Wydaho in the Winter, Part 2: Fat Biking Teton Valley

The Teton Valley embraces cycling in any and all forms, so it’s no surprise that fat bikes are everywhere. After riding the nordic trails and singletrack at Grand Targhee Resort the previous day, we had to make choices for the next two day’s rides. Andy Williams was gracious enough to spend more time with us, so we put ourselves in his hands. In addition to being Grand Targhee’s Events Manager and trails designer/builder, Andy has been on Teton Valley Trails & Pathways Board for the past five years. In short, he’s the guy to follow.

From the high point of our Targhee ride, Andy had pointed out the “Big Holes” mountain range across the valley, which is where we headed for Wednesday’s ride. The Big Holes are actually the northern portion of the Snake River Range and are around a thousand feet lower than the southern part. When we parked at the “Kay Dairy” trailhead, we were glad about that “thousand feet lower” part! This ride was on a snowmobile trail that started out with a 14% grade climb.

Start of the climb into the Big Holes. All photos by Scott Anderson
Start of the climb into the Big Holes. All photos by Scott Anderson

Mercifully, it was short and leveled off for a brief recovery before resuming the climb at a kinder grade. A start like that effectively measures a rider’s resolve. The conditions were primarily firm and undisturbed by any recent snowmobile activity.

Fat biking out of the Teton Valley into the Big Hole Mountains
Fat biking out of the Teton Valley into the Big Hole Mountains

My husband, Scott, and I noted–and enjoyed–the difference in how this trail gained elevation compared to fat bike rides in Buena Vista, CO. At home, we start climbing and keep climbing until the top of a pass, then turn around and descend. On the seventeen-mile Big Holes loop ride, we climbed steeply, never more than a mile at a time, then got a level-ish recovery stretch. In that manner, the 2,000 foot, 9-mile climb never felt grueling, and we were able to fully enjoy the varying environments along the way.

Elevation

The firm surface was a boon during the steep climbs; several climbs would be hike-a-bike in softer conditions. Andy was true to his word that he would get us to a view of the Tetons before we descended.

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The climbing was broken up by little descents and short flat sections
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The Tetons showed themselves several times throughout the ride

We stopped for a snack at that point, where we soaked in the view and let the sun dry our sweaty backs.

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The descent was shorter and steeper but, here again, the elevation change came in short stages. Andy previewed the descent for us by describing it as a series of “stair-steps.” That made the descent more fun and less tiring than miles of steady elevation loss.

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Beginning the descent
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Still a bit of climbing before the final descent to the trailhead

The intense sunshine had definitely softened the snow, which made a few steep corners interesting, but we all kept the rubber on the snow. As we rode through the canyon we saw heavy moose sign that made it clear we had missed a very recent moose gathering. As we closed the loop, we enjoyed a bit of mellow cruising before the final 14% drop back to the trailhead. Despite being tossed by some slush 200 yards from the finish, it was a fantastic ride in a stunningly-beautiful place.

I should note that fat bikers can purchase a $50 annual snowmobile sticker, but that there is no day-use option. The fee helps pay the cost of grooming and is voluntary, so riding without one is legal.

Bikes in the vehicles, we followed Andy back to Driggs and “Habitat.” Habitat is a ski/board shop in the winter and a bike shop in the summer. It also has a shop at Grand Targhee Resort during mountain bike season, so riders can rent bikes on site or get mechanical work done on their own rigs. As we chatted with manager Mitch Prissel, he let us know about a bikepacking presentation on tap the next night.

The day wasn’t over yet, as we followed Andy to the third floor above Habitat. We settled in for beer and pizza at Tatanka Tavern, opened in December by one of Habitat’s managers. Guaranteed, you will find a beer you love to go with an amazingly-flavorful pizza at Tatanka.

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A nice selection of pizzas and a few beer tasters at Tatanka Tavern

If you can get your hands on a Melvin 2×4 DIPA (brewed in Alpine, WY), do it. That is one serious IPA!

We had ridden up high on both sides of the valley, so Thursday’s plan was to hit up some trails in Teton Valley. We met Andy at Big Hole Bagels & Bistro in Driggs, ID. We parked at the Teton Canyon trailhead where both rides would begin. The first ride was short, but sweet indeed. It was the Sheep Bridge Trail, which is snowshoe-packed singletrack that (surprise!) crosses a narrow bridge before undulating through the woods.

Crossing Sheep Bridge
Crossing Sheep Bridge

Andy nixed the “Dead Cow” option as it wasn’t recently packed, so we kept going on Sheep Bridge. The first mile was amazingly packed, then the trail got a bit narrower as we began negotiating some deep boot-postholes. Looking into those postholes gave me a clear idea of just how deep the snow was–at least two feet on the packed trail. Nice, soft, fat tires allowed us to ride right over the holes.

Nearly two miles into the ride, the trail became true singletrack, as in single-tire width. Obviously the snowshoers had quit and we were on one set of ski tracks. Needless to say, the going got tough, so we turned around as Andy said there was less than a half mile of trail left anyway.

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The singletrack got narrow as the majority of snowshoers didn’t hike in as far as we wanted to go

When we got back to the trailhead, Andy got called back to work, so he pointed us toward the Teton Canyon Trail for our next ride. This is a 13km out-and-back nordic trail that is heavily traveled by all kinds of users. It is easy to see why this groomed trail is used by nordic skiers, runners, walkers, fat bikers, and even a lane to the left of the groomed trail for snowmobilers.

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The Teton Canyon Nordic trail

The views and the gentle grade make the Teton Canyon trail ideal even for young moms on skis pulling kiddos in pulks (as we saw along our ride). The trail ends just past the Teton Canyon Campground, where the Wilderness begins. Backcountry climbers/skiers use snowmobiles to travel the four miles from the trailhead to where they start their trek into the Wilderness. We could picture how awesome it would be to ride the route at night during a full moon, as Habitat’s Mitch Prissel told us he had done that week. He said it was so bright he even turned his light off. The Teton Canyon Trail was a nice place to close out 43 miles of fat biking on five different trails across the valley over three days. There is a ton more riding available, but we were treated to a great sampler of winter fat biking in and around the Teton Valley.

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The ever present views of the Tetons

Our last biking adventure was vicarious via attending Ride the Tetons’s “Into the Mountains” bikepacking event at Habitat that evening. First, however, we had to return to Tatanka for more 2×4 DIPA.

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The Melvin 2×4 Double IPA is in high demand and hard to keep in supply

We scored the last two bombers and savored them slowly. Back downstairs, just across from Habitat, is Teton Thai, where we had an amazing dinner. The egg rolls, salmon sashimi, and rainbow roll were visually and gastronomically beautiful. Wonderfully sated, we settled in at Habitat to listen to Michael Woodruff and Dean Lords talk about bikepacking. They have very different styles: Dean does ultralight singletrack, while Michael does loaded-with-comfort mega-miles. Each presented a great overview of bikepacking that was incredibly informative.

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Dean Lords talks about his gear while Michael Woodruff looks on from behind

Most impressive was the crowd packed into the shop, eager to learn more about the booming bikepacking thing. Clearly, the Teton Valley is well-and-truly into biking. Oh yeah, almost everyone left Habitat with some cool giveaway swag. If you’re looking to try out bikepacking and you’re in, near, or visiting the area, Habitat will be doing lots of sub 24 hr., sub 48 hr., and a few longer group trips. Check them out.

We left for home Friday morning convinced that anyone who rides a bike will love the opportunities in Wydaho.

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