The 2018 Poco Rio Frio Winter Adventure Race

Fatbikes and frozen smiles. 12 degrees and a wind chill of 20 below zero.  Those are good conditions to stay home and bundle up — unless you’re a bit loco. The Poco Frio Rio a good race in the badlands through the snow

poco rio frio a good race in the badlands

A big smile at the finish line.

Then you are rewarded with an incredible boost of endorphins to produce a smile that you can’t help but display.  Joggers know about the runner’s high.  Not many know about the fatbike high.  Winter’s cold air and heart-pumping exercise produce a toned body and a tremendous feeling of good vibes at the annual Poco Rio Frio race. (Click here to see photos and story from 2017 Poco Rio Frio.)

poco rio frio a good race in the badlands

The end of the loop is in sight, one of many loops he rode.

Nick Ybarra

Nick Ybarra is the mind, muscle, and motivation behind the annual winter fatbike race in the North Dakota Badlands. The single-track trail uses the Long X trail and the Maah Daah Hey for a race track loop up to 11 miles long, with shorter versions available.

Poco Frio Rio a good race in the badlands through the snow on a mountain bike

Nick Ybarra can be found nearly every day riding the Maah Daah Hey — winter or summer

The race attracts people from as far as Fargo, Hazen and even Mississippi (an oil field worker transplanted temporarily to Watford City).  The Fargo riders cross North Dakota, leaving behind the flatlands of the Red River Valley to get into the Badlands of the West.  They said the thing that attracts them is the view, the scenery.  One Fargo rider said, “sometimes you just have to stop and look around to take it all in.”

The Ride

poco frio rio a good ride in the badlands on mountain bikes fatbikes

Mountain bikes rigged as “fatbikes” at the staging area at the CCC Campground.

It starts at the staging area on the west edge of the CCC Campground next to the Little Missouri River, south of Watford City.  The first few pumps are hard getting started up the hill. Then comes the intermittent challenges of up and down — with a few easy coasts through flat spots.

Poco Frio Rio a good race in the badlands through the snow

Scattered through the course are occasional flat spots that give riders a bit of an easy coast, leaving the Little Missouri River below and behind.

Riders are full of energy, full of life.  Their bikes are like the horses who first traveled this Long X trail along the Little Missouri River — they’re “rearing to go.” 

poco rio frio a good ride in the badlands in the snow

This fatbike is ready to roll and rears its head, even though it has just completed the long loop and is heading to the staging area.

They compare and boast of the elements of the loops they have made. The more loops, the greater the score.

poco rio frio a good race in the badlands in the snow.

Oops. Even a tumble at the finish line can’t erase the smile.

Organizer Ybarra said this year’s weather was a bit better than last year, but still, the reward of cold air exercise was plentiful.  About 40 people had made the loops by noon, and more turned out as the day went along. The first rider started at 8 that morning, and the course was open until dark, about 5:30.

poco rio frio a good ride in the badlands in the snow

The scoreboard is a collection of boards with the scores. Each loop is one hash mark on the board.

Snowshoes and cross country skis were included in the looped race.  One snowshoer said she had worked up such a heat, she had to go back to town to get dry clothes before making another round.

Poco Frio Rio a good race in the badlands through the snow

Fatbike rider and snowshoer.

More events ahead

The Poco Rio Frio is the first event of the year on the world-class single track Maah Daah Hey trail.  The next event is in May. It’s the Badlands Gravel Battle. Riders cover 120 miles of 8000 feet elevation gain on the fast and rugged red scoria roads that crosshatch the Badlands.  Later in the year are at least 6 other events of varying distances.  You can find it all here at

An organized effort to bolster the eroding Maah Daah Hey trail picks up the work that began about 20 years ago when the trail was created.  The shifting topography and geology of the region mean the trail needs constant attention.  A private group does the work for all to enjoy.  Find out more here.

Just curious: What would it take for you to try riding the Maah Daah Hey some time this year?  Let us know, and we’ll see what we can do. 

You can stay up to date on Maah Daah Hey, races and events in the Badlands by following Beautiful Badlands calendar of events.  It’s the most comprehensive site for all events in Western ND.

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