White Pass Ski area, WA: Allowed every day after 3:30pm, conditions permitting.

Alberta, Canada: Snow bikes allowed everywhere except certain restricted trails.

Baker Regional Park, MN: Fatbikes allowed on all multi-use trails.