The second annual Mountain State Fat Bike Champs was wild, wintery, and well-attended. Held on Sunday, February 4 at White Grass Touring Center, the race kicked off at 9 a.m. in true Tucker County conditions. Fat snowflakes, whipping winds, and 35-degree temps had racers wondering what eye protection to wear, how many clothing layers to stack, and how much air to put in their huge tires.
The Scene is Fat
On any given Sunday in the winter, you can find some local Tucker County folks doing a group fat bike ride at Blackwater Falls State Park or in the Monongahela National Forest. On this special Sunday, fat bikers from as far as Philadelphia and Indiana joined in with folks from Davis and Canaan Heights to fat bike on the perfectly groomed trails at White Grass. Typically reserved for skiers and snowshoers, White Grass rolls out the white carpet once a year for riders with a bike tire width of 3.8-inches or greater. The fat tires allow floatation over snow.
Race promoter Zach Adams conceived the race as a way to raise money for building a beginner-friendly mountain bike trail at the Thomas City Park. A fundraiser was held before race night at Stumptown Ales—one dollar from every beer sold was donated to the project. The fat weekend netted $2000 toward construction maintenance of the trail.
The sense of community activism for healthy recreation opportunities and good, clean fun make this race something so much more than a competition. It takes a mountain village to pull off events like this. Chip Chase, owner of White Grass and the Energizer Bunny of Canaan, said he plans on continuing the event every year now and is experimenting with a trail groomer specifically for bikes. “We are still just a ski and snowshoe place, but we welcome the fat bikers on race day with minds and hearts open wide,” Chase said. “It was one wonderful group of folks!”
Sixty racers lined up in a motocross-style line in front of the lodge. This year, there was a base of four-to-eight inches, and it was dumping snow during the morning hours. After an initial hill, the riders converged into a groomed single-track. Many rode this first hill, but many had to walk it. At first it looked to be a repeat of last year, with a lot of hike-a-biking and soft snow. The first lap of the short 2.2 mile loop was loose, but with each successive rider and lap, the course firmness got established and the laps went quicker.
Rob May of Shwenksville, Pennsylvania said, ”I got a good patch of snow and got to the front by accident. At the top of the climb at the far point of the course, there was a small shelter with a wood stove cranking. People were handing out bacon-wrapped cookies, IPA, and moonshine. A little shine helped me relax and not over steer which is no good in the snow.” Bacon, beers, and shine for breakfast? Only in West Virginia!
Providing the sustenance, courage, and mental support at the Springer shelter was Rob Stull, owner of Blackwater Bikes. Along with beers from Mountain State Brewing Oskar Blues, the racers stayed fat and happy.
By the end of the race, the blizzard continued and result sheets were soaking wet, but the winners had been determined. Robert May won the XXC category by finishing 22 miles in two hours and 37 minutes. Zach Bittinger finished the Men’s XC with a time of one hour and 17 minutes. Ashley Reefer came first in Women’s XC, covering 11 miles in one hour and 36 minutes.
The solid turnout and great conditions proved that this race is here to stay. Keep an eye out for Mountain State Fat Bike Champs in 2019—it’s sure to be filled with wide tires and smiles.