4 - 5
FATMAP difficulty grade
Cottonwood Pass is the premiere destination for winter fat bike riding in Buena Vista and the greater Arkansas Valley.
Thanks to continuous grooming efforts—primarily thanks to the snowmobiling club, but also with input from nonmotorized users such as fat bikers—the conditions on Cottonwood Pass are generally very good for fat biking.
Other fat biking spots in the valley can be extremely hit-or-miss.
Deep snow can make routes impassable if there hasn’t been enough snowmobile or foot traffic.
Varying snowfall levels can cause some dirt roads to be extremely muddy, making it difficult or impossible to access the start of the groomed snow.
Thanks to the grooming efforts, Cottonwood Pass is often the most reliable fat biking destination in this area.
The other factor that aids in Cottonwood’s reliability is the paved and plowed road up to the trailhead.
Sometimes fat bikers can begin as low as the Avalanche trailhead and ride a groomed path along the road.
Whether or not the snow is groomed down to Avalanche, upon reaching the Denny Creek trailhead the road is gated, and the rest of the ~7 miles to the top of Cottonwood Pass is only open to over snow travel.
Note that over snow travel includes fat bikers and cross country skiers, but the primary user group is snowmobilers.
Expect to encounter high speed snowmobile traffic, and be aware of your surroundings. Once on the snow, the ride up Cottonwood Pass begins with a steep climb, but thankfully the grade mellows to a more manageable level as the road begins to switchback.
During the entire climb, towering mountain peaks covered in snow surround you, providing breathtaking vistas.
The vistas culminate in the view from the top of the pass, which soars above treeline to almost 12,200 feet! Expansive views in every direction will take your breath away, and demand that you break out your camera to document the experience. However, there is no guarantee that you will reach the top.
Despite the near-constant grooming, snow conditions have a tendency to change radically with the elevation.
The snow could be firm down low and soft and powdery up high.
Or, it could be slushy down low and firm up high.
As well, the weather tends to change drastically with the elevation, and the higher reaches of the road often climb into howling winds and arctic temperatures.
If you do manage to pedal all the way to the top of Cottonwood Pass on snow, pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for a job well done.
If you don’t make it to the top, enjoy the experience that you did have as you soak in the feeling of riding a bike in the alpine in the middle of winter.