For the third year, the Silverton Whiteout has taken over Silverton, Colorado, a rustic community whose one paved street sits in the heart of the San Juan Mountains at 9,300 feet above sea level.
The Whiteout is a fat bike race, but it’s more than a race: It’s a break from the norm. It’s a chance for hundreds of fat bikers to bombard the streets and roll off into the mountains. It’s a boost to Silverton’s sleepy winter economy, and a sock in the liver to boot.
On groomed and ungroomed trails at the foot of 13,000-foot peaks, riders - typically costumed - endure the 10-hour event. Solo, relay, teams - it’s fat biking counter-culture at its best. The booze helps.
On the town’s Green Street, a historic business district where a list of notorious figures gambled, drank and fought, some racers move at a leisurely pace past the restored century-old Grand Imperial Hotel.
While some racers are racing, others are grabbing a burger between laps. There’s an astronaut drinking at the bar. There’s a man in tie-dye tights and rainbow undies. This is what the Silverton Whiteout is. It’s that kind of race.
“Yeah, there is some fat bike racing going on, but what’s so important is art and music and just dragging it up the hill to Silverton,“ said Whiteout founder Russell Zimmerman.
Silverton, the only municipality in San Juan County, is a little removed from the life of the party. Mountained in, they call it. This way, Zimmerman said, people bring the party to them.
Sarah Tescher, a part-time Silverton resident is carrying the Whiteout torch. Wearing an ushanka hat, overseeing logistics and planning an impromptu dance party via hand radio correspondence, she’s taken over Zimmerman’s leadership role.
At the popular bacon station, a high point in the 8.5-mile loop overlooking town, riders stopped to shoot BB guns and session a few jumps. There’s a snow pit fire. BB guns and a bottle of spirits cover a table.
“We love bacon, and we love beer, “ Tescher said. (The empty beer cans make for good BB gun targets.) “We love costumes and we love riding our bikes and jumps and snow and fun people and friends.”
It is a race, and people win, but it’s more than that.
It’s the Silverton Whiteout. It’s that kind of race.