Dyana Z. Furmansky: Beware novice cyclists on Vail Pass bike path
Vail, CO, Colorado
She ran into me where I always expect somebody to run into me: on the steep curve just east of The Wall on the Vail Pass bike trail.
I was pedaling uphill after having just gunned it out of the hairpin turn in that wooded, downhill portion of the trail’s blind spot.
It’s a place I look ” and look again ” for out-of-control bicyclist coming too fast from the opposite direction.
One day last June a woman swerved from her side of the trail into my lane and headed straight for me.
I veered off to the side to avoid getting hit head-on, but her sideswipe forced me to part company with my bicycle as I went over the side.
After being airborne for about two seconds, I hunched into a ball and hit the slope fast enough to roll down about 30 or 40 feet before snagging some low brush to slow myself down before I slammed into a tree.
Fortunately that part of the trail has a soft grassy slope rather than a rocky one.
Otherwise I might not be writing this now.
I knew I was OK and began clambering back up to the bike trail, where a pale, frightened looking man was peering over the side.
“I thought you were gone,” he said. I was a bloody sight for my husband to see as he rode up to us, but my cuts were superficial and my bruises were yet to be.
The other man’s wife had taken the brunt of the collision. Though she was conscious she still lay on the blacktop trail. After a few minutes of checking herself she pulled up to a seated position.
But there would be no more riding that day for her. She had hurt her back, and would end up in the emergency room.
The couple and their daughter had never ridden down a trail that steep before, the injured woman said. “I guess you can tell we’re from Kansas,” her husband said sheepishly.
They had rented their bikes from one of the outfits that drives its customers up to the top of Vail Pass and meets them somewhere at the bottom. Not having ridden up the trail in the first place, these customers have no idea how steep their descent will be.
Out of curiosity I called both the Vail Valley Medical Center trauma unit and the Eagle County Ambulance District to see if either kept statistics on where their injured bicyclists came from.
They don’t, but a spokeswoman for the ambulance service was quite familiar with what she called “the stretch from mile marker 184 to 186,” which includes The Wall section of the Vail Pass bike trail.
The service gets most of its calls for help from that portion, she said.
“People just can’t hang on to their brakes as long as they need to slow down,” she said.
She also noted that the second most calls for help come from another popular downhill-only zone: Vail Mountain’s mountain bike trails.
Is selling downhill rides a good idea? I guess in Vail where so much sporting business depends on going downhill by one means or another it seems natural to encourage downhill bicycling.
But offering this thrill to inexperienced riders from the flatlands may be like allowing out-of-control skiing. We just don’t do that anymore.
In the event that catering to the downhill biking crowd is just too good a business for the bike shops to give up, maybe they could do a better job of preparing their riders for the danger they face.
If riders can’t hold on to their brakes, getting off their bikes and walking just off the side of the trail would be a better alternative than running into someone coming up the other side ” or into The Wall itself.
Perhaps a mirror could be installed at the blind spot, so that both uphillers and downhillers know what is hurling toward them in time to completely avoid it.
It may be December, but now is a good time to consider ways to make the Vail Pass bike trail safer by the time the snow melts next spring. All those visitors who are here to ski might read about the dangers of downhill riding.
Maybe they will think twice about doing it when they return in summer.
Dyana Z. Furmansky is a Vail resident.