The holy grail of cross country skiers-skate skiers, are the few rare days, sometimes just hours…..each spring known as “Crust Skiing.” Until this “spring” I’d never considered that as something any other sport might long for. I was wrong. Enter “Crust Biking”.
Mother nature needs her ducks in a row for crust skiing (or biking) to take place- warm, sun high in the sky spring days followed by a crash of temperatures during the overnight hours. The colder the better for the crust will reach deeper into the snow surface providing a stronger lid on the snow pack. For skiing, one can skate by (pun intended) with a slightly thinner surface, but as I found out for a fatbike, conditions need to be perfect. Since the cross country crowds at Levis Mound have quietly abandoned skiing for the season, I decided to veer off our packed singletrack and do a trail “inspection” of the ski loops. The previous day had been sunny and warm-almost 50 and the cold temps overnight produced boilerplate ski trails which barely noticed the fat tires skimming along on top.
It was the easiest pedaling of the year to be sure-almost no resistance except for the low pressures in the tires. Deep, frozen slush deer, wolf and coyote tracks were a reminder of the previous day’s warmth and springs' return. This base wouldn’t last long. Approaching an ungroomed trail, the thought started to wander into my head if it might be possible to ride unpacked snow-like I’ve always done crust skiing. Would the crust be strong enough? Would the tires have enough low ground pressure to keep me on top? Without another thought, I turned onto the pure unblemished snow....and didn’t go a$$ over teakettle! I could hardly believe it was possible to do this-yet another vein of riding to chalk up to the fatbikes! Floating along almost silently on this shell of snow made me feel like I could explore anywhere now. Well, almost anywhere. Suddenly I hit a spot when the sun hadn’t quite reached the day before and instantly both wheels dropped through. I was stuck, still in the pedals sitting vertically…motionless. Hmmmm, dismounting, and pulling the tires free I moved down the trail and found a stronger crust to continue on. Soon, one learns which snow will provide the strength and where to avoid. There are subtle nuances in the seemingly uniform snow pack. Places that angle toward the sun will be great, shady corners, out of the reach of the sun, will not work and one will be punching through constantly.
Discovering that there was such a thing as crust biking set me off in search of other suitable snow. Large clear cuts should provide the proper mixture and I headed off toward several in the Levis Mound area. It was crazy to be riding along anywhere in those spots-free to explore terrain we never venture into. Swampy wet areas were perfect-they were still frozen and the snow crust covering perfect to ride on. I know this land well, but “crusting” opened so much more territory….temporarily.
As much joy as I was having this morning-it would end all to soon. By late morning, the sun already was high and the tires rolling on the surface started to make a different sound-almost like the snow was groaning unto the weight of bike and it’s peddler. Cracking the surface with more frequency eventually forced me back to our singletrack-there the riding was still rock solid. My window of crust biking was over for the day.
Looking at the forecast, I may have one or two more chances at the new form of fatbiking-just maybe. Rain was moving in, which would really make a good crust, as long as cold overnight temps get mixed in. If so, I’ll be back out, full grin on my face and taking advantage of a new found freedom on a fatbike.