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Blog #10: Can You Ride Fatbike on Trail that is Groomed for Nordic Ski Purposes?

Backside Trail for Fat Bike and Nordic Skiing: Cable, WI
Backside Trail for Fatbike and Nordic Skiing: Cable, WI

-Words by Josh Washlow, Managing Member, Up North Guided Tours, 1/31/2019

It was brought to our attention earlier this week that Fatbikers were spotted riding trail that is groomed for Nordic skiing in the Cable/Hayward area of Northwest Wisconsin. The immediate response from the community was “Don’t ride on the ski trails!” The purpose of this article is to explore the validity of such statements and to propose a course of action.

Our focus here is on trail that is groomed for Nordic skiing on land owned by Bayfield County that is managed by the Bayfield County Forest and Parks Department (referred to as the “Department” or the “Authority” below). Our conclusion is that the Bayfield County ski and bike recreational use Permitees in Cable have a duty under their respective Permits to work together in using and maintaining the trails for both Fatbike and Nordic ski purposes.

The Permit Holders have long-term Permitted Use Agreements for Recreational Purposes or the like that were issued by the Department to formalize permission of the recreational use each Permit Holder promotes on County land. Said Permits are issued at the discretion of the Authority.

Applicable Permit language follows. “Permittee agrees that all trails…. are open to the public and that only the Department has the authority to restrict their use.” “The Permittee will be required to work with other groups who also have formal permissions, from the Department, to utilize and maintain trails as part of this Agreement.”

The Department has not restricted use of trails that are groomed for Nordic skiing on County land by giving an exclusive use privilege to Nordic skiers, nor has it restricted Fatbike use on those trails in anyway whatsoever.

Could the problem be one of compatibility between Fatbike and Nordic skiing? We do not believe so. The American Birkebeiner Foundation has been running a Fatbike race annually since 2013; also the Birkie earlier this Winter put on a Fatbike skills clinic; the picture captioned above depicts a section of the Backside Trail in Cable that contains both Nordic ski and Fatbike lanes; and the trail our shop maintains on County land that is not a shared Fatbike and Snowmobile route is open to skiing, biking and snowshoeing.

All that said, is it ok that Fatbike is being ridden on ski trail? No, it is certainly not illegal, but it is disorderly, disrespectful, and rogue in nature. However, although not condoned here, bike being ridden on trail that has been groomed for Nordic skiing does show that there is demand for more Fatbike routes.

Effectively we are not advocating for new trail, but we are advocating for more shared bike/ski trail, especially more shared trail that promotes safety on Bayfield County land. We think a Fatbike route in Cable from where Westside and Backside meet that heads West to the North End Cabin via the Tony Wise and a portion of the North End Ski Trail is a good place to start granted that it provides Fatbikers direct access through the woods to warming and bathroom installations.

Accordingly, we believe rogue Fatbike activity is an indicator that this a good time for the Permit Holders to work together on expanding Bayfield County trail maintenance and use.

Up North Guided Tours, LLC is a Fatbike and Snowshoe Guided Tour, Equipment Rental, and Apparel Sales company. See for more information, and contact 715/413-2076 and for discussion. Thanks for reading.

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