(editor’s note:) I’m a card-carrying crustifarian so it should come as no surprise that today’s fat-bike fairytale is entitled Crust Cruising. We suggest that you take your favorite surf-punk classic and trade the word Surf with the word Crust in the lyrics for an ideal soundtrack for today’s reformed crustifarian proclivities.
Crust Cruising – By William Amaya
Every once in a while snow, rain and freezing temperatures align to produce conditions that allow for epic fat bike adventuring. Here’s how our crust formed this winter. Starting in February the weather pattern changed from dry high desert kind of dry winter to a series of winter storms that proceeded to pummel us with record-setting snowfall. We received more snow in February then we have in decades. Dealing with that much snow, shoveling and snow blowing, physically wore us out. Sun Valley, a few miles up the road from us, reported 120” of snow for the month. The record-setting snowfall was followed by 2 days and a night of heavy rain. The fat bikers among us started to rejoice. It was a low level of celebration because one event was needed to make conditions perfect. That event was for the temperature to plummet. And plummet they did. Picture this, 40” of snow covering everything, sagebrush, rocks, fences, everything. That snow is infused with copious amounts of rainwater and the whole thing is frozen solid. At least the top few inches were frozen. On Friday our celebrations reached a crescendo…and a plan was hatched.
Five of us decided to get up early on Saturday and see how things looked. With the morning temperature hovering around 11 degrees F we were pretty sure the snow was going to be good. But we were a little apprehensive about it being too cold. We knew that the crust would only last until mid-morning before the temperature got to warm. We figured somewhere around 10:30 AM to 11:00 AM was the cutoff point. The time that we’d to be back to the trailhead. We chose an area west of Hailey called Democrat Gulch. A real nice little valley that we ride frequently in the summer. Democrat Gulch opens up into a nice valley at its mouth getting narrower and steeper the further one travels up the gulch. The hills that define the valley are big sagebrush-covered foothills. The area suffered a devastating wildfire 5-6 years ago that burned many of the trees and most of the sagebrush.
We started riding at 8:00 AM and it was epic! We could literally ride anywhere. The crust was crystallized on top resulting in almost unlimited traction. It was hard and in most places and the surface was quite rough. But it was unbelievable. We all agreed that it reminded us of riding Moab’s slick rock. We rode down by the creek, we rode up by the trail, we rode up a bunch of the hills, we rode on the dried up lake bed. We rode places you simply cannot ride in the summer. With the sun shining the temperature felt quite pleasant, with most of us peeling off a layer or two. We worked our way up to “the narrows” a pinch point in the valley that’s only 10 to 15 feet wide with steep hills on either side. Time and distance made that our turn around point. From there Tim side hilled as the rest of us bombed down the center of the valley. When we spotted him again he was way up the side. He dropped in and arced his bike downhill for a run that left him grinning for the rest of the day.
Crust conditions like these can be somewhat elusive and it doesn’t happen every Winter but this year it’s here and it’s great. We’re hoping it lasts for another 10 days to 2 weeks, but you just never know. So for as long as it lasts…there will be no sleeping in for this crew because it is “crust cruising” days here in central Idaho.