Winter Snow Biking Not Allowed on Groomed Trails in Mammoth


Sun setting over the Mammoth Crest. I was riding on a packed trail created by snowshoes near Panorama Dome. This is legal. However, the groomed public access corridor (left side of Lake Mary Rd. is technically illegal – so I have to carry my bike until I reach some un-groomed sweetness.  Unfair?  I think so.

As many of my friends know, I bought a Salsa Mukluk in November and have ridden around 300 miles so far… basically all over Mammoth with it.  I guess ignorance is bliss.  I assumed “multi-use” trails had similar rules in the Winter as they do in the Summer.  Especially since I’ve been reading and watching videos of how other states are embracing these bikes and Nordic Ski Resorts have been allowing them to share groomed trails as well (which means their local land managers – i.e. USFS, BLM, etc are allowing biking to be included with their special use permit).  In fact, I watched this video a couple months ago, where a US Forest Service Representative talks about how their trails in the Teton Range are multi-use with bicycles now legal, and everybody is in harmony. 

But not yet here in Mammoth.  Unfortunately, “no wheeled vehicles” are allowed on ANY groomed trails in the Winter.  Yes, my fat bike has wheels, so no, it’s technically not allowed.  I have never been stopped by anyone – other than hikers and skiers saying hi, exchanging pleasantries, and leaving them stoked on this great opportunity/method of enjoying our Winter playground.  But a fellow fat biking friend told me she was recently stopped by someone from the USFS who told her she’d get a ticket if she was caught riding the bike again.  I was so bummed!!  So I went to the Visitor’s Center / Mammoth Ranger Station to confirm.  At first they told me I could ride everything open to snowmobiles, which meant pretty much everywhere it was groomed except Lake Mary Rd. (closed to snowmobiles).  I was fine with that.  Then a little more research and double-checking, and they came back with, “Sorry.  You can’t ride anywhere that’s groomed.  Period.”

It’s unfortunate, but because fat biking is new around these parts, and I’m in this for the long term – I’ve decided to stop “poaching” (since I’m no longer ignorant on the matter – it really is “poaching”) and try to advocate that these public trails be opened to bicycles under certain guidelines.  The guidelines in place where fat bikes are currently legal are mostly the same: tires 3.5″ or wider, tire pressure 10psi or less, only ride under conditions where your tires make an imprint 1″ deep or less, and stay to the right.  Pretty simple.  Under these terms, our bikes leave less of an imprint than a sneaker.  I’ve been to the Visitor’s Center a few times, and talked extensively with Rangers there.  I’ve also spoken with the person in charge of grooming all the public trails.  Recently I happened across the Director of Winter Activities at Mammoth Mountain, who was also very informative (he oversees Snowmobile Adventures).  Right now, I’m just trying to educate myself with the rules, so I can effect some change through the proper channels.


Sherwin Creek Rd. It’s rideable heading from town down to the 395, and it’s legal – but definitely not that awesome.

As of right now, the way I understand it (and have been told many times) is that bicycles are allowed only on NON-Groomed trails and roads.  Obviously, that is severely limiting.  In town, that’s pretty much only Sherwin Creek Rd. (which I rode last week – pretty crappy) and places where snowmobiles or snowshoes have packed down some trails, like Laurel Lakes Rd.  I know there are a few more around, but the point is, it’s slim picking.

The funds needed to groom our extensive public OHV (snowmobile) trails comes from the State of California, via funds generated through registration costs of Off-Highway Vehicles.  So I can completely understand why snowmobile owners might be against sharing their trails (they really are “their” trails in the Winter).  I personally own two snowmobiles, and pay to register them every year.  However, I wish it was as easy taking my fat bike to the DMV and getting a “green sticker”  – I’d do it in a heartbeat if it allowed me to ride my bike on this amazing trail system!!

I’m assuming the “no wheeled vehicle” rule was generated to keep trucks and motorcycles off the trails for fear of them ruining the trails and getting stuck, etc.  Bicycles were never an issue in the past, because quite honestly, you could never ride a bicycle on snow until these newer bikes with fatter tires made it possible to “float” over the snow, instead of sinking in (and if you’re thinking of studded tires, they work only on ice, not snow).  And now that it is possible to float over snow at low tire pressures, progressive areas where fat bikes are flourishing are re-writing the antiquated rule and allowing fat bikes their proper spot alongside other Winter activities.  Although it is a federal code, the local land manager has the authority to over-ride it.

Yield triangle design by Jake Hawkes/Grand Targhee Resort

Yield triangle design by Jake Hawkes/Grand Targhee Resort

There is no reason fat bikes shouldn’t be allowed to share the trails with snowmobiles, snowshoers, dog-walkers, nordic skiers, etc.  My bicycle leaves less impact on the trails than any of these other “multi-use” groups (by the way, I am a nordic skier and snowmobile rider and snowshoer, in addition to a cyclist).  Snowmobile tracks, skate skiers, classic skiers, and snowshoes all leave the trail in much worse shape than my tire tracks.  Impact is definitely not an issue.  On a bicycle, we can hear snowmobiles coming from a long way.  Once word gets out that bicycles are on the trail, snowmobilers will be aware the same way motocross and ATV’s are aware of sharing in the Summer – so safety is not a concern.  If the snow gets too deep, it becomes too difficult to ride anyway.  So enforcement is not an issue.  I’m willing to pay into the grooming costs the same way OHV owners do – and I’m pretty sure every fat biker would do the same.  So that should not be an issue.  In the Summer, we all share the trails just fine.  ATV’s and motocross bikes fly by me all the time – I ride over horse crap on Mammoth Rock Trail, etc – we all realize that we are sharing, and it’s OK.

What am I doing about it?  I wrote a letter to Ed Armenta, the US Forest Supervisor for the Inyo National Forest last week.  I have not heard back from him yet.  But I will continue to push the issue until I hear back.  I know that I represent a very small segment of our community, but I feel we all deserve a chance to use our public trail system year round and hopefully the powers that be will come to that conclusion – hopefully sooner rather than later.  If you’re interested in helping or just want to say you’re “for fat biking in Mammoth” write me a message or send me an email – there might come a point where a petition or strength in numbers might be welcome.  If you wanna say screw you, bikes don’t belong in snow, blah blah – I welcome that too… not really, but if that’s how you feel, then I have a feeling your couch sags in the middle and never gets lonely.

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14 Responses to Winter Snow Biking Not Allowed on Groomed Trails in Mammoth

  1. Rob says:

    Well written and a bummer deal. I end up in Mammoth with my wife who boards from time to time and was hoping to bike up there. Keep the pressure on. Trips to Mammoth were about 80% of the reason I was even considering a fat bike


    • ss29er says:

      Hi Rob,
      thanks for checking in… hopefully one of these days, it’ll be worth it for you to get a fatty 🙂 – our groomed OHV trail system is awesome, and if they open it to bikes, you’ll be able to create epic adventures for sure!! i spoke at the town recreation committee meeting last night, got interviewed for the local paper, and raised some awareness for sure… people are coming out of the woodwork… the head of our local trails and public access organization has a fat bike on order! Tamarack XC Center has a letter in to the USFS trying to amend it’s use permit to allow bikes… everybody seems to be in favor – now it’s just dealing with bs to get our local USFS to amend the rules… thanks again, and stay tuned!!


  2. Silvia says:

    Glad you are advocating it. A handful of us talked about hosting a community snow bike event in Mammoth someday. I think it’d be a great thing to do depending on snow conditions. Have a mini-race, some chili, prizes. Last winter riding a bike (just a normal mt. bike) on a lot of the trails in Mammoth was a good option. I went a lot up behind Forest Trail when it was thin, crusty snow. I went today out by my house in S. VT. Ice and permafrost fun, and National Forest land, but I’m where trails aren’t as populated by snowmobiles. The Green Mt. National Forest doesn’t have a policy about bikes in winter either, but they do for dog mushers…


    • ss29er says:

      Hi Silvia – thanks for sharing that link… pretty funny about the dog mushers! I spoke at the town recreation committee last night. I brought my bike too, and everybody seemed stoked on it. The times is gonna do an article, and the head of MLTPA just ordered a fat bike… so awareness is getting out there, and everybody seems supportive. Hopefully soon, the local USFS will amend the rules… having the publicly groomed OHV trails open to fat bikes would be amazing as that trail system sucks for bikes in the summer (mostly sandy fireroad and double track) but in the winter it is perfect!! Tamarack XC Center also seems in favor of fatty’s… in fact the woman who grooms Tamarack just ordered a fat bike… also Luke Wynen works there, he’s pushing for it… talks of a race at Tamarack are abound… hoot!! anyway, hope you’re well… when u gonna be around this way??


  3. Tom says:

    Interesting that I should stumble across this post as I’ve been thinking along similar lines. Just this past weekend I enjoyed riding a large portion of the trail system on my fat bike and came away convinced that this could be a fat bike Mecca of sorts. Though I don’t live in the area, this past winter I’ve ridden my bike in the National Forest on 4-5 occasions. I’ve never been approached (or seen, for that matter) a ranger while out riding as I tend to get out there at weird hours but I had heard that access is a sketchy subject. I’m sad to say that I can no longer plead ignorance on this fact. I too would gladly pay for an OHV sticker if it meant being able to use this awesome trail system on our National Forest. If there’s any way that I can lend a hand please contact me. Thanks


    • ss29er says:

      Tom, thanks for the reply – i agree completely – our groomed OHV trail system is amazing, and could be fat bike heaven 🙂 – some good things going on up here… an article will run soon in the mammoth times, and the head of MLTPA (mammoth lakes trails and public access) just bought a fatty and is a huge mountain biking advocate. awareness is growing as well as support – so hopefully the local USFS will amend it’s rules in the near future… i’ll keep ya in the loop!! thanks again!!


  4. Robin MacAlpine says:

    It is not the identical situation, but there was an excellent article on a related topic in the December 2012 issue of Bike. “Uncommon Alliance” by Peter Frick-Wright. It was copied into a forum and may still be there. Definitely worth reading!

    Robin MacAlpine – fat bike enthusiast


    • ss29er says:

      Hi Robin, thanks for the link – it was still up on the forum… very interesting read! thankfully, it’s too cold in Mammoth for the heroin junkies to hang in the park 🙂 i spoke at our town recreation committee meeting last night, got interviewed by the local paper, and am meeting later this week with the head of our local trails and public access organization (who just ordered a fatbike!) — so awareness is getting out there… hopefully we can convince the local USFS soon to open up some trails to us… thanks for the support!! stay tuned!!


  5. Maggie Palchak says:

    I was wondering why I was seeing bike tracks on the Glass Flow Road groomed trails a while back!


    If I Can Do This, I Can Do Anything! [cid:image001.jpg@01C8D51C.85869750] Maggie Palchak Trainer/Paralympic Sports Program Coordinator P.O. Box 7275, #1 Minaret Road Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546 Phone: 760.934.0791 Fax: 760.934.0729 P Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail. [PSC_Mammoth Lakes signature smallest]

    From: Dirty Teeth Alan’s Mountain Biking Adventures <> Reply-To: “\”Dirty Teeth Alan’s Mountain Biking Adventures\”” <> Date: Monday, February 4, 2013 10:11 PM To: Margaret Palchak <> Subject: [New post] Winter Snow Biking Not Allowed on Groomed Trails in Mammoth

    ss29er posted: ” Sun setting over the Mammoth Crest. I was riding on a packed trail created by snowshoes near Panorama Dome. This is legal. However, the groomed public access corridor (left side of Lake Mary Rd.”


  6. Jennifer Girard says:

    Hi Alan
    I’ve recently just purchased a fat bike and assumed I could use the trails that OHV riders use. Shocking and absurd that this is not the case. I will join in your efforts to amend the existing regulations- they are obviously outdated and missing current trends & opportunities in recreation. Keep me in the loop & let’s work to get this figured out.



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  9. Paul says:

    Great article. Please know that although groomed snomo trails are funded by what people perceive as green sticker money only, the fact is, most of the money comes from gasoline tax that everyone pays. There is a large California OHV fund that pays for many things OHV, including snow grooming. The green sticker money is a small percentage of the money spent. I confirmed this recently with my local USFS officer. Put that in your arsenal as you further the cause in your area. Good luck.


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