The Official Beer of Boise Trails

Trail Travels – The Fat Bike Fondo

And Stanley Winterfest

Route Map

Stanley, Idaho. When I think of this place, two things come to mind. One, The Sawtooth Mountains and two, the town that is regularly featured on the national weather report with the low temperature for the day in the lower 48. With that, i’d been watching the forecast all week. High of 29, low of 3. I’ve ridden plenty of Boise inversions in the single digit temps, and have learned to adapt with proper layering and gear. But this event in single digits concerned me a little. Mostly because I wouldn’t be able to see the shimmering Boise lights from the foothills above, giving me a false sense of comfort knowing civilization is right in front of me. Afterall, it wouldn’t take too long to get into trouble with such cold temps. Stanley felt like it would be different. The proposed route had us quickly leaving town and heading North into the mountains. At the furthest reaches of the course, one could be a couple hour walk from town, so the posturing took place all week of what I was getting myself into.

5:30AM Race Day

Temperature shows 13 degrees in stanley and scheduled to be 20 at race time. Perfect. All worry aside as I head out the door. Idaho Highway 21 from Idaho City to Lowman proves to have 100 fold more elk and deer than cars. In fact, just 3 cars pass on that stretch. Typical Idaho travel, outside of Memorial and Labor Day. It is common here to have long stretches of two lane mountainous highways curving along rivers and through the valleys and draws of the mountains. Near Banner summit my truck reads zero degrees. It’s still dark out and a bit of worry begins to seep back in. But that is quickly cast out as spectacular star views behind the silhouette of steep slopes laden with pine trees fill the space in my head.

Arriving to Stanley I expect the hustle and bustle of a mountain festival similar to McCall and their famed winterfest, but the small town appears to be still waking up. I pull up to the High Country Inn and Bill McCann, race organizer, is there to greet participants. In tow is his carbon fiber fat bike, and very light weight components and a frame bag is resting against the inside floor to ceiling window. This is my first Fat bike event, and first “fondo”. I’m looking for signs of what this event will entail, and his bike setup tells me that this event may be more geared towards business than pleasure. He is a gracious host, mild spoken and eager to answer any questions of participants signing in. Riders are slowly trickling into the lobby. I filter out to quickly check out what this winterfest thing is while it is still quiet. The main off highway street is blocked off and vendors are beginning to setup their tents. Bearded woodsman are setting up fire rings along the street and splitting wood. I assume it will be a different vibe upon my return.

Race time is approaching. It was 8 degrees as I arrived but is quickly warming up to the upper teens. I go back and forth on weather to bring the down jacket as an extra layer. I go ahead and decide to leave it in the truck. For me, an out of character decision as I am always an over packer. Bill begins to address the group and his voice doesn’t carry far. When one racer yells to speak louder, Bill waives his hands motioning everyone to come in closer. He warns of sheets of pure ice found early on in the course and for everyone to be smart and exercise good judgement.

We are off!!

Then with little fanfare we are off with a quick right hand turn to get to the hwy, crossover to the north side of town and through a patch of dirt snow mud mix caused by the nearby hot springs. The first 10 riders sprint on up the hill after the neutral roll out, and the rest of us 25 riders follow. It is a great mix of riders. Everything from those in their race sponsor logo’d tights, to ski jackets and cargo pants.

Bill’s warning of Ice was certainly on point. If you take a direct line down the middle of the track you would quickly find yourself laying on your back staring at the winter blue sky wondering what just happened. Even with five inch tires on these massive snow bikes, there is nothing you can do on ice, save have studded tires. The best choice was about an 8 inch wide section of packed trail between the ice field and the soft snow that would bury you to your axles. Everyone skirts the best they can on these south facing slopes close to town that have gone through the warming and freezing cycle to create this mess. This persists for the first half mile until we can get over the ridgeline to the north facing slopes that are also higher in elevation. Once there, the snow immediately changes to the best possible scenario for a fat bike, hard packed snow on sub freezing temps, a sensation that is most similarly equated to riding on a gravel dirt road.

At this point we have been pedaling away from the sawtooth range and heading towards Potato Mountain. At the summit of the first little cimb of about 250 ft a meadow opens up to the Stanley Valley while traverse a hillside with an immediate view of the sawtooth range. We are about 10 miles away from Thompson Peak (Ele. 10,751), but it feels close enough to touch. The mesmerizing view is present for the next 4 miles. It is a nice rolling hill pace with some gradual climbs and fun winding descents. A fun part of fat biking is the counterintuitive thought of balancing on two wheels on a slippery surface, such as snow. You mind tells you that you may lose grip out from under your front tire at any given moment. But with experience, your body feels that edge you are maintaining, and leans over even more to get the most out of that five inch rubber.

Rolling hills cannot hide the prestigious Sawtooth Mountain range.

Five and a half miles in, the Aid station surfaces. Two smiling young ladies have set up shop via a snowmobile and trailer. A folding table with water, Cliff Bar BLOKS, and a case of Coors. Four riders were perched on their bikes fueling up as I rolled up and said hi for a quick grab of energy gummies. The group of four of us bounce back and forth along the trail like accordian as we figure out our pace through the flat valley floor. From behind I hear the soft belch of a rider and he says he is letting the beer settle. I comment on the amazing morning we are having with blue skies and cool temps to keep the snow firm. His reply is “It’s Effing Amazing!”. I cannot deny that.

From here there is a feeling of entering the wilderness as the summer range land and meadows are now behind you as a the long sustained climb into the pines emerges. My Garmin now reads 28 degrees and even with my scaled down layers, it is time to unzip because I am feeling hot. A beautiful climb up the hill ends at the 30k turnaround spot. A gauge for me that I will now begin the 10k lollipop loop and then the 15k back the way we came. A quick self assessment has me feeling good and recognizing I am on a comfortable, sustainable pace. Afterall, training has been lacking these past couple months and I’m not exactly in prime riding shape. But happy to be where I am, and having a good time.

The Lollipop

A fast descent down the road reverse the slope we just climbed now has me cemented into this loop. No turning back now, because (or so it seems) climbing out what I just came down would be just as hard a task of what lay ahead. This event is short in comparison to the longer bikepacking rides I enjoy, but some of these same mental tactics of picking off a small goal amidst a larger goal to motivate, inspire, and survive still apply. My assessment of “no turning back now” was completely inaccurate. I had just descended a mere 150ft over ¾ of a mile, and in reality was beginning a switchback climb of over 500ft over the next mile and a half. Sure, it’s no Hard Guy or Five Mile Gulch death march, but it is its own challenge all the same. I joke that any snow covered fat bike ride should count as double in mileage and elevation. The climb persists and joy ensues at the summit. A pack of three of us riding together has me not wanting to stop at the top for fear of falling behind. At the same regard I am also thinking ahead for the cooldown that will happen on this long freeride down the mountain and am messing with my zipper to try to get my jacked up. Frustration has me getting it about half way with one hand and call it good.

The trip back down the lollipop is a blast. It turns a bit technical as I have to pick lines between snowmobile ski tracks. It appears the warm weather the day before had caused soft snow where a couple tracks had gone through. Now hardened up it was a matter of dodging them to not get stuck in a rut.

Returning back to the main route the valley opened up again, but this time with one noticeable difference. A headwind was now blowing at us. “That’s funny” I say to myself, “I don’t remember any wind while we were coming out”. And I never do. In fact, until I get caught in a headwind, I don’t even acknowledge the existence of said concept. I push through it knowing the aid station and some more delicious ginger ale BLOKS are waiting for me. That and a chance for a photo op. On the approach I am already getting my phone out and ready for the girls to take a picture of me. To this point I have barely put a foot down off the bike, so I can spare a few moments here to take in the experience, after all, it’s not really a race. None the less, I quickly glance behind for Mike (the next participant) and don’t see him, so I go ahead and ask for the picture, and sure we’ve got time for a second picture, but this time landscaped. With a quick thank you i’m off as I see Mike coming around the bend.

Capturing a Photo op mid Fondo is a must in the Sawtooths

The Homestretch

The return towards town has rolling hills, Mike’s forte. He easily passes me and as I try to make an effort to at least keep up, I stand up out of the saddle and start to increase my speed. Uh-oh I think, My legs are actually starting to feel a little tired. With that I see Mike, with our matching red jackets slowly get smaller in the distance. A return to the prestigious mountain views is a great consolation prize worth every penny paid to be here, and then some. On the home stretch of our little journey. It is a great view to look down towards the valley floor with the little town approaching in the distance. Before I know it I return back to the ice field that had easily been forgotten with all the big scenery that I had just experienced. There was now a glimmer on the ice, which is not good news. An added level of slickness as a thin layer of water lie over top the ice.

I navigate safely through and down to the finish line behind the Mountain Village Resort. The fanfare is minimal. One Cliff Bar Banner, some already finished racers now chatting and an old ranch truck with a flat bed on the back, a well mannered cow dog, and fresh keg awaiting the finishers. There stands Bill to greet finishers and a muffled clap through the snow mits. The post ride high fives are exchanged and rides fill their blue plastic cups and chat.
Across the way there is cheering and hollering. The winterfest in full swing. As I ride back to the High Country Inn, I pass by the raft pull. It entails Six to Eight people in a blue whitewater raft being pulled by a side by side ATV around a field. Custom berms and table top style jumps to drag them over appear to give them the full experience.

Papa Brunee’s Pizza is a must hit stop on your trip through town.

The Winterfest

After changing and putting my bike away I head over to meet a couple riders for some Pizza right in the middle of the main festival. Chariots are parked at one end of the marked off area for the soon to be famed outhouse race. Yes, toilets put on ski’s and decorated which are pulled down mainstreet. The food was great as well as the company, swapping stories and bike lore is half the fun of an event like this. Leaving Papa Brunee’s Pizza the street is lined up and down like a parade. Warm ups are happening for The Wild and Wooley Drag Race, an event where snowshoe laden dudes in dresses and wigs race down the street. At the starting line the head coach was shouting encouragement while offering shots of liquid encouragement by the flask. The race started with cheering and hollering and a crowd letting you know they are here for a good time. Sprinting cross dressed dudes to my suprise are going in an all out sprint with snow flinging everywhere from their snowshoes. The stuff that small town legends are made of.

Music added a relaxed vibe as folks filled the street for the main events.

The Outhouse Race is a crowd pleaser.

The Stanley Winterfest is in it’s 9th year of existence. The fat bike fondo is a 40k group ride with a 30k option. For more information on the event go to and checkout #stanleywinterfest.

Comments Trail Travels – The Fat Bike Fondo

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  1. Troot67 says:

    Very Well done Jason!! I think you summed up the experience just perfectly. FYI Papa Brunee’s not only has fantastic Pizza, but breakfast burritos as well. Guarantee Ill be heading there if open while coming thru later this year at Smoke and Fire 2018!!

    Oh, Andie and I also did the raft ride pulled by the snow cat. Told the guy not to hold back:-) super fun! He told us after we should go to Chicken Shit bingo later in Lower Stanley at Bridge Street Grill…just diddnt seem right, Ha!

    1. jdelga says:

      Thanks Tim! mmmm, Burrito.

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