Snowshoe, fat bike and skate ski when you enter Colorado’s  winter triathlon series.

It’s a bright January day with temps hovering around 15 degrees, and there’s six inches of fresh powder blanketing the landscape. Most people have already headed for the slopes, but in Leadville, a few dozen snowshoe-clad competitors are excitedly shivering at the start line of the Pedal Power Winter Triathlon.

This annual snowshoe, fat bike and skate ski race takes competitors through the hilly, wooded Colorado Mountain College Timberline campus, offering the adventurous athlete a unique winter experience. The 5K snowshoe sends racers tromping through the powder among the pine trees, while the 10K fat bike segment gives riders a treat on the campus’ custom-groomed winter singletrack. Finally, the punchy 8K skate ski through meadows and up steep hills often decides the race. At the finish line, it’s all red cheeks and grins as everyone swaps battle stories and guzzles down coffee and hot cocoa.

These races have become a rite of winter for many mountain endurance athletes, demanding a whole new set of skills, grit and fitness. Race founder Bruce Kelly, an endurance race enthusiast himself, launched the triathlon as a way to showcase some of his shop’s winter gear and expand his long-standing grassroots Pedal Power snowshoe race series. While the Pedal Power races weren’t the first winter triathlons in Colorado, they comprise the longest running series and one of the few left. The Durango Nordic Center also has a nighttime Snowdown Triathlon, planned for Jan. 30.

Nearly 10 years later, a small, but dedicated group of competitors gather at the start line year after year. People love it so much that series organizers introduced a second triathlon in 2018 at the Vail Nordic Center.

“It’s just fun, and the Leadville course truly has a backcountry feel,” said Kelly. “You get to ride miles of pure singletrack on snowbikes, and the snowshoe is an adventurous course through the woods. Then you’ve got the skate skiing, which is some of the best Nordic skiing in the area. It’s just a great atmosphere.”

Ready to try out your first winter triathlon? These tips will help you finish strong.

1. Do all three disciplines before race day. This may seem like a given, but running in snowshoes or snow biking can feel incredibly different (and much harder) than running or mountain biking. Skate skiing is all about technique, so if you’re a novice, practice before race day.

2. Prepare for transitions. You can lose a lot of time at the transition area, so plan ahead. Prep as much gear as possible before the start. Also, a chair, jacket, snacks and water are indispensable during transitions.

3. Choose your race outfit carefully. Depending on race-day conditions, one outfit can do it all. Lobster gloves, Nordic ski pants, a cycling jersey and ski socks, plus a hat and light jacket at the transition station typically cover your ass. 

 This season, the Colorado Mountain College Triathlon in Leadville is slated for Saturday, Jan. 19. The Vail Nordic Center triathlon in Vail is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 23. Find out more at pedalpowerbike.com.

—Melanie Wong