For those of us who cured the powder-bug sometime around early January, this spring has been a tough cookie. This year, late-season snow has boosted all of the Summit County resorts above their snowpack records. It seems that each time mother nature attempts to shed her winter blanket, the snow makes a comeback, resulting in winter storm warnings and treacherous roads. But these effects are short-lived, and at least down in the valley of the county, things appear to be going according to normal when the weather isn’t raging. However, as we, the mountain biking community, dream of our beloved singletrack routes through the high-country, it is hard to shovel off all the snow—even in our minds. It is overwhelming to grapple with the number of north-facing slopes, dense clusters of trees, and snow-drift prone areas our favorite trails pass through. Thankfully, it is inevitable that summer will eventually win over.
This year especially, it is a simple concept that snowpack and cyclist anticipation are directly correlated with one another. Warm weather and drying terrain will certainly promote an increased excitement among all cyclists—from professional leg-shavers to bike path-letes, rigid-fixie-singlespeed legends to the greenest big-travel nubes, everyone will be raging to ride in one of the highest-used recreation areas in the United States: our very own White River National Forest.
Exciting though your singletrack-dreams may be, this year more than ever is a time forpatience and intelligence when it comes to trail-use. We all have to cope with the fact that our favorite trails may not be ridable until July, but when they do finally open, do you really want to be “that guy” or “girl” responsible for destructive braiding and nasty ruts? Above anything else, these are the kinds of activities that give mountain bikers a bad name, resulting in trail decommission, mountain bike prohibition, and a lack of respect from trail-users (including other cyclists). With this in mind, here are some handy trail-etiquette tips all users should follow:
Braiding: What it is and why you shouldn’t
Braiding is the act of diverging from a trail in certain areas in order to avoid unfavorable conditions, including mud, downed trees, rocks, or anything else that may exceed the rider’s technical ability. If you are unable to ride a trail on the designated route, WALK. In the specific case of mud, if you are unwilling to get your bike or your feet dirty, might I make a recommendation: road biking? Braiding is the most destructive decision you can make out on the trail… do not do it, period.
Mud: You can handle it
If I remember one thing from my elementary school years, it is a song we used to sing about “Mud:”
Mud, mud, glorious mud! Can’t go around it, can’t go over it, can’t go under it, gotta go throughit! Mud, mud, glorious mud!
Though the rhyme had its purpose in teaching second graders about prepositions, for trail-users it holds an equally important message—one that we have all heard before: RIDE YOUR BIKE through everything. I know, most of us are from Colorado—even the thought of that goopy east-coast slop they call “mud” makes us cringe. “But what about my bottom bracket?” “I just cleaned my bike!” etcetera etcetera… we’ve all heard it before. But before you get all high and mighty Colorado-native on us, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Of all the surfaces you’ll ride on that shiny new whip of yours, by far the most destructive is dry dirt. Generally speaking, materials that lack water content wreak havoc on bicycle parts. So, at the end of the day, even though you might’ve dirtied up that beautiful new paintjob, your bike will thank you for it. That, coupled with the fact that riding through snow drifts, deep puddles, and muddy sections is what makes us mountain bikers, should be enough argument for riding through (not around) the mud.
Okay, but how much is too much?
Now that you’ve accepted the concept of getting a little dirty, it’s time to ask yourself, “how much is too much?” Sure, mud is a beautiful thing, but like with everything else, it is healthiest in moderation. Riding the Middle Flume Trail in Breckenridge in May while there are 6 inches of standing water for mile-long sections is not displaying proper trail etiquette, no matter how faithful you are to the trail’s route. Summit County is a high-alpine desert, which means that the soil does not respond well to excessive moisture. Standing water and runoff does not saturate into the ground well, and so we must rely on processes like evaporation to occur before riding is possible. Unfortunately, this is where patience comes into play. Despite how much fun mud can be, the general rule of thumb on Summit County Trails is: ANY mud is TOO MUCH mud. Riding muddy trails ruins them for later in the season, creating ruts that can become extremely dangerous once dry. A perfect example of this destruction is in the Soda Creek Trail System, where whole sections of trail have had to be re-routed due to trail misuse. Rutting may reach the point where trails require decommission until trail-maintenance crews can be dispatched. Often, trails that need this kind of work get put on the end of a long list of trail projects, or even worse, they may be closed for good. With this in mind, be actively aware of the current trail conditions, and exercise a fair amount restraint when perusing your favorite routes during mud-season.
Educate yourself. And others.
Trail etiquette is not a recommendation, it is a requirement. Each year, more and more trail-users frequent Summit County pursuing recreation in the place we’ve all come to love in our own way. Mountain biking is possibly the fastest growing activity in the area, and the trail conditions are representative of that. In an effort to maintain order out on the trail-system, it is your job as a trail-user to KNOW the trail-etiquette of your sport, including yielding (cyclists yield to ALL other non-motorized users), right of way (uphill rider always has it and deserves it), and wildlife interaction (do not feed bears, for example). The most important thing you can do as an educated trail-user is to promote accurate trail-etiquette by setting a good example, and by instructing those who are ignorant or blatantly conflicting with proper trail-use. By doing so, you serve an important role in making our trails more enjoyable for all trail-users and promote a positive image of mountain biking to the public.