“There are a lot of good options”
The mammoth-sized snow pack covering the Gunnison Basin is finally receding, and that means the single-track hiking and biking trails that have been hidden since December are finally emerging. But due to the soggy conditions, and with the ongoing Gunnison Travel Management process currently putting an increased focus on trail use and responsibility, it’s a good idea to know where to ride this time of year.
To ask about the best trails to ride this spring, there’s no need to look further than four local guys who have two things in common: the same first name, and a love for mountain biking—Dave Kozlowski, Dave Meyers, Dave Ochs and Dave Wiens.
Kozlowski is co-founder of the Gunnison Valley Freeride Association, a local group of downhill and freestyle mountain bikers; he also produces the popular Hartman Rocks recreational trail map. So it should be no surprise that Kozlowski recommends Hartmans as the best place for early season riding.
Hartman Rocks is a recreational hotspot on public lands directly south of Gunnison just off Gold Basin Road. Kozlowski says he enjoys advanced trails like Sawtooth and Rattlesnake, because of the variety of terrain features. “There are a lot of good options,” he says.
For a good high country ride, Rock ‘n Roll Sports owner Dave Meyers, a.k.a. Buddy Bear, suggests the Sun Park Trail, which is accessed northwest of Gunnison on the Bureau of Land Management Road across from Neversink (BLM 3113). The single track passes through some impressive wildlife areas and different ecosystems on its way to the West Elk Wilderness boundary, he says. “There’s like 3,000 to 4,000 vertical feet of climbing in the mountains, through lots of aspens. But it’s all south-facing and melts early,” Meyers says.
Dave Ochs, a member of the Brick Oven/CB Builders bike racing team and organizer of the annual Crested Butte Classic 100 mile race, has his sights set on riding the (mostly) south-facing Deer Creek trail within a few weeks. The trail winds around Crested Butte Mountain on the opposite side of the East River Valley. “When Deer Creek opens, it’s like, ‘Let’s party,’” Ochs says.
Gunnison Trails founder and retired pro mountain bike racer Dave Wiens says riding around Gunnison is hard to beat when the rest of the high country is still covered in snow. “I’m really partial to the Signal Peak area, up behind (Western State College),” Wiens says.
Ochs agrees that most mountain biking opportunities are limited to the south end of the valley near Gunnison due to the unusually high amounts of snow elsewhere. In fact, Ochs says the course for the July 12 Crested Butte Classic will probably be changed considerably from last year to avoid wet or closed trails. He quipped that famous trails like 401 and 403 may not open until August, due to the considerable snowpack on Schofield Pass.
Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) president Chad Oleson says the group has a new website with up to date trail information and conditions reports. He says the website is designed to allow trail users to connect with CBMBA and other biking advocates to share observations and photos, similar to the Crested Butte Avalanche Center’s website design. “We’re trying to centralize the trail reports all in one place, with the ability to submit an observation and get the word on the street about conditions of the trails,” Oleson says.
There are still a few trails closed out at Hartman Rocks, such as the lower section of Jack’s Trail, which has developed a severe, muddy rut. Although the trail is marked closed, some people have still been attempting to skirt around the muddy rut, but Kozlowski says this is even more of a problem than people riding through it. “When people go around it and create another trail, they’re creating more of an impact overall,” he says.
The U.S. Forest Service for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management are currently wrapping up the Gunnison Travel Management process. The Travel Management Process is intended to serve as a better way to manage motorized trail use such as ATVs, mechanized uses such as mountain biking, and other uses like hiking and horseback.
All of the Daves agree that the Travel Management Process has put mountain biking into the regulatory spotlight.
Ochs says, “With travel management going on, we need to get a strong presence of being contributors and not destroyers… It’s important for bikers to wait for stuff to be properly opened.”
Meyers agrees. “It’s our reputation, which we don’t want for ripping up the trails.”
Wiens says mountain bikers earning a bad rap this spring could lead to further trail closures, or worse, prevent new ones from opening. Wiens says Gunnison Trails and the CBMBA are both working on some pretty ambitious trail proposals. “A big part is the land managers and resource specialists and their current perception of our user group in general,” Wiens says, adding that he currently believes mountain bikers are earning a reputation for being responsible, conservation minded trail users.
“That can be eroded quickly if all of a sudden they see a few people doing the wrong thing… The future of mountain biking in the Gunnison Valley depends on whether or not we can acknowledge closures. Seasonal closures are going to become a way of life. But we are going to have fantastic trails, forever, if we can respect that.”