Minneapolis and St. Paul will have an opportunity to show off their winter biking prowess by hosting the  International Winter Cycling Congress in early 2016.

The Twin Cities are the first city in the United States to host the four-year-old event, currently being held in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, and previously in Winnipeg and Oulu, Finland. The Twin Cities event is expected to occur next February.

The event is billed as a three-day professional development conference for several hundred planners and engineers, but also draws bike advocates, public health and tourism officials, and journalists.

“It’s the full gamut of winter biking,” said Nick Mason, chair of the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee, describing the conference. That includes technical discussions of maintaining bike routes in the winter as well as guidance for planners in designing winter routes.

“This is an opportunity to show that in Minnesota we can stay active and happy outdoors doing things all year,” said Ethan Fawley, staff director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition advocacy group.. “This conference is still relatively new and growing.  We’ll have people coming from around the world.”

According to monthly counts conducted by Bike Walk Twin Cities, a nonprofit advocacy group, 20 percent of those who commute by bike in warm weather continue to do so even on the worst winter days.  On clear winter days, that number rises to 36 percent, the group said. Its counts also found that winter commuting by bike is growing at a faster rate than summer bike commuting.

The host committee for the event consists of the city of Minneapolis, Visit St. Paul, Sports Minneapolis, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Transportation, and bike advocacy and industry groups.

Photos: Star Tribune file