Fat biking frozen Lake Winnipeg … a near polar experience.

Our Fat Bike Double Crossing of frozen Lake Winnipeg was a special adventure!

Five of us fat bikers decided to join the annual “Polar Bear Crossing Run” on March 10th 2013, which is a fund raiser for the Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada chapter of Habitat for Humanity. With permission from the local snowmobile clubs, the event used the Snoman Snowmobile Trails that cross the lake from Grand Marais (the town near Grand Beach) to near Gimli, a distance of approximately 27 kms (16.8 miles) one way.

Tom's Polar Bear Double Cross Map

Lake Winnipeg is located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Winnipeg. It is the 10th largest lake in the world by surface area and consists of a large, deeper north basin, a smaller, shallower south basin, and the “Narrows” through which waters ultimately flow northward to the Hudson’s Bay.

We left Grand Marais on the east side of the lake early in the morning and rode to meet the runners leaving the west side near Gimli approximately three hours later. While the runners planned a single crossing of the lake with a Bombardier snow machine return ride, we fat bikers planned a double crossing.

The innumerable drifts on top of the hard-packed, snow-covered ice started as bothersome, but quickly became a challenge for momentum. It was apparent that fat bikes with 4.8 inch wide tires and 100mm rims had a distinct advantage over the narrower versions of fat tires (I upgraded to a 4.8 inch tire Surly Moonlander soon after this ride).

The ride ended up being a tough 8.5 hour slog. Our resolve was continually tested by the drifts. Although many well-intentioned snowmobilers attempted to break up the drifts to make our lives easier, they unknowingly renovated the firm path. The result was ‘potato-mash’ snow for three quarters of the ride. 

As the sky lightened, we marvelled at the view, with the wide vistas and moon-like terrain! We were entranced with what was in front of us and concentrating hard on keeping the bikes rolling smoothly. If it was easy everyone would do it.

At about 13 kms from shore, I glanced back as dawn opened to the sunrise.

The term “bathed in sunlight” became meaningful at that moment. It seemed like the sun was within arm’s reach. The vast expanse of the lake provided an amazing frame for the almighty Sun!

Pic 3

In our view, the ride was extraordinary! So I used special music for the video. Many thanks to Roger Subirana Mata for “Between Worlds”, from Jamendo.com (Public Domain).

Future crossings of Lake Winnipeg by fat bike are certainly possible, but adventurers should approach the lake with utmost respect. Lake Winnipeg is notorious for its volatile nature even in non-El Nino years. The year after this crossing was done, the event was cancelled due to unseasonably warm conditions in early March that turned the trail into slush. On the other extreme, wind constantly moves the ice, causing line cracks, pressure ridges, and frigid wind-chill values.

Around the same period of this ride in 2013, some amazing attempts were being made by fat bikes and a fat trike to ride to the south pole … Lake Winnipeg is likely the perfect training ground for such antarctic or arctic adventures.

Yes, “Fat biking frozen Lake Winnipeg is a near polar experience”.

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