6 min read

Return to Leadville

Descending those few miles of flowy, fast, and periodically steep singletrack, I briefly lived the bliss of mountain biking.
Return to Leadville

Ode to Winter

Winter in Canaan pays no heed to groundhogs or vernal equinoxes. Instead, the high, mountainous elevation squeezes out every inch of winter it dares, even blanketing the region with 20 inches of snow in May, such as 2023's record-breaking spring snow surprise.

Canaan Valley after this year's early April snowfall.

To date, we've had 140.8 inches of snow this season. That's an exciting number! This winter started to approach normal territory. With each snowfall, skiers of all styles soaked up the frozen water, sliding, turning, and climbing until it wilted back into liquid or vapor, taking with it any promise of a natural base. 

While downhill skiers benefit from the industrious snowmaking capabilities of lift-served ski areas, cross-country skiers and mountain bikers depend on the base—a.k.a.—the snowpack. The snowpack is what's left between snow events, compacting and morphing into a cement-like layer covering a multitude of sins—rocks, roots, fallen branches, cow patties, and mud. Fresh-fallen snow layered on a solid base creates the potential of dreamy natural conditions and, if there is enough, the ability to groom the snow into inviting tracks of corduroy through the woods.

Swishing through the forest on natural snow atop cross-country skis is magical—and great cross-training.

A Pilgrimage to Leadville

On January 1 this year, Hazel and I rolled into Leadville, CO, searching for such tracks. I was traveling home from celebrating the holidays with my brother's family in the Denver area. I found a new spot to camp, parked the van atop the crunchy snow, and breathed in the brilliant sunset. The clearing skies were quite a surprise as, only 30 minutes prior, I was driving through a snow squall with questionable visibility. 

The low temperature that night was forecast for 3°F. We were camping at well over 10,000 feet. While I had reasonably solid confidence in my Espar cabin heater plumbed to the gas tank, I also ensured I had the down sleeping bag nearby and plenty of blankets—just in case. The heater earned its keep that night until the sun rose high enough to bring temps up to a balmy 28 degrees. 

After breakfast, Hazel and I found the trailhead we were seeking. It turns out that we parked in the same neighborhood where we had stayed during last year's Leadville race, and we were about to ride the same swoopy singletrack Ed, Stro, Hazel, and I had a blast on the day after the race. Hazel knew where we were, and anticipatory whining ensured I knew she would not be left behind.

We were treated to a bluebird day for our short yet sweet fat bike adventure.

Cloud City Wheelers is Leadville's intrepid bike club. From their Facebook page, I knew these trails were in excellent condition despite the relatively disappointing snowfall so far. The only mud or ice I saw on the trail was in the first 100 feet. 

As we climbed the singletrack of snow through the forest, I had to come to terms with my old friend, Altitude, and my new friend, Upper Respiratory Illness. I did so by stopping to take in the scenery, snap a few photos, and hydrate. The short, two-mile climb was worth it, even if it felt more like 10 miles. The trail was in perfect condition—so solid that Hazel's paw prints were almost invisible. The only post-holing happened when stepping off-trail into the deep, ungroomed snow.

Descending those few miles of flowy, fast, and periodically steep singletrack, I briefly lived the bliss of mountain biking. There is nothing to think about except the trail ahead of you, and whatever happened before that moment is literally behind you. A few steep burms-into-turns on one section require faith in yourself and your bike to let it rip. On dirt, they were exciting, and on snow, even more so. Eye-watering speed is not something I'm used to experiencing on a fat bike, so I was glad to see an intersection to navigate so I could stop and blink away the tears. 

As we completed the loop and pedaled back to the van, Hazel was on my tail, and I could tell she wanted to ride another lap. So did I. But I could feel the mixture of altitude and illness had compromised my breathing enough for one day. I listened to my body as my brain reminded me we had over 1,500 miles of driving ahead. I got even sicker on the drive home, so maybe I should've just done another lap anyway. As I changed and made some hot tea, the sun melted the snow off the bike, and I packed it in the van. Little did I know that would be the easiest end of a fat bike trip of the winter. 

Overlooking Leadville, CO before the decent.

What's on the Calendar?

Thanks to the Highlands Fat Bike Series, I jumped into racing early this year. The series taught me a lot, and it wasn't about how to ride a bike in the snow. Stay tuned for those adventures! Mid-April found me grinding out the 77-mile gravel race of West Virginia grit and gnar, Rollin' Coal. In May, I head to Buena Vista, Virginia, for GraVista and look forward to 68 miles of climbs and views with maybe a tad fewer ravines. Then, I take on two solid months of training before reaching my first taste of elevation in Nederland, CO, for the 50-mile Gold Course of Ned Gravel on July 13. 

And, of course, on August 10, 2024, I will be lined up to race against the altitude, clock, and maybe a few demons at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB.

Back East, fat bikes tend to get pretty muddy.

Thank you!

I know it's been a while since you heard from me, and I am so grateful for you making it to the end of this post! I have been working and training very hard, and life has been hectic. I hope to post race stories and ride musings on the Victory Lap bi-monthly, and as we get closer to Leadville, I'll keep subscribers updated in real-time via your inbox. So, if you haven't, please take a moment to subscribe to the Victory Lap. Your support means the world to me, and you won't need Facebook or Instagram to know what we're up to! 

Speaking of Snow

If you love winter, be sure to check out another project dear to my heart, the Snow Gallery. The scientific community has gained invaluable insight from the thousands of snow crystals captured by my late husband, Eric Erbe, and the Snow Gallery offers an opportunity for the general public to access these images as fine art. Every print is 30% off until April 30, 2024, to celebrate Spring finally gracing the mountains. 

This snow crystal, technically called a "stellar dendrite," is the most traditional-looking snowflake in the Origins collection.