For anyone curious about winter bikepacking, but not quite ready to rough it, there is a perfect solution in Gothic, Colorado. The Maroon Hut, operated by Crested Butte Nordic has been a winter overnight destination for skiers and snowshoers for many years. Now, thanks to Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA), blessed with US Forest Service approval, the 3.5-mile route to the hut is groomed so that fat bikers can join the fun.
Gothic, CO is named after Gothic Mountain, which looms above the 138-year-old ghost town. When silver was found in 1879, Gothic boomed and, as with so many other mining towns in the West, then went bust not very long after.
Gothic became a ghost town less than forty years after it was founded. In 1928, several biologists created the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL), which still operates nearly 90 years later. History Colorado provides a fascinating description of Gothic.
Now that CBMBA (more specifically, Dave Ochs) grooms the 3.5-mile route, fat bikers are able to ride out to Gothic whenever conditions permit. The ride is about as mellow as mountain riding can be and is stunningly-beautiful. Out-and-back from the Snodgrass trailhead, which is located in lovely Mt. Crested Butte, allows for a perfect seven-mile fat bike ride.
It is important to note that this ride should not be done when avalanche conditions are High or Extreme, as the route travels through avalanche terrain. Always check with the Crested Butte Avalanche Center before heading out.
We were invited to join a group of fat bikers spending a night at the Maroon Hut in Gothic and jumped at the chance to try out winter bikepacking without the discomfort of winter camping.
Full disclosure: we were pampered on this trip as the food, drink, and sleeping bags were transported for us. All we had to pack in was indoor clothing, toiletries, and, since we ride clipless, our mukluks for walking to and from the outhouse.
The actual traihead is the Snodgrass TH, but we had been staying at the Elevation Hotel in Mt. Crested Butte, so we just rode from there. Even on Sunday afternoon after a crazy-busy weekend of skiers, snowshoers, and fat bikers (same weekend as the second-annual Fat Bike Worlds!), the riding conditions were pretty decent all the way to Gothic. The only time I hit a rut, I was ejected from the groomed singletrack and my snowy dab ended up swallowing my entire right leg!
After a thoroughly-enjoyable ride, we arrived at Gothic and RMBL. RMBL is a 90-year-old non-profit research organization that is known world-wide. About 120 researchers, students, and staff converge in Gothic every summer to conduct studies on the local ecosystems. We spent some time chatting with Peter, one of RMBL’s winter caretakers. He and the other two caretakers and Billy Barr, who has lived in Gothic and collected detailed weather and snow data for forty years, are the only winter residents. They have no motorized access, so must ski in and out to get supplies. All of us fat bikers agreed that a few donated fat bikes would really be appreciated by the caretakers!
Once at the hut, it was time to relax and enjoy good food, drink, and company.
In addition to the luxurious Maroon Hut, which sleeps 12, the Forest Queen Hut is also available. It is far more rustic and only sleeps four, but can be rented for $20 per person.
The Maroon Hut, at $240 per night, is a great deal for up to 12 people, but can only be rented by one party. Even if there are only a few in your group, no others will be booked at the same time.
Since the hut is located at RMBL, where research plots are under the snow, no one is allowed to walk, ski, snowshoe, or bike anywhere except on the tracks to the huts and the outhouse.
After a great night’s sleep and awesome breakfast burritos, we packed up to ride back to Mt. Crested Butte.
Dave Ochs, the CBMBA grooming guru, had somehow managed to re-groom the Gothic Trail without any of us noticing. What a treat to ride out Monday morning on firm, impeccable, fresh corduroy!
There’s plenty of winter left and scads of snow in Mt. Crested Butte, so get out and get some! For grooming updates, visit CBMBA’s Facebook page.
Thanks to the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association for helping make this trip possible!