Leadville, Colorado is a small mountain town with the dubious honor of being the highest incorporated town in the United States–we’re talking about elevation above sea level, here, although you can hit up a local dispensary while you’re in town. I say “dubious honor” because while the extremely high elevation has given rise to absurdly-challenging events like the world-renowned Leadville 100, the 10,200-foot elevation means that winter here is cold, snowy, and very, very long.
But Leadville locals are nothing if not resilient. Leadville is home to one of the longest-running winter mountain bike race series in existence, put on by the Cloud City Wheelers. This winter, 2015/2016, the series officially turned 16 years old. This race series has been going on for so long, in fact, that Leadville locals had been racing their bikes at night, in the snow, for many, many years before fat bikes even existed. I don’t think there is any way to officially confirm or disprove this, but the Leadville Winter Mountain Bike Series is quite probably the longest-running snow bike race series in the world.
Living just an hour away from Leadville, I’ve heard rumor that this cold, oxygen-deprived mountain town is currently home to some of the best fat biking opportunities in the USA. However, I’ve found very little concrete information on exactly which trails are open to fat biking, what the riding is like, and what spots you should check out if you’re in town. Unfortunately, this trend of a lack of readily-available information, formatted to be easy to find and use, isn’t uncommon in the mountain biking world—and especially in the quickly-changing world of fat biking, where certain trails open or close from one year to the next, and trail conditions change from the morning to the afternoon.
So, I decided to investigate—by making the quick drive up to Leadville to ride, by talking with other folks who are more in the know than I, and by delving into the information in the Singletracks database. If you’re interested in riding your fat bike in and around Leadville, here are the four must-ride trails that you need to investigate:
The trails at Colorado Mountain College are legit groomed singletrack–dubbed fattrack by many. As the best-groomed fattrack trails in the region, this trail network has a totally different flavor than other nearby trails. The narrow, swooping track threads between tight trees, with rollers and sharp corners to keep you on your toes. If you like riding rock-free, flowing cross country trails, you’ll enjoy riding the CMC network during the dead of winter!
The Nordic Center was first conceived as a cross country skiing area, but unlike other nordic ski areas that continue to shut fat bikes out, Tennessee Pass embraced fat biking early on with open arms. Fat bikes now have access to all 16+ miles of the wide, groomed ski trails, as well as the 6 miles of singletrack snowshoeing trails. Trails are groomed daily, ensuring that you have the best snow conditions possible! However, that high-quality trail access comes at a price: $15 per day, to be exact.
During the summer this is a paved road around Turquoise Lake but during the winter, it transforms into an excellent over-snow route with drop-dead-gorgeous views of the lake and the nearby 14ers. Unlike the other trails on this list, Turquoise Lake is also open to motorized traffic, which helps keep this 15-mile route packed in.
During the summer, the Mineral Belt Trail is a 12-mile paved trail that circumnavigates Leadville, but during the winter, it’s groomed for all non-motorized uses. This broad path with mild grades passes through several historic mine sites, providing both epic views of the mountains and a sense of history that most mountain bike rides don’t provide. Connecting to Leadville’s streets at several points, as well as the CMC trails mentioned in #1 above, this loop is easy to access.
While these four areas comprise enough fat biking to easily occupy you for a long weekend, there are even more options in the area, including numerous motorized snowmobile trails. If you want to ride your fat bike where the air is thin, there’s no better place than Leadville!