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Whiteout conditions

Two-wheeled winter mountain mayhem hits the San Juans

Members of the local mountain biking brain trust have put their heads together for a unique race, and calling it cool may be an understatement.

It’s a fat bike race, in February, in Silverton, Colorado, at 9,300 feet. Brrr.

Russell Zimmermann, owner of Durango Cyclery, said he thought it would be a good way to heat up the winter, bring some dollars to the hamlet’s winter economy (or lack thereof) and celebrate some mountain biking in the snow.

“First and foremost, I’ve been thinking for a while, ‘What can we do in Silverton,’” he said. “They’re our neighbors, and after last year’s Iron Horse (the road race was canceled by weather), I feel like they got the short end of the stick. It’s been on my mind, how to do an event there. Fat bikes are coming up and it just worked out.”

So, the Silverton Whiteout was born: Saturday’s 10-hour race around the town will weave through alleys of a historic mining town, cruise out along a valley floor and climb up meandering fringe trails, in Silverton’s case, along bases of 13,000-foot peaks.

What’s more is the entire event will circumnavigate Snowscape, Silverton’s snow-covered winter festival. It could make for a rather distinctive scene – “Costumes are encouraged,” Zimmermann said. Along with the broomball, horseshoes, snow golf, $2 skiing at Kendall Mountain, shovel races and cardboard derbies, there will be fat bikers, and some could be clad in cow suits, tutus and deer antlers as they suck blood from a stone and negotiate the 9-mile course.

There will be four categories: solo, doubles, teams of three to four, and families. A 14-and-under age class will run an abbreviated course. The start is 9 a.m. and finish at 7 p.m.

“It’s a 10-hour race, but no one is going to die doing this,” Zimmermann said. “There will be people who do it solo who will get their fair share of pain, but the event is all about the town. We’re going to be there all day – we’re not leaving and doing some huge loop in the backcountry.”

Race headquarters, start and finish is downtown at the 133-year-old Grand Imperial Hotel on Greene Street, where live music, libations, food and fun will entertain riders waiting their turn to head out at the same bar where Wyatt Earp hung out. But he rode off on a different steed.

Racers will hand off a baton – a glowing, reusable, rechargeable light stick – to their teammates. No digital timing here. A homemade course board maintained in the hotel will keep track of who is where on the course as racers pass through checkpoints along the way.

Jon Bailey, artist-in-residence and wrench at Durango Cyclery, has been part of grassroots racing and putting on events like this for years.

“It’s kind of based of off the beginnings of 24-hour races,” he said. “Instead of where they are now with the chips on your leg that scan when you go through the finish.”

Sarah Tescher, co-founder of Durango Devo and program director of the developmental youth cycling club, said the race is a nod to the tiny – and only – town in San Juan County.

“My family and I have been going up there for 15 years, so it’s like my second home,” she said. “When Russell came up with this, I felt like it was a good idea and I was due to give back to the community.”

Zimmermann said that’s what it’s really about.

“Community is kind of the basis of it,” he said. “And we came up with a way to really involve families. Silverton is a great family place, so we’ve added this idea – a family class.”

Moms, dads, kids, diehards: everyone can do this one.

“You get the experience of being out of town a little bit, but also in town and around town. We’re really looking for something a little more family oriented.”

Out on the course, racers can find comfort in old-fashioned hunting tents and warm up with bonfires and hot chocolate. While some of Durango’s finest athletes are sure to show up, many teams will be made up of old-fashioned funhawgs.

“We’re going to see everybody,” Zimmermann said. “From the hard-core endurance person who wants to do all 10 hours by themselves, to roommates as a team.”

Tescher said fat bike rental fleets from Durango to Telluride are already wiped out for the race, which for its first year is capped at 200 racers. Every fatty in the region is spoken for.

With that many fat bikers looping trails and town in costumes, fire pits on the course, light sticks glowing in the midst of a winter festival, the Whiteout will easily stand out. Bailey’s artwork surrounding the event lends a mountain gothic visual. An artist and cyclist all his life, he blends his lifestyle with his work.

“It’s really fun to draw a poster for an event that hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “To try to capture it with your imagination – what it’s going to be like.”

Tescher said volunteers are still needed, and that giving a hand comes with entry into the festivities – parties and fun.

Silverton’s budding trail advocacy group, Silverton Singletrack Society, will reap proceeds from some beer sales.

While fat biking is growing across the nation, it’s getting a warm reception in Silverton. The town is behind the Whiteout, and organizers were met with open arms instead of a cold shoulder.

“They’re super supportive,” Tescher said about Silverton’s community. “We’ve never heard a ‘no,’ which is pretty cool when you’re an event organizer.”

The Whiteout will end with a bang, literally.

“We want that to be a surprise,” Tescher said.


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