A few tips for your trip up or down the trail
Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to live here and to spend so much of my free time hiking and biking through the wilderness. It’s also easy to forget that visitors who are not accustomed to outdoor activity in such an environment might not be aware of some of the guidelines and precautions associated with it, much less the proper equipment to keep them warm, safe and free of injury on the trail.I took a stroll up Berry Picker trail on Vail Mountain Sunday morning. For those unfamiliar with the trail, it’s a beautiful singletrack that takes hikers from Vail Village or Lionshead about 2,200 feet up the mountain to the top of the gondola. The trail is about 3.2 miles long, designated for hikers only, and rich in several different kinds of plants and wildlife.The trail is very steep in places, off-camber and full of roots and rocks. I was surprised Sunday to encounter at least one woman making her way down the trail in fancy leather dress sandals. I assumed she came up on the gondola, as I’m sure she would probably be unable to get down the mountain on foot had she walked up in those things. Apparently nobody had told her that socks with sturdy sneakers or hiking boots are the recommended footwear for hiking, and sandals and dress shoes on such terrain will lead to cuts, blisters and probably a painful stumble or two.We also came across a couple who enthusiastically started telling us how they were sitting on a bench eating a snack and a bird came and took the food right out of their hands. “You should try it,” this woman told me. “They take the food right out of your hand.”
She was so innocent and excited. I felt tenderly towards her, and, trying as hard as I could to communicate that, I told her that it’s not a good idea to feed the wildlife. She immediately took on a guilty demeanor and said that she’s “new here.” She pointed out that the bird was so fearless, obviously other people had fed it. I walked away feeling guilty, but remembered all of the times I’ve been on hikes, not on a secure and monitored ski mountain like Vail, but above timberline in the backcountry, where I witnessed other hikers feeding mountain goats and any other once-wild animal they encountered on the trail.Feeding wildlife causes the animals to lose their natural instincts to forage for their own food. It also changes their migration patterns, encouraging them to hang around in large numbers in places where they are accustomed to receiving food from humans (but won’t during such times as winter, when people aren’t strolling through the forest eating snacks). This can lead to diseases, it can change the feeding patterns of other species and cause pest problems when the animals lose all fear of humans. It essentially throws a monkey wrench into the whole natural cycle.The Colorado Division of Wildlife condones the use of birdfeeders. When birds become dependent on them, they can find them in the same location and rely on them year-round. Feeding birds and any other animals on the trail is discouraged however, and Colorado law strictly prohibits feeding large animals (mountain goats, sheep, deer, bears, etc.) and enforces a $50 fine for those who violate the law.The last thing I saw when coming down the trail was a family of mountain bikers making their way down Magic Forest. The trail is a black diamond bike trail and built for downhill bikes. The man who was leading this group was on a regular mountain bike. One of the children with him was wearing jeans, one was wearing flip-flops, one had no helmet and not one was riding a downhill bike or sporting any kind of downhill attire. The leader seemed to know the trail quite well and was yelling at a couple of the kids bringing up the rear that they better speed it up. I was on a much milder trail a few years ago when I thought I’d catch some air off of a berm much smaller than the ones on Magic Forest, and sent my head into the ground so fast and with such force that my helmet broke in half and my collarbone snapped like a twig. I only hope the kid I saw without a helmet wouldn’t put his head to any such test.
Luckily people who recreate in places like Vail Mountain have the luxury of easy access to medical attention, plus restaurants and facilities that aren’t too far away. Nonetheless, here are some tips that people should consider to make their activities a little safer and more comfortable, and with the least impact to the local habitat.– Stay on the trail– Don’t feed the wildlife– When hiking, wear sturdy shoes and good socks and bring a jacket to prepare for afternoon storms, which are frequent in the summer.
— When biking, always wear a helmet. Sturdy shoes, padded shorts or pants and gloves will make your journey much more comfortable. Bring a jacket for possible weather changes– Be aware and respectful of other trail users and take heed to signs on the trailSports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado
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