By Dina Mishev
My ski season started with some broken ribs. Bad things happen when I leave Wyoming. Walking around the icy streets of Budapest with some Christmas salami — a gift for my protein-loving husband — in a messenger bag strung across my back, I slipped. But I digress. I merely mention the salami to explain why I spent one of the snowiest Decembers inside on a stationary bike trainer. For the first time in the 14 years I’ve lived in Jackson, the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort opened in November … and it also opened with 100% of its terrain available for skiing. But riding a stationary bike was all I could tolerate with some level of comfort.
A month on the trainer not only got me introduced and caught up on TV shows like "Dexter" (love it!) and "24," but also gave me a fair amount of bike fitness. Mostly healed, what else could I do but buy a snowbike? Like some mountain bikes, it has 27 gears and disc brakes, but the front and rear tires are each four inches wide. The thing is a tank capable of running over anything. Glazed ice included — provided you exercise common sense and don’t try to turn at a fast rate of speed. And it’s a fabulous sparkly metallic moon shadow blue.
I first tested my Salsa Mukluk on the closest groomed track to my home, Cache Creek, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Heading out in the winter weather, I wore my Sorels, down mittens, mid-weight long underwear, a pair of Schoeller pants, a lightweight, longsleeve base layer top, wool socks, a hat, two Buffs and my Fitzy’s thermal jacket.
Within five minutes of pedaling out of the parking lot, I was sweating more than I have in any sauna.
Dozen of runs, mountain bike rides and skis up Cache Creek, and I had never realized how much elevation gain there was. Did I mention my Mukluk weighs 34 pounds?
Grand Teton National Park would have been a good next ride. Nearly 20 miles of road right through the middle of the park are closed to cars Nov. 1–May 1 and groomed for use by non-motorized travel. But currently, GTNP and Yellowstone do not differentiate between motorized and non-motorized wheeled vehicles, so snowbikes fall in the same category as ATVs and cars and are not permitted.
So I went to the Civilian Conservation Corps-built Granite Hot Springs, 12 miles south of Hoback Junction on U.S. 191 instead.
I picked my day carefully. Snow biking can be fun. It can also be slush pushing. Good snow biking conditions are the same as good skate skiing conditions: You want temperatures below freezing (you don’t need it to be quite -35, though). You don’t want fresh snow. For a trip to Granite Hot Springs, you want a bathing suit.
The 10-mile ride in takes more time and energy than the 10-mile ride out. It took me about an hour to get in and 45 minutes to get out. Depending on conditions — I had very good ones — and your fitness level (remember I’ve been on an indoor trainer since early December) the roundtrip could take as much as four hours. One dogsled passed me on the ride in. JH Iditarod Sled Dog Tours runs daily trips into the hot springs as well. With the road unplowed and covered with snow, it is impossible to drive in: sled dog, snowmobile, snowbike and skis are the only way in.
After an hour of soaking in the Granite Hot Springs pool ($6 entrance), I was ready to tackle the return trip. I won’t write I didn’t have to pedal, but I did have to pedal much less. And my hot-mineral-water-soothed muscles appreciated it.
Want to try snow biking yourself? Fitzgerald’s Bicycles in Jackson (245 W. Hansen St., next to Snake River Brewing) rents them for $39/day. The shop is open Mon.–Fri. noon–6pm.
A 14-year resident of Jackson, Dina Mishev is the author of Total Tetons, an app available in the iTunes store. It was named a “New & Noteworthy” app by Apple when it launched in June 2010. Dina updates it regularly.