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Snow-Bike Races: The Long and Short of It

  • By Eszter Horanyi
  • Published Dec. 20, 2011
  • Updated Oct. 11, 2012 at 4:44 PM EST
Jay Petervary on the Iditarod Trail in 2011. Courtesy photo (file)


Like their summertime counterparts, there are many different types of snow-bike races around the country, each with its unique character and style and catering to all riders, from the snow-bike beginner to the hardcore enthusiast. There are short cross country length races, which can be completed by most any mountain biker on a regular mountain bike with extra-wide tires, and then there’s the Iditarod Trail Invitational, also known as Iditabike, that runs either 350 miles from Knik to McGrath, AK., or 1,100 miles to Nome, following the Iditarod Trail used by the Iditarod dog sled teams.

2011 Iditarod Trail Invitational winner, Jay Petervary, on the Iditarod Trail in 2011. Courtesy photo (file)

Most, if not all, the races are run on groomed snowmobile or Nordic ski trails. Still, even with the snow packing and grooming, snow conditions are variable, making some courses fast even on non-fat-bikes while other courses reduce all riders, regardless of bike, to walking.

Because of the variable conditions that can be found among events, or even within a single event, training for snow-bike racing has to include training for forward movement on fast snow, slow snow, and deep snow. This means intentionally finding snow that is impassable without walking, and practicing pushing. The other aspect of training for snow-bike racing is learning to stay warm and regulate temperature, as a misstep in this department will have far more serious consequences than over- or under-dressing during a summertime race.

Cross Country Length Classics

There are several race series around the country that cater to the recreational snow-biker, as well as dozens of free-standing events, including a self-proclaimed Snow Bike World Championships held in Michigan. These races are generally low-key and cater to the rider looking to keep pedaling through the winter and to rally around in the snow with like-minded individuals. Training for them is similar to training for any cross country race, with some bike pushing thrown in for good measure.

Leadville Series

The Leadville series is a 4-race series at venues around Leadville, CO., hosted by the Cloud City Wheelers. The races are approximately 12 miles long with the proceeds benefiting local bicycle advocacy groups around the Leadville area.

These races are short enough and in a sufficiently controlled environment that they serve as an excellent introduction to snow-bike racing for riders of all fitness and skill levels, and many racers opt to use regular mountain bikes on the well-packed courses.

More details can be found at the Cloud City Wheelers website.
Jan. 15th – Copper en Fuego, Copper Mountain, CO. 5:30 pm start.
Feb. 4th – Tennessee Pass Night Jam, Ski Cooper, CO. 7 pm start
March 3rd – Mineral Belt Mayhem, Leadville, CO. 7pm start.
April 7th – East Side Epic, Leadville, CO. 10 am start.

Teva Snow Criterium

While most snow-bike races are grass-roots events, the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, CO., have upped the ante this year by adding a snow criterium to their Winter Mountain Games. Held February 11th, the criterium will have a traditional, short-lap, spectator-friendly format and will be held on a fast, snow-covered course. With a $4,000 payout, expect this field to be stacked with all the local mountain bike pros in the area hoping to transfer their dirt riding skills over to the snow.

With registration open to everyone, anyone can jump in on the fun and standard mountain bikes will most likely be the bike of choice for this style of racing.

Details can be found here.

Snow Bike World Championships

This year, the Noquemanon Ski Marathon, held near Marquette, Michigan on January 28th, has added a snow-bike category and declared the event the Snow Bike World Championships. The Noquemanon Trail Network recently opened up a section of their Nordic trails to snow-bikes and are looking to showcase this new user group through the event. The race is held alongside Nordic ski races, snowshoe races, and a skijor race as part of a three-day winter festival.

The 25K race is open to fat-bikes and mountain bikes, and the short distance will make it an enjoyable event for any mountain biker.

Details can be found here.

Togwotee Winter Classic

Held just north of Jackson Hole, WY., on March 3rd, the Togwotee Winter Classic embraces the grassroots nature of snow-bike racing. Organized by Dave Byers, a snow-bike fanatic based out of Victor, ID., the race offers a 25-mile and 35-mile option.

There is no entry fee and the field limit is 50 racers. While the event is sure to be competitive on the snow, all racers congregate at the Togwotee Lodge bar after the event to share stories from the race.

The Winter Classic is longer than many of the cross country length races and can be used as a good stepping stone between the shorter races and the 100-milers which are emerging on the snow-bike ultra-endurance scene.

Details for this event can be found here.

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