A family fat biking backcountry adventure at Jug Mountain Ranch

My legs were burning, my beard was frozen, and I was shrouded in that muffled silence you only find in the winter woods. In fact, the only sound I could hear was the whoosh of my breath, the pounding of my heart, and the muted crunching of snow as I moved over it. Yet I wasn’t skiing, I was on a bike … pushing pedals silently up a groomed trail. But like a kid with a new toy, my face was smacked with a crooked smile … and I was loving it.

Whether climbing our foothills or pulling kids to the zoo, Idahoans love their bikes. And with the growing popularity of fat-tired bikes, numerous groomed trails once relegated to skiers and snowshoers are now dabbling with permitting fat bikes on their groomed trails.

Over a long weekend, I encouraged my wife to exchange her nordic boards for a fat-tired bike to explore some of the new trail opportunities in Idaho.

The cargo container turned cabins at Jug Mountain Ranch in Idaho.

We headed to Jug Mountain Ranch, an early adopter of fat bike-friendly trails, for a weekend at their cargo container-turned-cabin, where we’d use the semi-remote digs as our backcountry outpost to explore this (relatively) new sport.

jug basin cabins and winter camping and skiing and snow fat biking adventures
jug basin cabins and winter camping and skiing and snow fat biking adventures
jug basin cabins and winter camping and skiing and snow fat biking adventures

Fortified with a wood stove, kitchen, bunks for six and an outhouse, the alpine cabin sits perched on the edge of Jug Mountain Reservoir … so close, in fact, that in summer you can literally swing open the doors to dangle your toes in the water below.

Our kiddie sled was once again bloated with supplies for the weekend for a family of four: food, sleeping bags, clothes, clothes and more clothes. I stuffed a trail map in my shirt pocket, swung a leg over the bike and slowly lead our party up the South Boundary Trail to the alpine cabin.

After a long winter — about as long as most of us can remember — the trails were buffed smooth over a deep base of snow. Take a few steps off trail and you’d easily punch through. So the rules were simple: Pedal, ski or snowshoe. If you gotta walk, or you find your tires cutting through the surface more than an inch, turn around.

What’s a fat bike?

Loaded up and ready for a weekend at Jug Mountain Ranch.

A fat bike is simply a mountain bike with oversized tires, accommodating geometry and an easier gear ratio to make tanking through softer surfaces seem easy. Instead of 2-inch tires, 4 to 5-inch tires are the norm. You feel like you’re riding a monster truck … stable, in control, tractoring through terrain that would stop a “narrow-wheeled” mountain bike.

My wife and I rented carbon-framed fat bikes from the Jug Mountain Nordic Center. While kid fat bikes exist, only a handful of companies make them and they cost as much as a full-sized bike, making them somewhat of a unicorn in the rental world. So instead, we put the kids on nordic skis. With our bikes loaded down with gear, we crunched through the snow at a comfortably similar pace.

After we arrived at the cabin, knackered, with gear uncompressed, and sprawled out to dry, I reignited the troops’ enthusiasm as I lit the woodstove, “I hear the lodge has inner tubes and a sledding hill!”

That seemed to do the trick, as the following morning the kids were up before we were. Boots on, skis on, they had already stomped out a mini-lopett on the groomed corduroy looping in front of the cabin.

The mid-morning sun had softened the trail surface, causing my wife’s bike to scooby-doo in place. “Pull over, let’s let some air out,” I encouraged. A more experienced rider once told me that reducing the tire pressure widens the tire footprint, buying you more traction. Don’t be afraid if the gauge reads less than 10psi, that’s normal for fat bikes. The tires squished under her weight as she saddled back up. She steadily pedaled down the trail with a smile.

All smiles for miles on this family outing.

After a day of exploring trails and hauling tubes up the bunny slope, the kids’ energy was successfully sapped. To refuel, we hopped in the car and made the short drive to Lake Fork and the Two Sisters Deli and Store. The Deli sports an unexpected yet fantastic selection of wine, spirits and fresh cut meats. We settled on a platter of twice-baked macaroni and cheese and stole a peek at the curation of quilts on display upstairs.

Recharged, the kids were once again ready to tackle the climb back to the cabin. Well…sort of… As a “just-in-case” measure, I had strapped the pair of sled poles to my pack, ready to convert dad into an uphill ski-towing machine. My daughter caught wind of the idea and readily hooked into the rig to experience first hand the joys of bike-skijoring.

After another toasty night and a final meal at the cabin, we packed up and were ready to make our final trip down to the car. What took us an hour to climb the night before, rolled quickly over a fresh top coat of snow. We were back at the car in 20 minutes.

Our trip nearly over, I pulled up on the handlebars and pressed on the pedal to pop the bike up into a wheelie … if only for a few pedal strokes … but still gleefully happy as that boy on his first bike.

Experience It For Yourself

Idaho’s nordic trail systems are quickly embracing the excitement of fat biking, reserving fat-bike times or even building fat-bike specific trails. Interested in experiencing fat biking yourself? We’ve culled a list where families can rent and ride fat bikes in Idaho.

Boise

  • The Bogus Basin Nordic Center has opened it’s trail system to 9 km of trails to fat bikes, including the Nordic Highway and Sapper’s Return. Monday – Friday: All day. Saturday – Sunday: 2PM to close. Fat bikes are permitted with a Valid Nordic/ski pass. Daily tickets can be purchased at the Nordic Lodge for $18 per day for adults ($12 for ½ day); $9 per day for youth and seniors ($5 for ½ day;).

Sun Valley

  • Bigwoods Sports Park allows fat bikes on the dog and boundary loop of the winter golf course.
  • Sun Valley Nordic offers 16km of fat bike friendly trails. Rentals. Full day: $40 (youth), $45 (adult). Half-day: $30 (youth), $35 (adult). Passes: $10 (youth), $15 (adult).
  • Durrance Demo Loop offers 7 km of groomed trail on the narrow slip of land starting out of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters lot, 5 miles north of Ketchum. A pass will run you $17 a day ($45 for a 3-day pass), but is good at all Sun Valley Nordic ski trails.
  • Quigley Nordic, in nearby-Hailey, Idaho, grooms 5km of beginner-friendly fat bike trail. Passes cost $10 per day and can be purchased at the Blaine Country Recreation District.
  • The Wood River Trail is the 20-mile bike path that meanders from just north of Ketchum, southward to Bellevue and is open to riders free of charge.

McCall

  • 7 miles before McCall, Jug Mountain Ranch offers 25 km of groomed trails, with dedicated uphill and downhill routes. 10 AM – 4 PM, Friday – Sunday. $10/day ($22 for a three-day weekend pass).

Targhee area

  • Harriman State Park in Island Park grooms 24 miles its Nordic trail for fat bikes. $5 per motor vehicle; $5 trail day pass to cover the cost of grooming.
  • Grand Targhee was the first ski destination to permit fat biking on their trails. They have 15 km of groomed trail and 7 miles of single track open to fat bikes. Riders are asked to let the trails “set” until 10 AM. Nordic pass: $10. Rentals are available for 2-hours ($30) and 4-hours ($45).

Where to rent bikes

Boise area

McCall

  • Jug Mountain Ranch. $25 for ½ day; $45 for a full day. Cabin rentals can be found here, too.
  • Gravity Sports. $40 for ½ day; $45 for full day; $50 for 24 hours

Sun Valley

Targhee area

All numbers and links accurate at time of publication, but it’s always a good idea to contact the trail system, resort or shop in advance to confirm hours of operation, reserve bikes, etc.

This article was first published with Visit Idaho. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not representative of, or affiliated with, the Department of Commerce or the State of Idaho.

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