If there's one thing Mike Lindemer knows it's how to throw a party. Over the past six years, he's helped turn the annual Seeley Lake Pond Hockey Tournament from a small collection of teams into a hotly anticipated regional shindig. Now he's setting his sights on another event that, like the tournament, will draw outsiders and enliven the local economy during an otherwise quiet offseason.
"The economy's pretty slow up here in the wintertime," Lindemer says. "Especially in the spring because it's half muddy and half snowy."
Neither of those conditions should prove much of a problem for participants in the upcoming Seeley Lake Sasquatch Fat Bike Ride on March 5. Lindemer has spent the past few months hashing out the details with the SLE Outside co-op and Bicycle Racing Alliance of Montana Executive Director Ben Horan. The U.S. Forest Service permits are now complete, Lindemer says. USA Cycling has sanctioned the event and online registration is open at $30 a rider. In Lindemer's words, "We're ready to roll."
With the Sasquatch ride, Seeley Lake joins a growing number of western Montana communities latching onto the fat bike phenomenon. The Bozeman-based Equinox Snow Challenge was one of the first such races in the state; organizer Sam Newburg says the event lasted two years before temporarily folding in 2015. He says there's a concerted effort to revive the race in 2017. Missoula Parks and Recreation sponsored a fat bike race at Marshall Mountain Feb. 6 as part of the department's Winter Carnival. Ken Smith with the nonprofit MTB Missoula says there's talk of similar events starting in the Bitterroot and Flathead next year.
"It's not taking off as fast as it is in the Midwest, and that's largely because a lot of the people that mountain bike here backcountry ski as well," Smith says. "But it's definitely taking off."
Horan, who also organizes the annual Missoula XC at Marshall Mountain in the summer, feels Seeley Lake is a particularly good home for fat bikes given the community's welcoming attitude toward the sport. Fat biking is relatively new, he explains, and recreationists in other areas haven't been quite as eager to share their trails with the rubber-tire crowd.
"There isn't the infrastructure like there is for nordic grooming or snowmobile grooming," Horan says, "so they're trying to find a place to ride those things. And Seeley seems really open to it."
So open, in fact, that Lindemer is hoping to make this an annual event. For its inaugural year, the Sasquatch ride will be just that, Lindemer says, "a ride, not a race." But a big turnout in 2016 would go a long way in justifying the added costs of securing Forest Service permitting for a full-on race, he adds.
"I'm not sure what I've gotten myself into," Lindemer says, "but I'm going to see what happens and I'm hoping for the best."