“You want to come and ride your mountain bike in the winter? Come right here to Marquette. You won’t be disappointed.”
— Gary Fisher, Founding Father of Mountain Bikes
“There’s a reason they call it Human Nature. We were meant to be outdoors. We were meant to play under the big blue sky. We were meant to adventure beyond our own backyard; to feel the sun and the wind on our faces. Travel to a place where humans and nature go together in every minute, every day and all year, always. Embrace your natural identity in Marquette County, Michigan.” This graces the home page of Travel Marquette's website.
Where is Marquette, Michigan? In the UP? What’s the UP? They are Yoopers? What the hell is a Yooper? I’d like to say that I have been lucky enough to have grown up traveling to Marquette year-round since I was about 10 years old, so when I get the opportunity to talk to people about Marquette, these questions inevitably come up.
The UP is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It seems to be an overlooked piece of Michigan by many. The UP is rugged and isolated, with hardwood forests blanketing 90% of its land. Founded and developed because of its rich deposits of iron ore, Marquette has over 83 miles of shoreline along Lake Superior, a county population of 67,077, and a city population of 21,335, making it the largest city in the UP. And Yoopers? Well, they are the people of the UP who consider themselves very different than their lower half and have even threatened to secede from Lower Michigan.
So what drew us to go explore this far-north, Midwest town, in the middle of winter? A few things: singletrack, community, snow, and beer. Marquette prides itself on the relationship it maintains with the riders of the county and has built trails specifically for fat biking.
With an average of 200 to 350 inches of snowfall per year, fat biking here easily rivals the opportunities in Canada and Alaska. Additionally, anyone who has ever lived in a small town knows that it takes the commitment of the entire community to make things work. That’s as true in Marquette, in general, and its mountain biking population in particular, as it is anywhere in the world. This concept can be hard to explain to people who have only lived in or near major population centers. In these small towns, even when people don’t agree or necessarily like each other, there’s usually still the recognition that it’s better to work together than apart. One step better would be what you see among Marquette’s mountain bikers: a commitment to supporting each other, and a recognition that everyone is better off if they contribute to the collective mountain bike and social experience.
After starting off with a snowmobile and a “jimmy rigged” pull-behind packer, Marquette has been “grooming the way”, so to speak, with grooming equipment for fat bikes which now includes the SBR (Snow Bike Route) Power Groomer, Rokon motorcycle pulls, rollers (sometimes used with beet juice to prevent freezing), Gators, Bombardiers, and other purpose-built equipment that they’ve developed in Marquette. This, then, gives you a narrow, corduroy-groomed, singletrack trail.
Over time, the trail community’s experience working with land managers and improvement in grooming techniques became second-to-none. Today, Marquette’s grooming strategy is nearly perfected to the point that fat bike leader Trek Bicycle, bought the first model for its own experiments.
After getting to explore miles of fat bike specific singletrack, consuming plenty of beer and bloody marys, along with laughing and admiring the locals, our intent is to head back in summer to experience the over 100 miles of technical mountain bike trail available. Overall, our starting point for exploring Marquette by bike was an invitation to come play in the winter, which we successfully accomplished.”