CROSBY — We’re approaching that time of year. The time when even diehard Minnesotan’s start itching for spring. We long to put away our shovels and reclaim our bikes, basking in the beauty of the great outdoors.
This year, however, area mountain bikers have been pedaling their way right through winter, making the best of the weather by riding bicycles made especially for snow-covered groomed trails. Day or night, fat bikes — as they’re called because of their extra large tires — can be found on the hills of the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area near Crosby, many ridden by bikers preparing for Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout, a winter cycling event taking place March 1-2.
This year’s Whiteout is part of the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series, one of five fat tire snow biking events being showcased in the Midwest. Races range from the Iron Yeti Sagamore SnowXcross Race, with six-, 12- and 18-mile courses, to the Fat Tire Ice Drag Race Championship and the Serpent Lake Ice Bike Race, where mountain bikes with studded tires race to get the most laps in either 25 or 45 minutes.
“Whiteout is our way of celebrating winter and enjoying our sport,” said Aaron Hautala, president of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew, the volunteer organization putting on the second annual Whiteout.
While the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area currently includes 25 miles of single track mountain bike trails for summer riders, winter biking — including Whiteout’s events — take place only in the Sagamore Unit located south of Riverton and the Yawkey Unit located near Crosby.
“We were able to open the Yawkey unit this winter for people with fat bikes and snow shoes to enjoy,” said Steve Weber of the Minnesota DNR. “We’re thrilled about events like Whiteout bringing visitors to our area so they can see the allure of our trails and enjoy Minnesota’s great outdoors.”
Organizers are anticipating 100 racers from around the Midwest this year with profits from the event going toward improving and expanding the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails. The Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew is working with the DNR on a plan to expand the trails this summer to include a skills park called Yawkey Overdrive. More than $22,000 has been raised for the cause thanks to donations from regional individuals, businesses and Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis.
The Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew has also assisted in fundraising $52,000 for the city of Cuyuna’s trailhead and Pump-Track Park, a training course with hills and valleys for beginner to expert riders. Construction is slated to begin this spring.
“A lot of work, totaling more than 2,000 volunteer hours, have been put into these trails and it shows,” said Weber.
Since January 2012, the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew has been busy. They hosted a number of fundraising events including Whiteout in March, the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival in June and the Cuyuna Lakes Klunker Ride and Scrap Metal Jamboree in September.
They’ve also helped form volunteer trail maintenance crews, which repaired damaged trails in only two weeks after last spring’s massive rainfall caused numerous landslides and washouts. The Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Patrol, a group of about 20 people trained in first aid and CPR, was created to frequent the trails and the Cuyuna Lakes High School Mountain Bike League was also established.
In 2012, the DNR reported 22,503 people (up from 15,552 in 2011) visited the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails, named Minnesota’s only certified Ride Center by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). Cuyuna’s Sand Hog trail also earned IMBA’s Flow Country Award, attained by only two mountain bike trails in the United States. These accomplishments contributed to the regional and national media that featured the trails last year, including Dirt Rag magazine and St. Paul’s Pioneer Press.
“Our shared goal is for the trails to draw cyclists from all over the Midwest and, in the big picture, the country,” Hautala said. “We’re on our way to achieving that goal.”