Fat Biking in Eastern Canada to Make the Most of Winter

Mar 7, 2018 at 15:15
by Martin Lortz  

When it comes to mountain biking in Canada, February is the bottom of the barrel. It’s been months since the last sighting of a dirt trail and according to a rodent (Ground Hog Day) we are sentenced to at least six more weeks of this crap. Typically this is the time of year when fantasies of exposed skin and sweet single track, a mere thousand kilometres to the south, keep you up at night. That was then and this is now and ever since fat bikes became an option, none of the above applies. Don’t get me wrong I don’t want winter to last forever but with a half dozen groomed trail networks available on any given day to play on, we’re in no hurry. So, yes, the mid-winter bike trip is still a go but instead of dirt we set out (I know it sounds weird) in search of winter.

Last summer we had the pleasure of exploring the mountain biking opportunities in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. What we found was amazing riding and a local passion for creating more of it. Combine that dedication with Quebecer’s love for winter and there have to be fat bike trails in them hills…..


Ahhh the thrill of driving eight hours into uncertainty. You plan your trip weeks in advance then bite your nails as mother nature toys with you. It’s been a crazy winter in some ways, plenty of snow, stretches of -30C intermitted with spring-like temperatures and rain. If there is one thing that will take fat biking from sweet to crap is soft mushy trails, and right now as we head east the weather forecast is looking sketchy.

Plein Air Sutton

Typically a mid-February visit to Sutton would include skis strapped to the roof, not bicycles. The Plein Air Sutton organization jumped head first into mountain bike trail development over the past few years. Under the supervision of determined leadership and an equally passionate group of volunteers, Sutton is a mountain biking destination to keep an eye on. Once a rider, always a rider and I would expect nothing less when it comes to the winter season. Seeing a SnowDog and a fleet of rentals in front of the office confirm my expectations. Unfortunately, the weather does not cooperate feeling more like April than February, the mushy trail conditions turned our smiles upside down. Try we did, managing to smash some soft snow berms and leaving a five-inch zigzagging trench in the trail, luckily that SnowDog will erase all signs of our intrusion before things freeze up.



Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook

A summer favourite, the trails at Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook are supported by a strong local cycling community so I would be surprised if the area’s winter offerings would be anything less than awesome. Looks like another SnowDog roams the forest here, buffing the trails into a winter playground. As luck would have it the annual La Creature fat biking festivities are on the agenda at the park today with guided tours, a cross-country race in the morning and a dual slalom event in the afternoon. Overnight the weather turned to perfection, temperatures dropped, blue skies and sunshine provided the backdrop for an awesome day of fat biking.





Mont-Bellevue - Sherbrooke

With views of Sherbrooke below, Mont-Bellevue offers the kind of inner-city adventure playground that makes all who visit envious. If you have had the pleasure to ride here in the summer you are well aware of the fun factor and winter just carries on that tradition. Flowy single-track, berms, jumps and a few spots left el natural to challenge our skill and studded tires. Behind every snow packed trail, there is a person, or a few, with a driving passion to spend late cold nights grooming the trails for our enjoyment. From what we heard the Mont-Bellevue groomer seems to be a legend in the making. I didn’t catch his name but will call him Big Red in reference to the old school Honda three-wheeler, which he turned into a two-wheel motorized fat bike which is the tool of choice for trail grooming missions. If you spot him, a fist pump and a thank you is in order.




Parc national du Mont-Orford

So far on this trip, we have enjoyed the trails in the company of a few. A stark contrast to the buzz of activity as we arrive at Parc national du Mont-Orford; cross-country skiers, snowshoers, fat bikers, families with kids of all ages in tow, the cafeteria echoes with the chatter of fun, you can almost inhale the energy. The park is in the second season of a fat biking pilot project and the activity is a hit. The rental fleet of bikes is most of the time reserved in advance, and the phone calls and inquiries just keep on coming. The energy around the lodge quickly dissipates as you dive into the forest. There is a short machine groomed loop for beginners but the main loop is old school, packed down by snowshoers and I must say in as good shape as any machine groomed trail I have experienced. No city views here just a backcountry vibe and the odd glimpses of Mont-Orford in the distance.






Bromont

With warm temperatures and rain threatening our last day, we waste no time hitting the trails in Bromont. First, it’s Mont Oak a compact system of a beautifully groomed single track. With flow, berms and jump lines, you are only limited by your leg’s willingness to propel you upward for another lap. Next, we head uphill. The trails bordering the Bromont ski resort are by no means a secret but you will benefit from some local knowledge. We climb in search of views, enjoy first tracks in some fresh powder and let it rip top to bottom.






Not done yet, a quick lunch and we end the day at a near pump track, a fantastic day on the bike that rivals anything that summer can throw at you.


All of the above-mentioned trail networks are within an hour and a bit driving time of each other. Taking advantage of the area’s already established winter tourism infrastructure developed around skiing, accommodations and activities abound. Pick a central location as your base and explore for days. I will admit, I was not an early fat bike convert, this being only my second season aboard the big tire cycle but I am sold now and already looking forward to next winter’s fat bike road trip adventure.


Notes From The Road

Bike trips are about biking but there is life beyond the trail so here is the nitty-gritty. We spent the first two nights in Sutton at the cozy Auberge des Appalaches Inn. All you need under one roof, comfortable rooms, a lodge-like common area with couches and a fireplace, in-house restaurant so popular with guest and locals that if you don’t reserve you’ll be out of luck, and even a bar with local brews on tap. On the go or on a budget, a pizza at Le 54 Pizzeria Rôtisserie is delicious as are the after ride pints at A L’Abordage.

Night’s three and four were at the Grand Times Hotel Sherbrook, a stunning urban display of concrete, steel and glass with spectacular sunset views of Mont Orford in the distance. Long day on the trail means food on the go, some nearby Thai food from Thaizone hit the spot. Breakfast is included and they let us bring the bikes up to our room. Sherbrook looks like a cool town, wish we had more time to check it out. If you require a guide to show you around Parc national du Mont-Orford we had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with Sébastien and Samuel Perron from local guiding service EPIQ.

Last day, Bromont, lunch was at West Shefford, tasty burger and a fine pint. For the dinner and tonight’s accommodations, Hôtel Château-Bromont, always a pleasure. So close to the ski slope you can almost hear the swoosh; if it wasn’t for the rain we would be sooo tempted to hit the slopes for some night skiing.




Ride On!

Special thanks to RSD Bikes and Tourisme Eastern Townships for the assistance in making this adventure happen.


35 Comments

  • + 13
 Cool trip and cool article! If you live here, you can either choose to enjoy winter or to complain about it. Either way, there will be winter anyway so I'll never understand those who do nothing but complain. Pretty sure if those grumpies were Australian, they'd complain about the heat and stay with air conditioning on hot days. Fat biking is such a cool addition to other winter sports because the best conditions are often when conditions are bad for ski. Mixing both activites makes for a great winter! I'll have to explore more trails, thanks for the write up on those!
  • + 1
 I use to complain all the time about winter. I recently moved to Sherbrooke and knowing that i have access to so many fatbike trails I will definatly get fatbikes for myself and the gf. No more complaining !!
  • + 1
 Just ordered my Specialized Fatboy!!! woohooo....gotta ask, have you had an experience with Australians?
  • + 1
 @I had!

Grumpies gonna grump no matter ehere they are I guess!
  • + 4
 After 10 or 12 attempts at trying to like snow biking, I came to the realization that it’ll never be insanely fun for me, but it’s a great total body workout that gets me out of the house.
  • + 4
 I'm working on making it insanely fun! Check out www.fatbikeskis.com
  • + 3
 Can you tell me why you don't like it? Are your trails well groomed? I didn't want one 5-6 years ago cause it was expensive and could only ride 50% of the time but last year, when I tried Bromont (some of my summer trails) and Mount Orford I felt in love!! Now that I have one, I'm even sad that snow is going away.... Frown Good news is I don't suffer from biking depression anymore! Big Grin
  • + 0
 @Timo82: Cause why would someone discard the joy of skiing? Both XC and downhill? Snow -> ski, no snow -> bike. Everything in its own time.
  • + 1
 @milkdrop: Fatbike>xc skiing. Fatbike>downhill skiing and snowboarding in icy condition like we often have in Quebec. Downhill skiing and snowboarding in powder>Fatbike.

Living in BC I would be snowboarding all winter long, don't worry! But I wouldn't have the same cardio as I have now. Already ready for summer time! Smile
  • + 3
 If any southerns actually wanted to make a fatbike trip to southern ontario .. i have no clue why you would leave warmth and dirt for cold and snow...Hilton falls and Agreement forrest around Milton Ontario.. limited elevation change , get it on a good weekend when its packed down and you could easily pull out 40kms without overlapping yourself. Crazy rocks and fast flowing snow covered single track. www.facebook.com/hafta.ca
  • + 1
 Damn, looks gorgeous! I spend a few summers slaving away in the music academy in the PN du Mont Orford, absolutely gorgeous part of Canada. In town in Magog the beer is good, and poutine and pizza is everywhere. I'll have to get back there in winter sometime.
  • + 1
 Yeah, Orford is one of my favorite places for fatbiking! Now there's some other places that are REALLY cool but Orford is really where I felt in love with fatbiking last year! I bought one after that ride! Razz It really feels like real mountain biking over there! Smile
  • + 1
 Great article and can relate totally.
It's my second winter fat biking and just love it. In the dead of winter, you just strap on a light and away you go with friends and finish off with a little après bike. I've both cross country and downhill skied, both enjoyable, however when conditions are good, fat biking is way up there on the enjoyment scale. It is certainly much cheaper than downhill skiing. We are still in the last grips of winter here and likely have 2-3 more weeks before we can take to mountain bike out and so will continue fat biking until then. I expect to be in the best shape ever for the start of mountain biking.
  • + 1
 You were so unlucky to come here in February as it was the worst I think I ever saw in my life! lol A lot of rain = ice, a lot of ice, and not so much snow in a lot of places! Frown You really need some studs if you lives here.


Always fun to read your Quebec adventures and by the way, congrats for your third place!! Big Grin
  • + 3
 Great read, and as always, Great shots Martin!! Almost makes me miss winter! But I'm ready for dirt now.
  • + 3
 NEVER Transport your Fatbike(or any bikes) on a hitch mounted rack in winter... You will destroy it with road salt!
  • + 1
 Yeah E47 (lac delage) and Sentiers Du moulin are some reallllyyyy good places to fatbike!! You can have some fun at Chantecler (ste-adele) too!
  • + 1
 That's why I moved to the BC Coast. 365 dirt riding. No specialized gear required. Smile
  • + 0
 But you could easily replace one of your bikes by a single fatbike!! haha And I'm pretty sure I saw some pictures of you riding in snow with your Knolly, no? Razz So pretty sure there's some snow days included in your 365 dirt riding. lol I agree, not enough to buy a fatbike but just to say that you still have some snow, not like you were talking about Mexico or something.
  • + 0
 I only have ONE mtn bike for summer and ONE fatbike. I have flat pedals so I can use boots/shoes that I already had. Ski or bike helmet. Ski googles and all the clothing I already had for snowboarding. The only specialized gear I bought is some cross-country skiing pants to put under my summer shorts and a pair of waterproof socks (that I will use during fall seasons).

You don't have to buy all those fancy 45nrth $$$ boots and 5000$ carbon bikes, you know. Wink
  • + 2
 I love life here in the Eastern Townships. Even Mud season is a good time!
  • + 2
 Toutes des belles pistes! Go frenchies!
  • + 1
 i love winter because FAT bike is alive
  • + 0
 Awesomesauce!
  • - 3
 Not fat, plus sized.
  • + 1
 What are you talking about???
  • - 2
 Just go skiing, it's way more fun!
  • + 2
 True, and also more expensive.
  • + 13
 @vinceain

On the days skiing is good fatbiking is crap

On the days fatbiking is good skiing is crap

They compliment eachother. Doesn't hurt that taking the bike out is mostly free, either.
  • + 1
 @mdg3d: a decent used AT setup shouldn't cost more than a mid-high end build.
  • + 3
 @YouHadMeAtDrugs: I was referencing the cost of a lift ticket. Not sure about other areas but many of the mountains here are $90/day. Don't get me wrong I love skiing and snowboarding but there is no way I could afford or have the time to do it everyday.
  • + 0
 No it isn't
  • + 1
 @YouHadMeAtDrugs: maybe a brand new AT setup, at full retail price, including Arc'teryx shells. Maybe I'm not following you, but I think mtbing is way more expensive than BC skiing these days.
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