PINEDALE – There is a silver lining to the changes and upheaval wrought by the pandemic.
During the past five years, the Colorado resort town of Crested Butte hosted the World Fat Bike Championships sponsored by Borealis Fat Bikes. Due to public health orders issued by authorities in Gunnison County this fall, World Fat Bike Championship organizers faced cancellation.
“Because of requirements for events (in Gunnison County), we didn’t think we could pull it off this year in Crested Butte,” said David Ochs, executive director at the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and Fat Bike Championship sponsor.
Gunnison County health orders sent event planners scrambling to find other options. The Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association announced its conundrum on Facebook, and the post caught the attention of Darren Hull, executive director at the Sublette County Chamber of Commerce.
Hull reached out to the World Fat Bike Championship board and proposed relocating the event to the wide open and less congested space in Sublette County.
“We met with their board and our board met and agreed that hosting the championships in Pinedale sounded like a good idea for everyone – a way to keep the event fresh and fun,” Hull said.
The World Fat Bike Championship team jumped at the chance to hold its event in 2021. Sublette County also stood to benefit.
“I figured that this was a good opportunity for the (Sublette County) chamber to help local business through the winter quiet time,” Hull said. “We’re not trying to be dismissive of the pandemic, but we hope that this event will allow people a way to have fun safely and bring more business to Sublette County.”
Ochs said that the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association was in no way disappointed that the event was moved from Crested Butte. The fact that the Fat Bike Championships was a “world” event implied that it “should travel” to new locations, he added.
“We’re super psyched it’s going to be in Wyoming this year,” Ochs said.
Taking on the challenge
The Sublette County Chamber partnered with Sam Harnack, program manager at Main Street Pinedale, to put together the 2021 Borealis World Fat Bike Championships in just several months, Hull said. Andrew Zook, a chamber volunteer and owner of Pinedale’s Geared Up Bike Shop, stepped in to offer his fat bike expertise.
The first step was finding a fat-bike-friendly location. The Cline Trust Company offered its holdings in the Kendall Valley beneath Black Butte as an option. Overlooking the Wind River Range, the Twin Eagle Ranch and Green River Guest Ranch provides the perfect terrain and location for a world-class fat bike race, said Hull.
Hosting the races on private property eliminated land-sharing issues with other winter recreationalists – a possible concern on public lands, Hull explained. Maintaining the crowd to a single event in one contained location maximized the ability for participants to “responsibly” practice social distancing, Hull added.
Zook and other volunteers plotted an 8-mile, groomed course at Twin Eagle Ranch through diverse terrain with more than 500 feet in elevation gain.
Race day is on Saturday, Jan. 16, and comprises several different divisions. The “really competitive athletes” vie for the world title in the 24-mile championship race involving three laps around the course, Hull said.
Those looking for a little less competition and more fun can enter the “sport class” race at 16 miles, and the beginner category at just one lap, or 8 miles. High school students are also welcome to enter their own 16-mile division. Costumes are welcome in the shorter races, Hull said.
Registration has “taken off” for the 2021 championships, and Hull expects 100 racers to show up on the course Saturday. Due to international travel restrictions, most racers that have signed up are “regional,” Hull said, primarily representing the Rocky Mountain West and Midwest regions, a “good cross-section of people.”
Hull hoped to see Sublette County represented and encouraged local fat bikers to register.
“You don’t have to be a world class athlete to participate,” he said. “A good majority of the racers are everyday folks.”
The races are open to the public and food and vendors will be available depending on public health mandates, Hull said.
Sublette County organizers are adding a new twist to the championships. The event opens on Friday evening with “Fat Bike Cornhole” behind the Wind River Brewery. Hull did not give reveal many specifics, only that it “will be very entertaining.”
The World Fat Bike Championships winds down on Sunday with a group ride through the Wind Rivers led by Zook.
Hull said the championships in Pinedale will be a much-needed antidote to the January pandemic blues.
“The goal is to get people outside and get some energy up,” he said. “As much weirdness as COVID has brought over the past months, this event will offer excitement and fun for the community.”