Gunnison Adds Urban Fat Bike Trails, Hopes to Expand Grooming

All photos by Scott Anderson except where noted
All photos by Scott Anderson except where noted

Gunnison Trails has been working hard to push the fat biking envelope. Currently, they are “test driving” 3.7 miles of impeccably-groomed urban singletrack and working with the BLM on a proposal to groom a portion of Hartman Rocks for fat biking.

We met with Jonathan Houck for a tour of the amazing Gunnison urban winter singletrack. The groomed trails are located primarily on summer grazing pasture and on the school’s frisbee golf course. It is important to note that under all the snow, there are zero constructed trails and that once the snow is melted, the land reverts to its other purposes.

At this time, the fat bike singletrack is sharing a Van Tuyl Ranch pasture with Gunnison Nordic. This is a “test” season to demonstrate that fat biking and nordic skiing can co-exist in close proximity without negatively affecting each other’s experience. The nordic ski and fat bike trails are completely separate and groomed independent of each other. Only the entrance to the pasture is shared by all users and thus far, it is evident that bikers do NOT poach ski trails if they have a viable option.

Start of the fat bike-only singletrack

An added bonus for both skiers and bikers is the existence of a walking path that circumnavigates the pasture. As walkers are not allowed on the other groomed trails, they also have somewhere to go.

It is clear that the groomed fat bike singletrack is a labor of love initiated by a couple of passionate cyclist dads. Houck and fellow dad, Kevin Lapello, both have fat biking kids. Their kids and several others needed somewhere fun and safe to ride, so three years ago the two men spent nights snowshoe-stomp-grooming small loops on the school frisbee golf area. With the permission of the Gunnison Watershed School District and the dedicated dads’ grooming, kids got a safe, groomed trail to ride directly out the school door. Needless to say, the grooming method and the limited space available prohibited lengthening the scope of the trail system.

Jonathan Houck leads the author through the Van Tuyl Ranch trails
Jonathan Houck leads the author through the Van Tuyl Ranch trails

Directly across the street from the school is the City-owned Van Tuyl Ranch, already groomed for Nordic skiing. Houck, currently a Gunnison County Commissioner, was previously the mayor of Gunnison and a school teacher. That history has allowed him to create many trust relationships with the various individuals and entities who would need to bless the trail expansion to the Van Tuyl Ranch pasture. To be clear, Houck is volunteering as a passionate mountain biker, not as any part of his county commissioner role. That being said, Gunnison is fortunate to have an elected official who clearly values public lands, recreation options, and volunteerism!

While the trail system is mostly flat, the designers have done a great job of using the available terrain to create a fun riding experience. Those very features make the singletrack a fantastic option for kids, beginners, and families. At the same time, experienced riders can fully enjoy it, and it provides easy-access night riding.

Riding the groomed school trails (photo Jonathan Houck)
Riding the groomed school trails (photo credit: Jonathan Houck)
Photo credit: Jonathan Houck
Photo credit: Jonathan Houck

We rode the course on a Monday afternoon and were astonished to learn that the last grooming had been done the previous Wednesday. There were literally no ruts and the track was solid edge-to-edge. Even more impressive is that the grooming is done by Houck and Lapello using a borrowed snowmobile pulling a homemade drag designed by the duo.

Gunnison’s winter urban singletrack “test drive” is showing amazing potential and is a testament to the positive collaborative of the city, schools, volunteers and the good behavior of trail users. The 40-acre pasture currently being used is only a fraction of the 240 acre city-owned ranch. Is there potential to grow the scope of the groomed singletrack? If so, it would require a different grooming setup, as the current homemade rig is at its limit. As with every shared-use opportunity, all users will have to be courteous and play nice with each other to earn the trust of land owners. So far, the Gunnison cycling community has proven to be a class act and would love to share their trails with visiting fat bikers. We owe it to them to ride responsibly and respectfully.


In addition to the Van Tuyl Ranch urban singletrack, Dave Wiens, of Gunnison Trails, reports that groomed fat biking is in the works for Hartman Rocks. There is a proposal out for approval to the BLM for mechanized grooming on portions of the Hartman Rocks singletrack trail system. No decision has yet been made and could take some time to be given. If approval is granted, Wiens stated that, “We’ll be starting at square one and will need to work closely with Gunnison Nordic to be certain we are being good partners with that important community.” He added:

“What we are most excited about at Hartman’s is grooming singletrack and, as you can imagine, this would be a challenging winter for singletrack grooming. We’re looking forward to the challenge and to providing unique fat biking and groomed trail access for a variety of users.”

Dave Wiens of Gunnison Trails
Dave Wiens, of Gunnison Trails, riding the North Village Race at the 2016 FBW

Stay tuned fatties… looks like Gunnison’s got it going on!

Thanks to the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association for helping make this trip possible!