Saturday, January 3, 2015

Chickakoo Review

I’m pleased to report that Chickakoo Lake Recreation Area, 40 minutes west of Edmonton, is not only winter fat bike friendly but also winter fat bike fun.

Finding trails to ride fat bikes on in winter can be tricky around here. Sure, the river valley is the go-to place to ride fat, and the valley does offer a fair bit of variety, but sometimes a fella just needs to get out of town. Some of the most obvious places for winter trail rides around here are cross-country skiing facilities like Cooking Lake-Blackfoot and the Strathcona Wilderness Centre. The packed and groomed ski trails at these facilities are ideal for fat biking. There’s just one problem: the skiers.

Nordic skiers can be protective of their domain. As a sometime-Nordic skier myself, I get the damage bike wheels can do to classic tracks. That’s why many places, including the two mentioned above, forbid fat bikes on their trails. (There are some enlightened exceptions to this trend, notably the fabulous Canmore Nordic Centre, which allows fat bikes on some trails.)

Chickakoo Lake is used by skinny skiers too, but the park is a truly multi-use operation which encourages walkers, skiers, cyclists, and horseback riders to share the trails year round. And the trail set up makes such sharing easy. All of the 14 km of trail are wide double-track with a single ski track on one side, leaving plenty of room for walkers, skate-skiers, and cyclists. There’s space for everyone to get along.

Val's impressive rack. More on this another day.
Plus, the kind of skiers who go to Chickakoo are not, typically, your super-svelte, lycra-clad, uber-serious types who might scowl at the sight of fat bikes impinging on skiers’ sacred territory or even jam a pole through an interloper’s spokes. All the skiers I’ve encountered at Chickakoo are semi-serious at most—the cheerful, recreational sort, who are happy to be out on the trails and just smile at the sight of over-sized tires rolling past.

The actual trails at Chickakoo roll through lovely aspen parkland dotted with small lakes. The signage is excellent; every intersection has a map and is clearly marked. The most difficult of the four trails, Woodland Lookout, has some surprisingly steep inclines, though that could be my 40 lb. bike talking. As winter fat riders know, almost everything is harder work on snow, climbs most of all. Suffice to say there was some walking of bikes uphill. Good for the circulation, we agreed.

The facilities are perfectly basic. No fancy winter chalet with wood stove here. Instead, think unheated crap-house, no running water, and some simple benches scattered around the trails. And with only 14 km of trails, the possibilities aren’t exactly endless. We pedalled (with bits of walking) for an hour and a half and covered all of it and then some.

But that hardly matters. We were out of the city, in the middle of winter, riding bikes on quiet, beautiful, packed trails. And we hadn’t been impaled on any ski poles. That’s my idea of winter fun.

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