Tales of the ‘killer root wad’ (with video)
Trail users encouraged to contact agencies about hazards
ABOVE: Steamboat Springs resident Lio DelPiccolo posted this video on the Facebook group Routt County Trails Conditions and Community of riding along the Flash of Gold trail and becoming one of many riders falling victim to the “killer root wad” from a fallen tree hazard this fall. | Lionello DelPiccolo/Courtesy video
This mud season, many mountain bikers may be nursing bruises and sprains, but at least six bikers are recuperating after surgeries for broken bones stemming from a “killer root wad.”
On the Flash of Gold trail starting from the Dry Lake area in the Buffalo Pass area, the root ball from a blown down tree clipped many riders on the right side of the trail after a curve.
Steamboat Springs hand surgeon Dr. Patrick Johnston noticed a pattern of injuries after performing surgery for multiple broken small fingers on the right hands of mountain bikers. Johnston, an avid biker himself, posted about the situation on the Facebook group Routt County Trails Conditions & Community, which has more than 3,300 members and is administered in part by nonprofit Routt County Riders.
“Mountain bikers beware!” Johnston posted Oct. 19. “I’m the hand surgeon at Steamboat Orthopaedic and Spine Institute, and I think I’ve fixed four patients in the last three weeks from Flash of Gold crashes. The commonality is catching a hand on the root ball on the right then crashing. This root ball is especially tricky if you are following another rider, then when you turn right on the curve you don’t see it until you’ve hit it.”
According to the orthopedic group, the tree hazard caused at least eight injuries to six patients this fall, including two shoulder joint separations, three finger fractures and three wrist fractures, including one female who fractured both her wrists. Many commenters on the surgeon’s Facebook post were other riders who did not need surgery but reported knee and shoulder injuries, possible cracked ribs, X-rays, lacerations and hard crashes.
Steamboat resident Michelle LeRoss, treasurer for Routt County Riders and a mountain biker for 25 years, suffered a Colles wrist fracture at the hazard. She was riding alone in mid-September and trying to keep up her speed due to riders behind her.
“The millisecond before I hit, I thought, ‘There’s not enough space,’” said LeRoss, who has helped on trail work days.
The accident is a little fuzzy, but she walked herself out, pushing her bike, and drove herself to the hospital.
Routt County Riders Executive Director Laraine Martin said several lessons can be learned from the trail hazard dubbed “killer root wad.” Trail users who experience hazards are encouraged to contact appropriate land managers as soon as possible, such as the U.S. Forest Service in Steamboat Springs, the Bureau of Land Management in Craig, the city of Steamboat Springs or Routt County Riders at firstname.lastname@example.org to pass along trail concerns.
Martin said reporting hazards can continue year-round, although trail crew work and trail volunteer days usually happen early May to mid-October. With limited crew and resources, land management agencies need the help of trail users to report unsafe conditions.
“It’s not actually a given that the land management agency will know what is giving riders trouble,” Martin said.
Brendan Kelly, Forest Service recreation specialist, said the local district has 350 miles of nonmotorized trails, some 268 miles of which are multiuse open to mountain bikers, hikers and horses, so he encourages all riders to watch for unmarked hazards and to “go at a speed that is within their ability and respectful for other users as well.” He said Forest Service crews work on each trail usually only once per year.
Martin said riders unfamiliar with a trail should ponder their ability level, consider handlebar width and feather the brakes when approaching blind curves. Although the trail corridor on Flash of Gold is 4-feet wide, the root ball was after a curve.
“You always need to be fully alert when you are riding around a corner especially one where there isn’t a sightline,” Martin said. “You need to be checking your speed in case there is an unforeseen hazard in front of you. When it comes to rider skills and capabilities, you are responsible for your own safety.”
Riders should factor in a variety of conditions on area trails, especially those with curves and dense trees, as forest conditions can vary from day to day due to storms. Rider-specific skill levels, terrain, time of day and day of week for crowds, and whether the trail is one-way or two-directional are factors, Martin said.
In addition to the Facebook trail conditions group, Martin said mountain bikers can learn about trails and drop a pin in hazard spots on such smart phone apps as Gaia GPS, Trailforks, MTB Project or Strava. Marking the danger spot is helpful when contacting land managers to report a hazard.
“The winter use of some of our single-track trails has also been increasing, especially on Emerald and Rabbit Ears, so trail safety and user etiquette still applies in the off-season,” Martin noted.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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