Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

Posted by Adam Howell

Snakecharmer progressive freeride trail

Print Friendly

Durango now has its first officially sanctioned progressive freeride trail in Horse Gulch named sarcastically after what the local rattle snake population would think of it: Snakecharmer Trail.

One thing that this sign needs on it at the trail head to Snakecharmer Trail atop Raiders Ridge is the encouragement of one-way directional travel on the trail.

One thing that this sign needs on it at the trail head to Snakecharmer Trail atop Raiders Ridge is the encouragement of one-way directional travel on the trail.

Snakecharmer has a lot of features that one would expect from a freeride trail that allows riders to learn to progress their skills—optional rock ledge drops, steep terrain, dirt berm corners, rock armored terrain, rocky jumps, and stonework bridges and outcroppings to huck off of or ride across.

The purpose of this trail was to use the natural terrain (rocks and dirt) in such a way as to provide ample opportunities for riders to become airborne, throw tricks, and to build their balancing technique. It’s also to allow riders to both progress and express their riding style on various technical trail features that are otherwise illegal or hard to find around Durango.

If you enjoy riding Raiders Ridge, you’d appreciate the challenges on the slick rock that Snakecharmer has to offer. I would recommend it to intermediate or advanced-level riders with full-suspension bikes who want to ride on features that require their commitment.

Griphoisting a stone into place above a drop from left to right--trail foremen Tyson Swasey, Gordon Rhodes and Dusty Bender.

Griphoisting a stone into place above a drop from left to right–trail foremen Tyson Swasey, Gordon Rhodes and Dusty Bender.

Along this trail that’s just shy of a mile long riders and hikers will encounter a grip of stonework crafted by Trails 2000 volunteers with the help of a griphoist—a giant version of a come along. A lot of this stonework was meticulous and time consuming, with massive rewards for keeping the trail in place for the long run, while giving riders something fun and challenging to ride on.

Given the allotted time frame of four weeks that Trails 2000 had to work on it under the leadership of trail foreman Tyson Swasey, and the minimal amount of money spent by the City ($5,434 for Swasey’s services, the griphoist and signage) they/we did a pretty good job.

Considering the historical context of where the local demand came from to build this trail, Snakecharmer has a lot of politically correct hype surrounding its name, description and what it realistically has to offer.

Plenty of stonework on the Snakecharmer.

Plenty of stonework on the Snakecharmer.

Snakecharmer as a name is politically correct considering that some pissed rattlesnakes had to relocate to make way for some trail users. Do you care? Either way, Trails 2000’s followers voted for this name on Facebook.

During its conceptual design, Snakecharmer was known as “The Scratch” and was pitched to the City as a freeride trail by Trails 2000’s Executive Director Mary Monroe.

Political correctness was a huge motivating factor behind changing the description of this trail to “progressive”, whether Trails 2000 agrees with that assessment or not. Trail 2000 avoids calling it freeride any more, with Swasey having said that the word freeride scares people and doesn’t tell them anything.

Here's a ledge drop before putting in some stonework for a landing.

Here’s a ledge drop before putting in some stonework for a landing.

More descriptive than “freeride,” it was coined “progressive” for its offering of multiple features and option lines for intermediate to advanced level riders to progress their skills on, according to Swasey. Most of the rock ledge drops on the trail, for instance, are optional with safer ride around routes for the more timid.

Be forewarned that despite what was reported by The Durango Herald on Snakecharmer, there are NO easy routes down this trail. It is riddled with unavoidable rocks up to 8 inches tall, average trail grades of 20% or more, and a tread surface that’s mostly stable with some variability.

Here's the same ledge drop with stonework and a sign in afterwards.

Here’s the same ledge drop with stonework and a sign in afterwards. The reoccurring criticism of this drop is that the landing is too flat.

For the International Mountain Biking Association’s Trail Difficulty Rating System, click here.

Any approach to the top of the trail, or even Raiders Ridge above it has more technicality in terms of trail grade and natural obstacles than I’d recommend to any novice rider looking for a good time.

Officials call Snakecharmer a progressive trail while excluding the adjective freeride as a means of forgetting freeride mountain bike culture’s rocky and contentious history.

However you describe this trail, the influence that freeride mountain bike culture has had over Durango was enough to create a demand for legal freeride trails that allow people to get airborne and challenge themselves on technical terrain.

The blue route is obviously easier than the black route in this picture.

This ledge drop has a really flat landing. The blue route is obviously easier than the black route in this picture.

Looking at the historical context of freeride mountain biking on a local level, where would the demand for this new “progressive” trail have come from if it hadn’t been for the multitude of man-made illegal jumps, berms, trestles, steep terrain and ledges that have gained so much popularity over the years on our public lands?

All of those illegal freeride features may have pissed off some people in our community over the years, but where would the current level of popularity for the culture be if it hadn’t been for those freeriders who dabbled in constructing, riding them, and showing them to others?

Here's the griphoist in action with me on the handle, and Swasey and Jim Shadell directing the movement of a rock the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

Here’s the griphoist in action with me on the handle, and Swasey and Jim Shadell directing the movement of a rock the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

It’s time for City officials to start allowing people to adopt local trails on City land for doing maintenance and building optional features. This is a duty that Trails 2000 cannot do alone.

All the while, the City should be encouraging directional traffic on trails like Snakecharmer, Telegraph, Anasazi, Medicine, and Star Wars Trail in Test Tracks for safety reasons. The temporary signage on Snakecharmer does not include any directional recommendations, despite a few blind corners, steep narrow sections, minimal escape routes in places and dominant user trends.

This blogger asked the City’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board last week to add directional recommendations for all of these trails on their upcoming permanent signage. Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said that the conversation would occur at a later, unspecified date when they didn’t have so many other pressing issues on their agenda.

This sign lower down where Snakecharmer merges with Zipline Trail should encourage one-way traffic with directional, downhill travel.

This sign lower down where Snakecharmer merges with Zipline Trail should encourage one-way traffic with directional, downhill travel.

Snakecharmer is a progressive freeride trail, just the same as Overend Mountain Park is still Test Tracks. The positive historical upbringing of freeride cannot be ignored, regardless of the mistakes that were made by its riders and their trails of the past.

On a regional, national or international level, the word freeride is still widely used as a term to describe one of the most popular disciplines of mountain biking.

Trestle Bike Park at Winter Park Resort hosted the Colorado Freeride Festival this year, with some of the best mountain biking events in the USA. Mark my words that “freeride” will not be replaced by “progressive” at that competition.

This plan had plenty of support from the local mountain biking community on its opening day.

This trail had plenty of support from the local mountain biking community on its opening day.

As this review is being written, Whistler in British Colombia—the authoritative source as the most successful bike park on our continent—is hosting Crankworx Whistler Freeride Mountain Bike Festival. Mark my words—“freeride” will not be replaced with “progressive” in their marketing paradigm for a sporting event with objectives that will largely remain the same.

Freeride will remain and prosper as a locally used and respected adjective regardless of the politically correct push to market Durango’s first sanctioned progressive freeride trail in a way that ignores the identity and struggles of its riders, trails and culture.

This freerider was from Moab. Forgot his name.

This freerider was from Moab. Forgot his name.

IMG_0715

This guy was from California on Snakecharmer’s opening day. Forgot his name.

IMG_0716IMG_0717

IMG_0718

IMG_0719

IMG_0720

IMG_0721

IMG_0722

IMG_0723

IMG_0724

IMG_0707

IMG_0708

IMG_0709

IMG_0710

IMG_0711

IMG_0712

IMG_0713

IMG_0714

Freerider Adam Howell on the rock ledge in the Cummins Rock Quarry.

Freerider Adam Howell on the rock ledge in the Cummins Rock Quarry.