Grant series: fat biking in Valdez, Alaska

June 17, 2019


Valdez, Alaska. Source: Freya Fennwood.

 

Since 1999, PeopleForBikes has awarded 416 grants to non-profit organizations and local governments in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Our investments total more than $3.4 million and have leveraged nearly $770 million in public and private funding.

The PeopleForBikes Community Grant Program is funded by our partners in the bicycle industry. Thanks to the following participating members and their employees for making these awards possible: Cannondale, Fuji, Giant, Shimano, Trek

We invite you to learn more about the most recent grants awarded or check out our map for a funded project near you.

 

Economic diversification through mountain sports in Valdez

Valdez, Alaska is a subarctic rainforest. A former Gold Rush town, it’s known by many for its catastrophes: an earthquake in 1964 and an oil spill in 1989. But Valdez is proving that scars build character. Today, it’s a town surrounded by ice-scapes and mountains almost too beautiful to be real.

In 2016, Lee Hart, a Valdez Adventure Alliance member, decided to do something to promote her place and a bike culture that most didn’t know existed. In Valdez, maintaining trails often requires significant efforts. And although trail maintenance is a challenge, fat tire bikes can traverse tough terrain. According to Hart, “There’s such freedom with a fat bike. You can go anywhere on them.” Many  places in Alaska are known for cross-country fat biking — the same idea as cross-country skiing — but Hart wanted to create an event that featured the glaciated Chugach Mountains. And the downhill addition to the Fat Bike Bash was born.

With the hope of diversifying the economy through recreation, Hart applied for and received a $5,000 PeopleForBikes grant. With that money, Valdez purchased a specialized compactor rolling grooming attachment that can be used to create bike lanes along the Nordic and multi-use winter trails. It allows Valdez to be proactive as the number of fat bike riders increases in town. Hart says, “The roller-groomer established tons of riding — we put down a 9-mile course — it’s so important to pack the snow into rideable trails. It makes things much easier all around.”

 


Valdez, Alaska. Source: Freya Fennwood.

 

Growing ridership among women

The grant project led Hart to a new goal of growing fat bike ridership among women. She set out to produce a short film showcasing Valdez and the fearless women who fat bike down mountains most can’t imagine even being on. “I knew I wanted to do this entirely with women. I knew I wanted to get into the No Man’s Land Film Festival.” And she did. The film, Blue, features women pioneering a sport where the spotlight has often been on men. After acceptance in more than two dozen film festivals, a win at the Portland Filmed by Bike Festival, and 200 screenings worldwide, the effect has been that more people — men and women — just want to get out and try it. Hart says, “There were even two women from our film crew who bought fat bikes from the athletes because they wanted in on the fun.”

The film features a young rider, Abigail Nylund, who narrates the fundamental experience of trying something new — of being wide-eyed and hopeful and trusting. Hart says, “Abigail is quite an accomplished skier and biker. She’s a fearless little girl. She embodies the future of pushing the sport.”

 


Click to watch “Blue.”

 

Fat biking opens a lot of doors for people in Valdez. Hart says, “People often look at the bikes and think they’re heavy and I always say, ‘pick it up.’” When people realize they’re light, they almost always want to jump on and ride.

Valdez is quite a trek from major cities in terms of a travel destination, but because of Hart’s efforts and the grant, Valdez is building a name for itself as the place for downhill fat biking. And as the place where biking role models prove adventure is for anyone.

 

 

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