Building a trail system for all is no easy feat
March 20, 2015
It won't be long before our snow covered trails give way to the warmth of the spring sun. I'm sure I have jinxed us into another eight weeks or more of winter with that comment.
As much as I love winter, the fat tire biking, skiing, etc., summer is my favorite time of the year. The seemingly endless miles of trails to ride coupled with the perfect summer temps (how does upper '70s with no humidity sound?) and unreal views seem to grow a bit more on me year after year.
The warm weather has me eager to get out on the trails. I was looking at the area known as the Phases above Tabernash just the other day. The ground is mostly snow free on the open hillsides, and with some luck April may grace us with some great early season riding. The Phases are typically some of the first trails to open in this part of the county. Southern exposure and the warmer temps create great opportunities to get out early in the season.
The downside is that of the huge variety of trails we have here in the valley the Phases are some of the harder physically to ride. Personally, it would be great if we could warm up the body a bit on something easier when the riding season begins.
“As we go forward with finalizing and implementing the Master Trails Plan, decisions will be made about the difficulty level of trails and the overall system. The system will need to be vast enough to meet the desired experience of all users.”
Recently there was a discussion on social media about difficulty of trails ,the direction of trail design and building. This came from a post about current trail design trends of mostly what is known as flow trails. Flow trails tend to be more rhythmic in change of direction, turn, climbing and descents. Think of this as being a bit in the "zone" where conscious thoughts are taken over by the subconscious and reactions. The mind and body become one.
One key part of the discussion was does the goal of flow trails tend to make trails in general too easy? Flow trails are possibly the most popular trails with mountain bikers. A few examples in our area are Flume, Chainsaw, Twisted Ankle, the east side of WTB and Yankee Doodle.
Mountain biking consist of a huge variety of experiences. What is easy for some will be hard for others. The discussion on social media last week centered on some wanting harder trails and the thought that new trails (nationwide) were too easy. Determining what everyone wants as a trail experience is a nearly impossible task.
The challenge is what does harder mean? Some love very technical descents. Others want a nearly stop and go twisty rocky trail where bike handling is the main goal — think of Leap Frog or parts of the High Lonesome trail. I love a hard steep climb that contains technical challenges such as riding up Twisted Ankle and Broken Thumb or the middle section of Rogers Pass. All those experiences are vastly different, yet everyone wants their version of a challenge.
One successful approach to meeting the needs of multiple skill levels is to add technical features into the trail while giving a ride-around option for those seeking an easier experience. This has been successful and will continue to be a great tool for the future.
One such area that this has been done locally is on Sunset Pink and WTB just west of the Town of Winter Park. The picture in this article shows a more difficult feature added to the trail with the ride around option. These are also great places to practice and improve your skills.
As we go forward with finalizing and implementing the Master Trails Plan, decisions will be made about the difficulty level of trails and the overall system. The system will need to be vast enough to meet the desired experience of all users. Make it too hard, and the new users or those looking for easier trails will not be able to ride and may never embrace the sport we enjoy. On the other hand, make it too easy and those seeking challenges will seek other opportunities.
Another aspect when determining trail design is how will the trail hold up to erosion over the long term? Erosion is caused by many factors such as water, users of all types, not just bikes, wildlife (many a moose and elk walk the trails), soil and more. How will maintenance and upkeep be funded and who will do it? A large amount of our trail maintenance is done through volunteers. Due to our small population base our volunteer base is also small.
In order to move forward we will need to determine and secure long-term funding and a larger volunteer base. This is another reason why the Master Trails Plan is so important. Without a long-term detailed plan, the ability to secure long-term funding, grants and other funds is very limited.
Making a trail system that meets the needs of a multitude of mountain bikers and other users with different ideas of experience is a daunting task. It's not as simple as just building a trail. No system will meet the needs of everyone, but with some thought we can get close. Our system is unique in that we have a huge cross country network just out of town and two bike parks. Add all of those opportunities together and our variety will be about as broad as you can find.
Headwaters Trails Alliance is our local multiuse organization that is tasked to completing the Master Trails Plan. If you would like to become part of the process you can contact them through their website at http://headwaterstrails.com/.
Looking for more information or want to get involved as a mountain biker? Like Grand Mountain Bike Alliance (GMBA) on Facebook. GMBA is your local mountain bike group. Check out Mountainbikecapitalusa.com. Great site by the Winter Park Chamber!
Keith Sanders is the President of the Grand Mountain Bike Alliance, 3x US National Mountain Bike Champion and owner of Beavers Sports Shop. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.