An Inside Look at Cold Rolled: Amazing Video on Snow Biking in the UP

Today, featured blogger Jesse Land of Things to Do in the U.P. shares his interview with filmmaker Aaron Peterson on snow biking in Michigan and his new film Cold Rolled.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Peterson

A new film by Michigan filmmakers shows that Marquette, Michigan is breaking ground in the sport of snow biking, with veteran snow bikers leading the way. With a custom made trail groomer and a dedicated snow bike trail (simply dubbed the “SBR” for snow bike route), there’s yet another reason to visit Marquette in the winter. I caught up with filmmaker Aaron Peterson this week for a quick Q &A about the film, Marquette and snow biking in general.

The film is being released in five parts, and you’ll find the first two parts below the interview.

How did this film come about? What were some of the challenges you ran into while making it? Did you run into any pleasant surprises?

I wanted to showcase the unique winter riding opportunities available in Marquette. We started out with the idea to make a short action video for the web, but then found a deeper story about a strong culture of winter cycling in Marquette and decided to expand the project into a film. Some of the challenges were that I’m new to video and filmmaking, this is my first major undertaking. I’ve been shooting video for about a year and just started to learn editing about 10 months ago.

As far as you know, how does the snow bike trail in Marquette compare to snow bike trails in the rest of the country?

Marquette’s SBR is, as far as I know, the first of its kind. It is very similar to a standard summertime mountain bike singletrack flow trail, meaning its fast, narrow and has fun features like bermed corners, rollers, etc.

From what I’ve seen in other areas, most places are simply allowing fatbikes on existing Nordic ski trails, which has a very different feel than buzzing through the woods on a dedicated bike trail. The NTN SBR is a really unique product, and one that I think was made possible due to the 30-year history of winter riding in Marquette that is featured in the film.

How does the NTN groom the snow bike trail?

Mike Brunet and Matt Belic of the NTN experimented with a number of different techniques and equipment over the past few years before developing and constructing their own groomer design. It’s sort of a cross between a snowmobile trail groomer and a Nordic ski trail drag. It rolls and packs the snow leaving a 27-inch wide courdoroy ribbon of fun through the hills and forest within the city of Marquette.

Are there any other snow bike trails in the area that will be opening in the foreseeable future?

The Range Mountain Bike Club of Negaunee/Ishpeming is planning to groom some of its system this season, making Marquette County a true hub for winter cycling. Also the Noquemanon Ski Marathon will have three races during the weekend of†Jan 24-26, 2014.

Do you need a special bike to ride the snow bike trail?

Yes, this is a trail specifically for fatbikes, bikes with oversized tires available from a variety of manufacturers. Fatbikes are available to rent from The Sports Rack in Marquette and can be demoed at any of Marquette’s four bike shops. The trails are also open to snowshoeing.

Can you talk a little about snow biking in general? I heard of it last year for the first time and it seems like it’s rapidly growing in popularity.

Fatbikes are the fastest growing segment of the bike industry right now. They use an oversized tire with low pressure to increase flotation and traction in soft conditions, they work in all types of terrain but excel like no other bike when it comes to riding on snow, which is why locally they are called snow bikes.

They do need a packed surface of some sort, like a ski trail, dedicated snow bike trail or anywhere a snowmobile of snowshoe traffic has compressed fluffy snow. Riding on snow is surreal. For an experienced cyclist, the feeling is similar to mountain biking but different enough that it lets you feel an entirely new experience on a bike. Marquette’s SBR can be very fast because it is smooth, the ride is like a roller coaster.

The bikes are very stable because of their wide tires and the traction is unbelievable. It’s just fun to try something familiar yet different and see what the bike can and can’t do. Plus it’s outdoors in crisp fresh air and great exercise. You just have to try it.

Video One:

COLD ROLLED-Chapter One from Clear & Cold Cinema on Vimeo.

Video Two:

COLD ROLLED-Chapter 2: The Thirty-Year Winter from Clear & Cold Cinema on Vimeo.

The remaining three videos (and the full length film) will be available the following dates:

These approximately 4-minute long chapters will be live by 8 a.m. EST on the following dates:

  • Saturday, Dec. 21 Chapter 3: The Lake Superior Session
  • Saturday,Dec. 28 Chapter 4: MindSparks-Birth of the SBR
  • Saturday,Jan. 4 Chapter 5: The SBR Shred Session
  • Saturday, Jan. 11 Full film available

Have you ever been snow biking? Tell us about your experience.

This post was written by Jesse Land of Things to do in the U.P. on behalf of Travel Marquette Michigan.

7 Things to Love About The Great Lake To Lake Trail

In 2009, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance began a project called the “Great Lake To Lake Trails.” This would be a series of five trails that cut across the state, created from and connecting existing rails-to-trails conversions. Route 1 of the Great Lake To Lake Trail runs 250 miles from South Haven (Lake Michigan) to Port Huron (Lake Huron).

On September 13th, 2013, Chris Hillier set out to be the first to hike this entire trail while Chris Bowman, starting September 21st, wanted to be the first to ride this trail. It took the hiker two full weeks of 20+ miles per day and the biker one week of 40 mile days but they arrived, together, in Port Huron on September 28th. And together, they want to express what they most enjoyed most about traveling across the great state of Michigan.

1) The People  We’re not sure if happy people go out on trails or if going out on a trail makes you happy but everyone we met out there was kind, generous and interested in our journey. Sometimes they just  offered a kind word or helped with directions but sometimes they opened their homes to us and let us stay overnight. Generosity like that can renew your faith in the human race.  These 250 miles really were the best of nature and the best of mankind.

2) The Variety  This trail will take you through thick woods and downtown streets. You’ll travel across open farmland and suburban neighborhoods. Your surroundings are constantly changing and that kind of variety keeps things interesting and fresh. On the second day of the hike, I went from the remote forests of the Kal-Haven Trail to busy downtown Kalamazoo on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail and I loved it.

3) The Water  Each of us started a week apart but from the same beautiful beach on Lake Michigan. I could have stayed right there for two weeks and been happy but the trail has more in store from the gently flowing Black River to busy Sylvan Lake and everything in between. Swamps full of turtles and nameless creeks that attract deer, geese swimming in farm ponds and giant freighters on the St. Clair River can all be seen. The Falling Waters Trail actually bisects Lime Lake and was covered with morning mist as I hiked across it.

4) The Towns  You’ll pass through places you would never see if you just drove across the state. Stop for a cup of coffee in tiny Kendall, MI or spend some time checking out Battle Creek. Enjoy the youthful nightlife of a Saturday night in Kalamazoo or a picnic style lunch in the city park of Bloomingdale. You’ll discover new places and promise yourself that you’ll come back to visit.  It’s fun to come out of the woods to the edges of civilization, then see some neighborhoods, then right through the downtown areas and back out through townships, farms and back into the woods. That’s the way to see a city.

5) The Birds  There’s lots of wildlife to see on this trail but the myriad species of birds is the best part. Fields full of sandhill cranes, ponds full of ducks and swans, trees full of angry blue jays and a flock of turkeys running down the trail were all present.  Skip the headphones and you’ll hear eastern bluebirds, cedar waxwings and barred owls.  Keep your camera handy and you’ll get pictures of belted kingfishers, sharp shinned hawks and the stately great blue heron.

6) The Courtesy It’s especially refreshing and, frankly, unusual for people to be so polite to each other but that is what we encountered. People said “Good morning!”, they gently called out “Passing on the left!” or rang a bell to let us know they were coming.  Even busy traffic gave us a break in the cross walks. All this proved to us that a little courtesy goes a long way and that a multi-use trail can be a great experience for everyone.

7) The MTGA  We took on this challenge to raise awareness for the Great Lake To Lake Trail and to help the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance raise money to complete it. These are folks who are trying to get the word out that trails in Michigan are good for the economy, for society, for health and fitness and environmental preservation and enhancement. Their website, Michigantrails.org, is the place to go to find more information about this trail or to find a trail near your home. We are grateful to them for all that they do.

What do you love about biking and hiking in Michigan? 

Chris Hillier has hiked more than 8,000 miles since 2011 included thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is proud to have been the first to hike the Governor’s proposed trail from Belle Isle to Ironwood. Next, he plans to attempt a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail. Read more about Chris on his website.

Chris Bowman is a right lower-leg amputee but nothing slows him down. He is proud to be the first to ride the 250 mile Great Lake To Lake Trail. When he’s not riding across the state, he spends time with his daughter, Gracie and his dog, Olivia. Chris lives in Rose City, MI. Read more about Chris on his blog.

Traverse City is a Mountain Biker’s Paradise

Every November, thousands of cyclists converge on Traverse City to compete in the 29-mile Iceman Cometh Challenge, the largest one-day point-to-point mountain bike race in the country. Mountain biking is a big draw in the hills and valleys around Traverse City in almost every season of the year, as cyclist Cody Sovis demonstrates.

Of the million-and-one reasons to visit the Grand Traverse Area, mountain biking is quickly becoming a more popular excuse to head up north and get a little dirty. The region attracts cyclists from all over the country — including those who prefer paved trails or the scenic roads of the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas – but it’s also home to some of the best trails in the state, and some of the biggest events around.

We’ve never taken our forests for granted around here. Traverse City is a special place where all the charms of a thriving downtown are just minutes from pristine woods, beaches, and miles and miles of trails to weave it all together. For me, it’s a real treat to have the ability to ride the Traverse Area Recreational Trail from downtown and be at the trailhead in just a few minutes.

One of the most popular trails in the area is the Vasa Pathway. In winter it’s home to the world-class North American Vasa ski race and gets the professional grooming treatment for ski and fat bike use as long as the snow sticks around. During the rest of the year, it’s usually peppered with riders out hitting famous landmarks like Anita’s Hill, the Wall and the Power Section. The terrain is open and rolling, with pockets of sand adding to the challenge of steep hills, fast descents and fast sections that test the legs and lungs. The Vasa Pathway also serves as the final kilometers of the Iceman Cometh Challenge, the largest single-day mountain bike race in North America.

Around here, the Iceman is king. People plan for it for months, registering in the spring and riding most of the summer with one eye on the first weekend in November. One of the biggest local rides is the Speed of Light, which takes in the last few miles of the Iceman. Over 5,000 people are registered for the race, including some of the best professional riders from around the world. We always welcome the big names, but we are rooting for the local guys to take the win.

I’ve always raced in the pro class, though it’s not about trying to win. It’s the chance to race the best riders in the world, and I won’t let the chance go by. It’s like getting to play a pickup game against Michael Jordan. You know you’re getting beat, but you get to tell everyone the story.

Cody Sovis with his bike just before the 2013 X100 50-Mile Gravel Road Race through Traverse City’s Boardman Valley (He took 4th place).

Intersecting the Pathways is another trail: the Vasa Singletrack. Though it has its own separate trailhead off Supply Road, this twisty, tight course winds and crosses with the Pathway, or the “25 K”, as it is popularly known. The Singletrack is a testing little loop, a bit over 12 miles long, offering up some great technical practice and a break from the wide-open speed of the Pathways. The Singletrack is tough. If you’re looking for a great ride that combines both, hop off the Singletrack at Marker 7, do the 25 K, then hop back onto the Singletrack when you cross at Marker 13. It’s the perfect blend of speed and technical riding.

If the Vasa is the most popular and oldest trail system, the Glacial Hills Pathways is certainly the newest and the hippest. Located in Bellaire, this brand-new system of professionally maintained trails has gotten rave reviews from beginners and experts alike. It’s a terrific blend of hills, flat and fast sections and beautiful views – and it certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s located just a mile or two from one of Michigan’s finest breweries, Short’s Brewery.

But you don’t even have to leave town to enjoy a great mountain biking loop. Traverse City’s former mental hospital, now The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, is home to a great network of trails. Riders have been climbing to the top of the hill for years, but the recent rise in mountain biking enthusiasm means there’s seldom a time you’ll go on the trails and not see a few other cyclists. It’s a short loop punctuated by steep, testing ascents with rewarding views of West Bay and screaming-fast descents back to the Village, where a host of coffee shops, bakeries, and other shops serve as a great place to refuel after the ride. The Commons is also home to the Conquer the Village Mountain Bike race, a new event that draws hundreds of racers each spring.

The arrival of a race like Conquer the Village was well overdue. So many riders were able to just roll through Traverse City to race on trails that they’ve ridden for years. I remember riding back there when I was five or six years old, my dad diligently riding behind me as I slowly made my way up to the top of the ridge and yelling all the way down the other side.

There are miles and miles of trail in the area, and nearly everyone has their own favorite loop. It’s a great place be a cyclist.

Have you been mountain biking in Traverse City? Tell us about your experience!

Cycling connoisseur Cody Sovis works at Einstein Cycles in Traverse City and maintains a cycling blog year round.