The nighttime winter fat bike race is a gathering once so unique that race enthusiasts would have to travel great lengths just to toe the starting line. While word of how much fun these events are has recently spread, leading to an explosion of local gatherings, there is one place that has known this for years. That place is Leadville, Colorado.
This mountain town is notorious for hosting the Leadville 100, perhaps the most iconic ultra-endurance race ever, and its residents live and breathe outdoor adventuring. The local mountain bike community supports trails throughout the San Isabel National Forest and Sawatch Range, trails that are spectacular in every sense of the word.
The 18th annual Tennessee Pass Night Jam hosted by the Cloud City Wheelers recently took place on a chilly Saturday night in mid-February. The conditions were near perfect, a cold but clear night with freshly groomed trails for about 100 racers to experience. The course was a mix of corduroy’d cross country ski track and singletrack groomed using specially-modified equipment. With the setting sun, all in attendance were treated with an incredible view of the surrounding mountain ranges, the perfect venue to spend a Saturday night outdoors.
Sterling Mudge of the Cloud City Wheelers filled me on how the group was able to partner with various organizations to create a fat biking mecca and a nighttime fat bike race that is unrivaled in its storied past. Through relationships with the Lake County Build Generation and Cycles of Life, the group was able to purchase a Yellowstone Track Systems Fat Bike Ginzu Groomer.
Grooming operations are supported by the Leadville Winter Mountain Bike Series and through generous donations from trail users and corporate sponsors. After all, it takes a strong community to be the best in class. The Tennessee Pass Nordic Center is also a huge supporter of the mountain bike scene in Leadville. The Chalet and Yurt at the center provide the perfect place for spectators and racers alike to hang out and enjoy a post-race beer.
As racers go through the typical pre-race warmup routine, spectators gather near the chalet start / finish line to begin the festivities. The stoke level rises as dusk approaches, followed by a mass start at a blistering pace to catch the holeshot. The sound of 100 or so folks hammering fat bike pedals is beautiful. The humming sound the collective rolling generates could make for effective white noise on a sleep machine. That is, until everyone starts hollering with excitement.
As the night progresses, the riders’ 750 lumen headlamps create a tunnel of light over the groomed singletrack winding through the dense pine forest. After approximately 12 miles, the race finishes in typical fashion: food, beer, and fist bumping, all backed by an outstanding band jamming in the chalet.
The Cloud City Wheelers, an organization based at 10,154 feet above sea level. has led the way in creating a community of die-hards focusing on advocacy and volunteerism for mountain biking related activities. The Tennessee Pass Night Jam, in its 18th year, is proof.