Snowmass trail talks: Mud season in the mountains

Town of Snowmass Parks, Recreation and Trails Department
Special to the Snowmass Sun

Editor’s note: The Snowmass Sun and the town of Snowmass Parks, Recreation and Trails Department have partnered to launch “Trail Talks,” a bi-weekly series that will explore trail issues, etiquette and rules for shared trail-use in the village.

The Campground lift has closed and sunny warm days have arrived sooner than we can all remember. This tempting weather beckons us to pull out our bikes and hiking shoes to enjoy this balmy spring weather.

Don’t get us wrong; we love tacky dirt as much as anyone. However, there is a fine line between brown pow and wet or muddy trails. If mud or wet trail is sticking to your shoe or tire, you should simply turn around.

And when you encounter a muddy patch, don’t assume the rest of the trail will be any better. More often than not it only gets worse and you should quit while you’re still ahead.

Because we are a melting pot here in Colorado, with transplants from the East, West, North and South, it’s important to realize that not all dirt is equal.

In regions such as the Pacific Northwest, wet trail conditions are common and accepted as part of the sport, whereas in the Roaring Fork Valley, with a humid, continental climate, the same conditions can have fairly drastic consequences for the trail.

Secondly, the time of year as well as exposure and elevation will effect how moisture and precipitation impact a trail. Throughout the spring thaw, trails tend to be more saturated and hold more water, taking days to dry out after rain, as opposed to later in the summer and fall where an evening thunderstorm will leave them riding nice and tacky the next morning.

Trail threat No.1: Ruts and erosion

One response we often hear regarding riding wet trails is that “they fix themselves.” That is inccorect. Trail damage and erosion that occurs over time from proper use is a different beast than that which occurs as a result of abuse.

Once a rut is formed, it is only aggravated by further travel and water, which requires hours of labor to correct.

Ruts create low spots trapping moisture that would otherwise run off the slope, further deepening and over time forming mini canals.

Threat No.2: Widening the trail

When trails are wet and ruts start to form, people naturally tend to ride and walk around them, hence widening the singletrack path. Keep singletrack single, and when you encounter bits of wet trail, please consider the potential consequences of walking and riding around the mud. This is vital not only for trail sustainability but for ensuring our access to trails for years to come.


Choose drier trails; seek those south facing.

When the snow is melting during the spring or even after a snowstorm or rainstorm, finding south-facing trails that receive more of that winter sunlight means drier trails. South-facing terrain does not hold as much snow during the winter, and north-facing trails can be either terribly icy or just nasty and muddy for a while, so try to stick to trails that get more sunlight.

Get out early.

A lot of the time, at least during our mud season here in Colorado, everything thaws out during the day. Even if trails are muddy and it’s close to freezing, there’s so much moisture in the soil that the trails will be more or less frozen throughout the day as temperatures rise. Enjoying the trails early in the day when they are frozen means they’re not so messy. They are soft and tacky, which can be great.

Do your research.

Between email, social media and the internet, learning about trail conditions isn’t too challenging. Find out about the trail conditions before you leave the house. After a rain or snowstorm, most groups have a lively discussion about trail conditions. If it’s too wet to ride, folks will always retreat to Facebook to let everyone know.

To sign up for trail condition updates or to report a trail issue, visit

Check out the “Roaring Fork Trail Conditions” Facebook page if you’re considering riding or hiking in the Roaring Fork Valley.


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