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We recently announced a 3-part series on an introduction to winter fatbike ultras. Here we're kicking off Part 1 where we discuss the races in our area, risks to consider, and resources to help you get started.

Winter fatbike ultras aren't for everyone. They require critical planning, training, and mitigation of serious risks. The Nxrth is partnering with Jamison Swift, Co-Founder of the St. Croix 40 to present a 3-part series on winter fatbike ultras. We'll walk through:

  • Who should consider winter fatbike ultras

  • What risks you need to be aware of

  • How to pack your gear

  • How to stay warm and dry

  • Food and water planning

  • Much more


Words and photos by Jamison Swift, Co-Founder of the St. Croix 40.

Who should consider winter fatbike ultras?

Deciding if winter ultras are for you requires you to think about the types of adventures you like to have and if you’re comfortable with doing those adventures in the freezing cold.

Here are some key questions to consider:

  • Can you be comfortable in the cold for long periods of time?

  • Do you like spending dozens of hours alone outside?

  • Are you willing to learn - and practice - surviving in extreme conditions?

  • Can you take on the monetary investment in equipment?

These are just a few of the questions that await you in the winer ultra world.

Biking for days at a time is slow and relentless. You need to be prepared to pedal continuously as even the flats won’t give you much glide. Practice being patient, practice walking your bike, and be ready to enjoy a journey of highs and lows, over and over again.

What are the races in our area and beyond?

Being in a snowy climate means that we have a lot of options right here in the upper midwest for winter ultras.

St. Croix 40

This is an entry-level winter ultra that requires all the mandatory gear of the bigger races. You will also have to use the gear in a couple of tests as you race overnight for 40 miles, learning if this is really for you.

Tuscobia 80/160

Flat and straight, the Tuscobia winter ultra takes you through beautiful northern Wisconsin pine forests and through numerous small towns as you travel between Rice Lake and Park Falls, Wisconsin. The simplicity of the course makes navigation simple, and the abundance of towns along the route means that you’re never very far from safety in either distance.

Arrowhead 135

The coldest and most remote winter ultra adventure you’ll find in the upper midwest. This race spans multiple days for many participants, and it has limited aid. The course is diverse, with many hills and some of the best chances to hear wolf calls of any event. This is the big one, and pretty much a prerequisite for any longer adventures up in Alaska.

Some other events to consider:

  • The Drift: 13, 28, and 100 mile options in the rugged mountains of Wyoming.

  • Fat Pursuit: Held in Idaho, this course challenges you at either the 60K or 200K distance.

  • Actif Epica: A great event from our friends in Winnipeg, Canada with multiple distances.

Finally, all these lead to the biggest events up in Alaska:

  • White Mountains 100: A challenging trip around the White Mountain range north of Fairbanks, AK.

  • Iditarod Invitational: This is the granddaddy of them all. 350 mile or 1000 mile distances available. Limited support, remote checkpoints only accessible by plane, and thousands of square miles of Alaskan wilderness.

Risks to be aware of before you consider this

At St Criox 40, we talk about the three biggest challenges you’ll face at these events:

  • Frostbite

  • Hypothermia

  • Trenchfoot

It’s important to understand how to avoid becoming a victim to each of these three issues, and we spend a lot of time every year talking to participants about how to be safe on the trail. Bikers have unique challenges with keeping toes warm while pedaling, and so this is an area where practice is of utmost importance. Learning what works for you and your body is key to success.

What resources and opportunities are available to learn more?

There are lots of great blogs and race reports out there to learn about how people handled various events. We also try to provide as much insight and information to beginners over at the St. Croix 40 website. Our Winter Journal has a variety of great articles and interviews that offer information about how to be successful.

Additionally, one of the best community groups available is the Arrowhead Dream Team Facebook group. This is a fantastic place to ask questions and review all types of gear suggestions from dozens of successful participants.

Know before you go

Knowing if these events are right for you is key to being successful.

Events like St Croix 40 exist to give you a safer place to test yourself before getting in too deep. However, you still should think hard about how much you enjoy the cold, being alone, and learning to take care of yourself in harsh winter conditions.

Winter ultras are actually incredible, despite the struggles, and maybe they’re for you?




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