Winter Park, Granby Ranch Bike Patrols keep trails safe
Every year hundreds of thousands of people from across the state and throughout the world take the long, often tedious and sometimes dangerous roads into the high country to reach Grand County.
They come for the scenery, for the atmosphere and to get away. Many will come to hurtle down our mountain slopes at incredible speeds. More than a few of these people will spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for a few days in the high country, living a life they can only dream of on vacation. For a few lucky souls though that dream is something of a reality.
Bike Patrollers ride the trails at Granby Ranch and Winter Park on a daily basis, crisscrossing the aspen groves and pine stands arrayed in composite plastic armor like modern-day jousters. They spend their working lives doing something most other people pay large sums of money for.
Bike Patrolling in Grand County is conducted at two of our local mountain resorts, Winter Park and Granby Ranch.
The tight knit crew at Granby Ranch is led by Scott Ciufo, Director of Risk Management and Mountain Patrol. His Bike Patrol team is made up of three full-time bike patrollers, Mountain Patrol Supervisor Aaron Davidson, Mountain Patrol Foreman Don Hess and Mountain Patrolman Blake Langolf.
All three men know and understand the desire tourists have to experience all the mountains have to offer; all three left white-collar careers to pursue their passion of working outdoors.
Patrol Supervisor Aaron Davidson left behind an office based career in the events industry several years ago to follow his dreams. “I had the nine to five desk job,” Davidson said. “I wanted to be outside more and enjoy the reason I moved to Colorado, so I moved to Ski Patrol.”
Davidson worked previously at Winter Park Resort and has been at Granby Ranch for two years now. He is also a member of the Grand County Search and Rescue Team. Davidson says his favorite parts of the Granby Ranch Bike Park are the fast flowing lines where he can find his rhythm and take berms at top speed.
“I’m kind of the old man of the group,” joked Patrol Foreman Don Hess. Many years ago Hess decided he no longer wanted to work in an office so he left behind 15 years as a systems engineer and got his emergency care license. “This gig is not about the money,” said Hess. “It is about helping people and doing what you love to do.”
Hess explained the best part of his job was getting to ride on a daily basis. He said his favorite portions of Granby Ranch to ride are the large rock drops and highlighted the natural terrain features available, such as the flowy Silky Johnson trail, and the technical rock gardens throughout the mountain.
Patrolman Blake Langolf’s previous profession is as surprising as his co-workers. He was an accountant for Whole Foods until about seven years ago when he decided to give it up and head for the high country. “I was spending all my money and free time going to the mountains,” Langolf said. “I decided to make that a career. I went to Utah and volunteered for an entire year.” After his volunteer stint in Utah Langolf became a snowboard instructor at Breckenridge, eventually making the transition to Granby Ranch where he has been working for two years now. Langolf described the guest service aspect of his job as the most rewarding aspect.
“The first timers tend to stop us and ask us a lot. We can tell them where to go based on what they are capable of riding.” Langolf said his favorite portions of Granby Ranch Bike Park are the more difficult sections. “I love all our black trails. Our double black and black trails have enormous rock gardens, big drops and really technical riding.”
The three Patrolmen’s days on the mountain start with trail checks. The Patrollers ride every trail on the mountain first thing in the morning, checking for downed trees and rocks that might be strewn across the tracks. They use their bikes and other four-wheeled vehicles to traverse the mountain, keeping a large assortment of power tools on hand for any trail maintenance work. Throughout the day the Patrolmen take turns manning the dispatch station at the Granby Ranch base and make regular patrol routes through the resort. As the day winds down at Granby Ranch the three Patrolmen make an evening sweep of the trails to clear out any remaining riders.
Along with their continual trail work the Patrolmen also provide medical aid to anyone on the mountain in need. Working in the summer is beneficial to the Patrolmen from a medical perspective. “We all started as ski patrol,” said Patrol Supervisor Davidson. “We became summer patrol to keep our medical skills up to par.”
The three men suggested that any new riders insure their health by having all the proper safety equipment, including a full suspension bike, body armor and a full-face helmet. They stressed the importance of new riders taking lessons to learn proper technique. They suggested riders look at a trail before riding down. They said riders should remember to wear long sleeve shirts and relatively long shorts to help reduce any road rash that might occur in an possible wrecks. If you have any questions feel free to stop any of the Patrolmen at Granby Ranch to ask about best places to ride for your skill level.
Both Granby Ranch and Winter Park offer a wide array of downhill and cross-country biking trails for all skill levels from first-time beginners to experienced professional riders. Trails for both resorts are lift-serviced, though both offer peddle access to most of their trails. The trails at Granby Ranch provide greater intensity and difficulty for downhill enthusiasts while Winter Park offers greater trail variety, and a more extensive trail network with over 40 miles of track.
The large crew of 26 fulltime paid Patrollers at Winter Park is lead by Summer Program Supervisor Dan Stout. Stout is aided by one of the senior members of the Bike Patrol, Bike Patrol Crew Leader Ben Grafelman. Grafelman and Stout did not come from a white-collar background before joining Mountain Patrol, but both men knew their calling when the found it and have been living and working at the resort for nearly a decade each.
Grafelman moved to the high country for the winter season right after graduating from college. “All I wanted to do was ski,” he said. “I started doing ski patrol and it happened to work out that I got an interview for a summer job.” Prior to working at Winter Park Grafelman, a Minnesota native, had never done downhill biking, only cross-country. He says the best part of his job is working outdoors and getting to help people, both medically and recreationally. “It is fun to see people getting stoked about riding bikes. It is fun to be a part of that.”
Grafelman’s favorite trail at Winter Park is Search and Seizure, which he described as a speedy trail that merges well down hill into other trails. “I like it because it is fast and it has big berms,” he said. “I just know the trial and the flow of it. I know the right speed to hit all the jumps and not ever have to hit my brakes or peddle.”
Sumer Program Supervisor Dan Stout also started out on ski patrol. He discussed the transition he made from Ski Patroller to Bike Patroller. “The pads and armor are very different,” Stout said. “Getting used to wearing all the armor is kind of an eye opener.”
Stout came to Colorado from Pittsburgh. His tenure in Colorado stated on a family trip to Winter Park when he got a job as a lift operator on his second day on vacation. “They (his family) left and I stayed behind,” said Stout. “I have been out here ever since.” Stout has spent six years working on Ski Patrol and is in his third year with Bike Patrol.
Stout explained the community and friendships established amongst the Bike Patrollers as his favorite part of the job.
“Obviously riding the bike is fun,” said Stout. “But being able to hang out and work with 25 other people that share your passion and are excited about their job makes working here a lot more fun.”
Stouts favorite trail at Winter Park is No Quarter, which offers drops and jumps and a wide variety of obstacles on a flowy trail that requires little peddling or braking.
The two men described their summertime patrol duties as surprisingly similar to their wintertime patrol duties, on a day-to-day basis. Each morning the Bike Patrol crew at Winter Park starts off their day with a morning meeting at the resort base before driving up to the patrol hut, high on the mountain.
From there the Patrollers ride all the front side trails at the Resort, conducting trail checks and restocking medical equipment caches. They work to clear obstacles from the trails, removing fallen trees, checking for loose boards and kicking out drainages to clear out the muddy sections. They check over the signage throughout Trestle Bike Park as well, making sure all signs are up and properly visible. The Patrollers also conduct trail evaluations, essentially riding the trails at Winter Park looking for any guests in need of assistance.
“We just try and get out there and into the public eye,” said Stout. “We want to let people know that we are available for help.”
Grafelman explained that the Bike Patrollers at Winter Park often see guests walking down the mountain, following technical issues on the trail or minor injuries, who are unaware of the existence of bike patrol or that they can call for assistance in times of need. They also pointed out there is no fee to guests for Bike Patrol service.
“Everything bike patrol does is free,” Grafelman said. “No matter what.”
For their first aid work the Bike Patrol at Winter Park maintains a number of riders at the top of the mountain who are on call for medical emergencies. “We hold a certain amount of patrollers at the top to handle any kind of situation,” Stout said. “In case we need to back board somebody we keep enough patrollers on hand to get that person out. We keep enough to do that every day.”
Like their counterparts at Granby Ranch the Bike Patrol leadership at Winter Park stressed the importance of a full compliment of safety equipment and the value of taking lessons. They also stressed that guests should make sure to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water at the extreme elevations of Trestle Bike Park.
Their other advice to protect riders was to “tuck-and-roll” when falling.
“We see people going over the handlebars sometimes and getting lower arm and clavicle injuries,” said Grafelman. “There is even a term for it, ‘FOOSH’ which stands for fall-on-to-out-stretched-hand. If you go over the bars you cannot stop yourself. Just make a fist, bring your arm in and tuck and roll. Let the armor protect you.”
Next time you are out on either of our two local mountains and see a one of the patrollers take a moment to chat with them, ask for a little advice, and get the scoop on where to ride. They know these mountains better than anyone else and can help guide your experience to make it as fun and as safe as possible.
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Due to current public health guidance, there will not be an in-person wilderness campsite lottery for Rocky Mountain National Park this year.