Each year thousands of Brits flock to winter wonderland mountains for fresh powdery snow to carve up with their skis, sledges and snowboards. However, if you're not into that sort of winter action, then why not try snow-biking?
Snow-biking is a rapidly growing niche sport in countries like Switzerland, Scandinavia and the US where snowfall is a annual given. Like you would in the UK for a trail ride, riding the trails of snow blanketed mountains require a suitable bike, appropriate clothing and a sense of adventure.
Back for its third year, the Snow Bike Festival took place in Gstaad, Switzerland at the weekend. Having been awarded with UCI accreditation, this is year marked the first ever UCI supported snow bike event. With that, UCI ranked athletes and amateurs alike descended upon the Swiss town for a celebration of snow, biking and having fun, and I went along to throw myself into the mix.
Registration and Event Village
The Snow Bike Festival is a three day stage cross-country event. Each stage was approximately 30km in length with roughly 800m of climbing per day. "No problem", I thought to myself. That's a regular day of trail riding for me, but how would the sub-zero temperatures and fatbike steed affect my ability? I was about to find out.
On Thursday morning I picked up my Big Scott Ed rental bike from the shop in town. Once I had set the seat-height, adjusted the cockpit and lowered the tyre pressure, I was ready to go. Like driving on the left hand side, any country who drives on the right has their bike brakes on the opposite sides. This meant I had to remind myself that my right brake, was my back brake.
- 105 riders
- 40 UCI ranked
- 14 women total
- 3 XC stages
- Average temp. -11 degress
The event village was wonderfully decorated in Snow Bike Festival banners and tents with event staff on hand to welcome you in. Their infectious excitement got me pumped for the event and their keenness to help certainly settled my nerves. Upon receiving my transponder, rider bag and number I eagerly set off to get myself sorted. And what a rider bag it was! By far, the nicest and most fanciest rider bag I'd ever gotten. The thick cotton drawstring sack held treasures like a neck warmer and cap from the event sponsor, Buff. High quality number board, Gstaad water bottle and my favourite bit, Toblerone.
The event village was open throughout the festival with staff on hand to help with queries and mechanical issues. Sponsors had tents showcasing their wares, and inside the main tent was plenty of warm drinks and food to keep you fuelled throughout.
The Snow Bike Race Format
The four day festival kicked off with a time trial prologue race on the Thursday. This involved three laps of a 2.5km course to allow everyone to get a feel for riding on the snow, and more familiar with the fatbikes. It was a great way to break the ice - pun - and have a taste of what the next few days would have in store.
Route: Gstaad – Rougemount – Saanen – Chalberhoni – Eggli – Gstaad
Clear blue skies welcomed the masses to the starting line on Friday morning. Over 100 riders took their starting positions with UCI ranked athletes at the front of the peloton, and amateurs like myself, making up the rear.
Route: Gstaad - Eggli - Gstaad - Gsteig - Gstaad
I woke up early on Saturday morning in a lot of pain. My cycling shoes had worn holes into the back of both ankles. They were red, swollen and oozing an alarming colour of puss. In addition to that, my tickling cough had been kicked up a notch and now the wheezing had begun. I felt awful, I needed to find a chemist and I needed to sit the stage out.
Angry and disappointed in myself, I hobbled to the start line to watch everyone set off and I cheered them on as they rode past. Once the race was well under way, I found a pharmacist who provided me with gauze, anti-septic spray and cough sweets. Time to rest.
On Saturday evening all the riders were invited to take part in an eliminator race. Under the floodlights of the event village, four riders lined up to battle it out on a short 1km circuit. Riders competed until there was only one remaining.
Route: Gstaad - Turbach - Lauenen - Lauenensse - Lauenen - Gstaad
On Sunday morning I woke up feeling only slightly better, but determined. I had to take part, and at least attempt the final stage of the Snow Bike Festival 2017. I double wrapped my ankles, drank plenty of water and fresh orange juice, and coughed down some throat soothing sweets.
I rolled into the starting pit where the rest of the riders were warming up and getting ready for the final leg of the race. I felt excited and apprehensive at the same time, but as the klaxon sounded at 10:30, the peloton set off.
Unlike stage one, this route followed the sun which helped keep me warm throughout. Although my cheeks still stung in the bitter wisps of snow flurries, I was grateful that I was too warm, rather than too cold. The climbs were a lot more gradual and easier going, something my ankles were very grateful for, but the landscapes were no less awe inspiring.
Descending down ski slopes amongst skiers and snowboarders was a fun and surreal feeling, but so much fun! Rolling into the final stretch and over the finish line was an incredible feeling. I was welcomed with cheers and high-five's from fellow riders and staff which kept me grinning - until I took my shoes off and realised the pain I was in!
Bonus treats and Tracy Moseley
"I've had so much fun, and I'm pleased I've been able to tick this off the list" - Tracy Moseley
Taking part in the Snow Bike Festival was legendary mountain biker, Tracy Moseley. Catching up with Tracy over the course of the event, I learnt that she too was new to fatbikes and snow biking. Taking a step back from racing, Tracy told me that she now has the time to explore other areas of riding that EWS training used to shadow.
When I asked her how she was getting on with the snow, Tracy said: "It's totally different to any other riding. The snow just carries your bike for you, which takes a lot of concentration and effort to overcome. On stage one's final descent, my front wheel took me off the side of the piste and I tumbled down. It's so easy to wipe out in the snow, but it was a soft landing, I was just very cold".
What made the Snow Bike Festival so great was the wonderful sense of community inspired by the event organisers. Each evening we were welcomed into a large sports hall and supplied with generous portions of the most delicious race food I've ever had.
Each night I was sat next to a new face, with a new story and I really felt a part of the festivities. Tired bodies lined the long rows of tables, but everyone still had plenty of energy to socialise and share their their experiences.
Snow-biking is a lot of hard work. It's takes double the effort to battle the cold, the altitude and the soft powdery terrain. However, it's one of the most incredible cycling experiences I've ever had. The landscapes are fantastic, the riding is challenging enough to be fun and it's a race I'll never forget.