Braving the Cold: Überwintern 2014

Bring it on!!
What a great way to start the day!

Cold.  That was the defining characteristic of the day.  Not just your typical cold Vermont winter day cold, but brutal, hoarfrost cold.  The temperatures dropped down around -25F on Friday night and remained nearly that cold in the morning when I dragged myself out of bed.  It may have been slightly warmer in Stowe, but it was still unquestionably well below zero (on the archaic Fahrenheit scale).  I had to question my sanity a little bit when I loaded our bikes up in the back of the Jeep early in the morning to make the trek over for Überwintern.  My wife already knows that I have a couple of screws loose when it comes to biking, but she can be more of a realist than me.

In spite of temperatures that would have caused cancellations and endless whining with lesser activities, a good number of people still showed up bright and early to get in some fat tire fun.  The event was staged at the Cady Hill Forest trailhead this year.  Last year it was hosted at Trapps, which was nice, but the new location definitely turned the focus on the great terrain that the Stowe MTB Club has created.

My daughter and I signed in and then munched on the complimentary cider doughnuts (awesome) and had some hot cider.  With a slight delay, the rides were broken down by ability and we hit the woods.  The trails were great – at least as much fun in the winter as during the summer months.  There was less snow than we have back home in the Northeast Kingdom (or even in the Boston area right now), but it was more than enough to justify the use of fat bikes.  There were a couple of inches of new snow layered on top of a solid base which made for a most excellent riding surface.   Planning a winter biking event has to be a little bit stressful since the weather in New England can be so fickle, leaving you with pretty horrid conditions in a matter of just a few hours.  Thankfully, that was not the case this weekend.

Group Ride!
The advanced group Ride!

I opted to ride with the “advanced” ride while my daughter got a personal tour being the only person in the beginner group.  The group pace was pretty mellow, which I appreciated in the cold temps.  Breathing deeply at -20F doesn’t always feel great.  In fact, it hurts.  I’m pretty sure I snapped some nostril hairs on the first climb.  The dry snow was also incredibly loud as it squeaked under our tires and was almost deafening when we grouped up on a brief snow covered road climb.  I’d love to describe where we went on our ride but I’m not all that familiar with the names of the trails, nor the landmarks in general in the Stowe area.  What I can say is that everything we rode was a blast.  Our leader, Ron, did a great job showing us some excellent trails while minimizing the need for any hike-a-bike sections.  We made first tracks on a good portion of trail as well.  We regrouped often where there were plenty of runny noses, fully frost encrusted beards and smiles to go around.

Our leader!
Our leader!

The far reach of our ride was near the Stowe high school.  If there had been more time, we would have climbed the pipeline.  While I know I would have enjoyed that trail, the option of returning for lunch seemed to hold more appeal for the group.  By this time, I became aware that I was more than just a little over dressed.  My inner layers were damp and well coated with frost.  Who would have thought that was possible?  I removed my outer shell, releasing a cloud of steam, and put it in one of my panniers for the return trip.  We hit a few new trails and finished up by descending the Bear’s Trail back to the trailhead area.

After making a vain attempt to warm up a while by the fire near the parking lot, I headed back up to the top of the hill for lunch.  My jacket was now frozen into a solid brick in my pannier but I was warm as long as I was moving.  My daughter had been up there a while and helped get the fire going (yes, we’re a family of pyromaniacs).  It took a while by that fire for my damp inner layers to dry out.  Shortly, a snowmachine arrived pulling a sled containing all the fixings for lunch.  Awesome burritos, chips, salsa, various other foods and a couple of kegs of Long Trail Ale made up the meal. We had a great time hanging out, warming by the fire and talking.

Burritos, Long Trail and a good fire held off the cold. (photo by Jake Goss)
Burritos, Long Trail and a good fire countered the cold. (photo by Jake Goss)

In the afternoon, we were supposed to have the UberScramble race.  As lunch was winding down, the enthusiasm for the race seemed to wane as well.  I’m not sure if this was due to the cold weather, the Long Trail, or both, but it didn’t happen.  There were a few of us  who were willing to give it a shot but not enough to make it worthwhile.  Regardless, everyone was still enjoying themselves when I had to start making my way home later in the afternoon.

Me. (photo by Jake Goss)
Me. (photo by Jake Goss)

It was a excellent day, even though it wasn’t exactly warm.  Somewhere around 90 people braved the cold to show up.  I’m confident that number would have been bigger had the atmospheric conditions been a little more friendly.  We even got some really cool T-shirts along with a little schwag from Louis Garneau and Ibex.  This year Überwintern has grown a bit and developed nicely over last year’s event.  It’ll be interesting to see how next year shapes up as the sport of winter fat biking grows.  Until then, we have Winterbike to look forward to later this winter.

[Also posted at]

Matt’s Report can be found here.

(photo by Jake Goss)
(photo by Jake Goss)
(photo by Jake Goss)
(photo by Jake Goss)

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