A new spin on roller-skiing.
As we interviewed Bozeman’s top Nordic skiers this past fall (see “Proving Grounds,” p. 106), we were surprised to discover that the reason many winter athletes call Bozeman home has nothing to do with the snow at all. Nope, it’s the pavement they like. That’s right—miles and miles of smooth, black tarmac running in every direction. It makes for dream-like summertime roller-skiing—a warm-weather activity that uses truncated, wheeled skis to mimic the body motion of skate skiing.
While this activity began as cross-training for winter, it’s become so pervasive that folks now treat it as a sport of its own. Whether that’s because the practitioners need their off-season training to be noticed, or they need an excuse for daily summertime après, or their race suits are so tight they can’t get them off, a multitude of seasonally-challenged individuals have chosen to keep their V1 and V2 technique going even when the snow is gone—so much so that plans are underway for a point-to-point roller-race across southwest Montana, called the Bozebeiner.
But last winter, these uber-aerobs took things one step —and two wheels—further, with a progression that instantly raised eyebrows on trails across town: fat-tire roller-skiing. Just like fat-biking has taken to Nordic ski trails, so too are fat-tire-roller-skiers—dubbed “fatty-rollers”—hitting the corduroy and snow-covered singletrack. “There’s just nothing like rolling a fatty,” says fatty-aficionado Roland Efinately, “except maybe cycling on the water. Rollin’ hydro!”
To see toze freakish fatty-rollers out on ze trails, I tink my ancestors roll over in ter snow-caves. —Bjorn Tewskie
Fatty-rolling started like every other niche sport does nowadays: a training exercise that someone took too seriously. Folks get so invested in their side-hustle activity that it soon becomes the full Monty. Bouldering, CrossFit, spin biking, frivolous lawsuits, and inner-tubing with crazed otters are other examples of this pattern.
In this case, Nordic athletes are so committed to roller-skiing here in Bozeman that they’re taking a “no days off” approach. That means switching to fat tires when the snow piles up. The thick, knobby wheels are equipped with suspension systems to absorb shocks and bumps, offering a smooth ride even on choppy snow. Softer rubber, derived from the popular Blizzak snow tires, provides superb grip on both hard-packed roads and softer groomed trails. Studded options are used for particularly icy conditions. Finally, lightweight materials like carbon fiber and aerospace-grade aluminum make the skis durable and nimble. Top-end models by Never Winter, Inc. are made in a local airplane-accessory manufacturing facility, where undocumented immigrants from Norway burn midnight oil to keep up with demand and avoid suspicious ICE agents by feigning excitement over northern lights appearances.
Not everyone’s keen on the new craze, however. We caught up with local Nordic nut Bjorn Tewskie, who laments the direction his sport is headed: “Skate skiing haz been in my blood for generations—itz a way of life,” he says. “To see toze freakish fatty-rollers out on ze trails, I tink my ancestors roll over in ter snow-caves. Still, I imagine tiz fad will crash and burn, same az Brazilian butt lifts. Seen any of toze lately?”
The thick, knobby wheels are equipped with suspension systems to absorb shocks and bumps, offering a smooth ride even on choppy snow.
Fad or not, local ski areas are cashing in. Big Sky announced plans to raze 12,000 acres of old-growth timber in the Yellow Mule area to make room for fatty-roller trails. More discriminating fatty-rollers can enjoy roll-in, roll-out convenience from six winterized yurts, with stocked mini-bars and catered dining. To create a larger market, however, the resort had to employ the same tactics first pioneered by the fat-biking industry to sell consumers on the sport—namely, high-energy YouTube videos, brand endorsements, cajoling of retailers, and a few flat-out lies (such as free fatty-rolling on 4/20). This aggressive marketing strategy appears to have worked; the resort is already booked out through April. Their primary consumer base at this point is adrenaline-sports junkies who would purchase Red Bull even if it were only available as a suppository.
Other organizations are getting onboard, too. Bridger Nordic Ski Foundation (BNSF), a subsidiary of the eponymous railroad giant, acquired the grooming lease to the left one-quarter of the Highland Glen trails and plans to set single-lane fat-roller tracks. Eventually, BNSF hopes to convert the entirety of the trans-national railroad to groomed fatty-roller lanes. Additionally, there’s a MoveOn.org petition in play, calling for more diversity on the Sourdough Trail, with a focus on fatty-rollers. Bozone Brewing recently released their Fatty Roller Lager, while Crisscross Mountain Sports inked a co-branding deal with Fix-a-Flat and will sell miniature cans of tire sealant at the pro shop.
There’s even talk of a biathlon in Billings, where fatty-rollers will complete a half-mile fatty-roller course and then pistol-whip a snowman.
Most Nordic ski areas haven’t seen a decline in usage yet, mostly due to their membership base being staunch traditionalists. But concerns linger about the future, once their geriatric following takes its last strides. Meanwhile, it’s a brave new world out there, and the hard-charging fatty-rollers have no time for reluctance. The competitive circuit starts this winter, with races in Jackson Hole, Vail, and Sun Valley. There’s talk of a biathlon in Billings, where fatty-rollers will complete a half-mile course and then pistol-whip a snowman. To learn more, enter a race, or see a cool photo of Cheech & Chong on Nordic skis, visit fattyrolling.com.