A rainy summer means better berms, but more erosion for local mountain biking trails
Summit County has seen one of its rainiest Summers in recent memory, to the extent of potentially ending the region’s drought. The rains have not only impacted the county’s wildfire risk and verdant flora, but its trails, too.
Wet dirt means grippier berms and more control, but it can also mean more ruts and trail damage. Local mountain bikers and trail managers have thoughts on the summer’s trail conditions.
Pete Swenson, trails manager at the Frisco Peninsula Recreation Area, recalled seeing some dusty Junes, but this past June wasn’t one of them. The trails have been tacky and fast thanks to the rains, he said. The National Weather Service reports Summit County has received more rain than water that has evaporated through Aug. 10.
According to the Summit County Mountain Bike Alliance, most local trails are reported dry by recent riders as of Sunday, Aug. 14. Trailforks reports similar conditions in Breckenridge, but rains have not gone unnoticed by those responsible for maintaining trails.
“We’ve enjoyed this near-daily rain,” Swenson said. The rain means more work for trail crews — ruts form when riders make tracks on soft, wet soil and rain washes dirt and sand into drainage ditches — but it’s a good kind of work, Swenson said. Trying to improve trails when the soil is dry just pushes the dirt around and kicks up dust, he said.
Whenever a new trail gets commissioned at the peninsula, Swenson said trail crews often need to import water to treat and work the trails. Swenson said crews at the peninsula are yet to import water this year.
The wetter the trail, the tackier it becomes, meaning riders can grip the trail better. It is a boon for some riders, like Cari Howland of Frisco, who said she’s fallen far less this year. Dry and dusty trails can mean the bike slides out from under the rider when cornering.
Summit County Mountain Biking Alliance Vice President of Trails Robert Klima said some trails around the county are the best they’ve ever been. He said he’s used to more dry and gravelly trails in Summit County.
Despite the improved traction, the rain has created a few new obstacles.
“They’re more rutted this year than they have been,” Howland said. “Makes it a little more exciting.”
Clint Anderson and Shari Jager, a pair of Denver locals with a place in Wildernest who make weekly trips to the county’s biking trails, seconded Howland’s point, saying more ruts and gullies have formed from years prior. Jager said she’s seen the pattern appear along the Salt Lick trails in Wildernest in addition to the Frisco peninsula.
“There’s a couple of little steeper hills. They’re getting gullies right down the middle,” Anderson said about the trails around the Frisco peninsula.
Peninsula riders Maggie Reynolds and Tom Roberts said conditions Sunday were similar to last year. The peninsula trail showed some signs of being washed out, but overall they said the riding experience was perfect.
Klima said erosion, not ruts, have been the greatest effect from the rain. Water funnels down trails and washes them out since many trails around the county are not built for this much rain, he said. Mud and ruts appear more often in the spring as the ground thaws and snow melts, he said.
Summit County Mountain Biking Alliance maintains trails throughout the county in partnership with local towns, the county and U.S. Forest Service, Klima said. The alliance has worked to address the issue around the county, rerouting trails and improving drainage. The group has a few trailwork projects coming up meant to address areas effected by erosion, partially caused by people hitting brakes, but mostly from water washing out, Klima said.
Folks can join trail crews improving the Colorado Trail Aug. 27. Crews will meet near the Keystone Gulch Trailhead and address erosion. Klima said anyone can join crews by signing up on the alliance’s events page at SCOMBA.org.
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