As with any outdoor event in the mountains, expect the unexpected when it comes to the weather and come prepared! Stage 1 of the Snow Bike Festival had every type of snow to challenge the riding ability of even the most skilled riders. Quite how the UCI riders made it through on their skinny tyres, I’m not sure, maybe just by sheer speed and strength! It was certainly a day of contrast from the valley trails to higher passes, but no less fun was had with many a story recounted at the end of the stage.
Fatbikes were the bike of the day. With some overnight rain and wet snow, the lower valley trails trails were heavy going, even the fatbikes had little chance of staying in a straight line for too long! It was comedy, with riders sliding around and some spilling off over the side of the trail, but spirits weren’t dampened, everyone kept smiling and riding. This may be a race, but for all us non UCI riders, the essence of the event is about having fun and the challenge of riding our bikes in the presenting conditions.
The first 15km was flat, but not fast! The slow motion effect of fatbikes made even slower by the heavy snow, riders battling it out for the best lines! The route took us out past the historic village of Saanen, past the border between the French and German speaking before reaching the turnaround point at Rougement and towards the main 7km of the stage. As we climbed, the snow gradually become harder and more compact with that familiar and welcome crunching sound of the snow under tyre. At least you can take advantage of the slower climbing speeds of fatbikes to take in the spectacular views all around, without distracting too much from keeping a good line, otherwise it’s off into the deeper snow!
Deeper, soft snow, already tracked out, made for challenging riding near the summit, lines didn’t exist, you had to forge your own! Mike Blewitt of Australian Mountain Bike magazine was trucking through well given his non existent previous experience of riding fatbikes on snow. Strength and determination were his friends.
Don’t think I had touched the front brake all day, the descent off the top was no different! Full on rear brake lock, drifting down off the summit, you just hoped the front wheel wouldn’t sink into a deep patch of snow. The gradient settled for the rest of the descent, but still required pedaling to roll through the soft snow. Concentration and skill got you down, drifting through turns, one leg out for maximum balance near the bottom as soft snow became slush. This stuff is super hard to hold a straight line through, the front wheel getting pulled in every which random direction. Everyone was in the same boat and it was just smiles all the way down as we all worked hard to stay upright, some taking an occasional dip into the snow!
Once back into the valley, it was a 1km ‘sprint’ to the finish, probably the slowest sprint I have ever ridden, driving hard through the heavy snow. It was determination to ride the last km where others were pushing bikes.
Back to hot lunch and the warmth of the race village tent and stories of big crashes down the steeper sections. Riders being a bit over zealous with their speed and that front wheel drift getting the better of them! A challenging, but super fun stage 1.