Who has the right of way? User etiquette, hierarchy on Snowmass-area trails | AspenTimes.com

Who has the right of way? User etiquette, hierarchy on Snowmass-area trails

Town of Snowmass Parks, Recreation and Trails Department
Starr Jamison
A provided file photo of the Discovery Trail in Snowmass.

Our trail development in Snowmass Village is rapidly changing as we build new trails and make new connections. How lucky are we to have the opportunity to separate use on trails within our small community, giving everyone a unique experience.

In the village, hikers and equestrians have their own trails, like Tom Blake and North Mesa equestrian and hiking trails. Aspen Skiing Co. maintains Vista, Rabbit Run and Sierra Club for hikers only. All of these trails prohibit mountain bike use. The Town helps the U.S. Forest Service maintain the Ditch Trail, which allows users to access miles of hiking- and equestrian-only trails in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area.

On Snowmass Ski Area we built the Discovery Trail, a single direction beginner uphill only mountain biking trail, and Skico continues to provide miles of downhill-only trails for mountain bikers. Most communities do not have the luxury to provide such diversity in their trails systems as we have here in Snowmass Village.

Even with the separation and diversity, we are still faced with the problem that most trail users want peace and solitude on the trail. The reality is population will continue to grow and every user will eventually see others on the trails.

When we share the trails, who has the right of way? The first thing you need to know is there is a hierarchy on the trail. You may have seen the yellow trail etiquette triangle with a horse, hiker and biker. Horses have priority, followed by hikers, and then bikers. It’s pretty simple to remember and makes encounters much more pleasant when everyone knows who gets to go first. Always check to see what other kinds of travelers will be sharing the trial with you before you start. If horses or bikes are allowed, then be mentally prepared to encounter them.

Whether you’re sharing the outdoors with mountain bikers, equestrians or fellow hikers, here are some general trail etiquette guidelines on sharing that tiny trail space with others by Casey Schreiner, founder and editor of “Modern Hiker,” the oldest and most-read hiking blog in Southern California.  

Mountain bikes are considered more maneuverable than hikers’ legs, Schreiner writes, so bikers are generally expected to yield to hikers on the trail. However, because those mountain bikes are often moving considerably faster than a person’s legs, it’s usually easier for hikers to yield the right of way—but a biker should never expect a hiker to yield, Schreiner says.

Mountain bikers should call out to hikers as they come down steep slopes or blind switchbacks and should also let them know if there are other bikers following them. However, Schreiner notes that hikers also should be aware of their surroundings on shared trails.

Schreiner says horses get the right of way over both hikers and mountain bikers because they are the largest, slowest-to-maneuver and often least predictable. If a person is sharing the trail with equestrians, they should give them as wide a berth as possible; not make abrupt movements as they pass; and talk calmly when approaching to avoid startling the animal, Schreiner writes.

Outside of the equestrian-hiker-biker hierarchy, trail etiquette is even more important when you’re hiking in a group. Always hike single file on the trail and never take up more than half the trail space. When a group meets a single hiker, it’s generally preferable for the single hiker to yield and step safely to the side.

Lastly, fellow trail users are out to have a good time just like you are, and a friendly “hello” can go a long way toward fostering a positive atmosphere among everyone on the trail.

If you’re looking for more information on trail etiquette or trails in general, check out snowmassrecreation.com.

For information on hiking trails, go to hike.gosnowmass.com; for biking trail info, go to bike.gosnowmass.com; and information on all trails in Pitkin County can be found at pitkinoutside.org; and Maroon Bells Wilderness Trails at http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/whiteriver/?cid=FSEPRD542075

I hope to see you all out there!

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