Autumn has come and as I write the trails are as good as they’ve been all year. Dry, dusty and leaf strewn trails with colours straight out of a post card are there to greet anyone who is getting out of the house on weekends and enjoy the amazing playground we call Switzerland. The months of October and November are notoriously grey in Switzerland… if you stay in the cities. As soon as you leave the urban areas it is very easy to rise above the cloud and enjoy perfect autumn sunshine and even return to the office on monday with a suntan which bewilders your workmates who spent the whole weekend in the fog. Yes, Autumn in Switzerland is amazing. 🙂
|Autumn trails high above the city fog.|
With that in mind I would encourage everyone to get out and explore over the next two months. Pretty soon the trails are going to be covered in a thick layer of snow. (Which allows many more hours of fun!). I do think it is important that when we are out riding this autumn that as mountain bikers we act responsibly. Over the course of this summer I’ve noticed a few trails being closed to bike traffic. The number of us enjoying Switzerland on bikes is increasing and this is great, but I do think we need to be responsible in an effort to prevent more trail closures in the future and make sure Switzerland remains the mountain biking paradise that it is.
For me responsible mountain biking is common sense and comes down to one word… RESPECT. As mountain bikers we need to be respectful of the trail, respectful of other trail users, respectful to those who make their living off the land we are riding and respectful of any rules, regulations or laws of the area we are riding in. If we are not respectful then it is very easy to see why other trail users may be quite upset with us and it’s very foreseeable that this may lead to trail closures in the future. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) publishes a list of trail rules which most of us actually agree to when we buy a lift ticket in many areas in Switzerland. In certain locations we actually sign these rules!
|Let’s do what we can to keep our access|
Recently on a Swiss Alpine Adventure event we stopped at an Alp for lunch. The scenery at this Alp was beautiful and they had a simple menu of bread, cheese and meat which was followed by some of the best home made cakes you can possible imagine. Over the course of our lunch we got chatting with the people who ran the Alp and they were incredibly complimentary of how we respectful we were and how we conducted ourselves. Their stereotype of mountain bikers was brash, disrespectful, scaring their cows, destroying the hiking trails and forcing hikers out of the way. This vision of mountain bikers is something that I do my best to destroy and when guiding or running skills courses I usually try to encourage a responsible attitude… however, looking around I do see how this stereotype is propagated and in general it is my opinion that many of us don’t do mountain biking any favours.
Less than two months after being told how respectful we were as a group we were back in the mountains with a group. Our route took us up to a pass at 2600m from where we had a 2000m single trail descent to the valley. As we worked our way down the trail one of our members had a puncture and the group waited in an appropriate place while we turned our attention to fixing the puncture. At exactly this time a farmer came down the mountain driving two cows ahead of him. We made sure that we in no way hindered him and made every effort to let him get on about his day without any disruption from our group.
|Make friends with other trail users|
On seeing us the farmer quite literally lost control and started screaming at us like a man demented. He came directly to me and immediately got physically violent. He pushed me, hit me with a stick and threw quite large stones at me. I had initially tried to help him by asking him which way he wanted to go and was willing to help him guide his cows in that direction. I threatened to call the police and he then took a step back from me and told us to get out of here. As he walked away he turned around to leave he looked me straight in the eye and threatened to shoot us if we passed the Alp about 1km further down the trail. From where we were our only choice was to hike about 600 vertical metres back where we came from or pass this Alp where we had threatened to be shot at. In over 20 years of teaching outdoor sports this was the first time I had ever experienced an incident like this. We moved to the closest location where we could get mobile phone service and phoned the Police. The Police phoned the farmer and kept him on the phone while we safely slipped past the Alp and continued a little shaken on our way.
After the stress of the situation I had plenty of time to think about what happened. I am someone who believes that there is never any excuse for violence and I do feel that we did nothing wrong by riding the trail we rode. There is no biking forbidden sign anywhere near the trail entrance and there is a chair lift which happily transports bikes directly to the start of the route. I had ridden the trail before and also googled extensively to find out any extra information I needed about the trail. There was no legal restriction that I could find anywhere about riding this trail and there was also no signs anywhere saying that we were entering private property where mountain biking was not allowed. We were riding a signposted trail which is a public right of way and I do my best to encourage everyone in our group not to cut corners or leave the trail. We always stop for other trail users and in this instance did everything we could to let the farmer past… However, I know for a fact that not everyone is like this. People riding open trails with locked back wheels, riding speeds more suitable to closed downhill courses, scaring livestock and not slowing down for hikers p!sses people off and if a number of groups had ridden past this farmer like this in the past then it is quite possible that our respectful group was just the final straw that broke the camels back.
|Don’t cut corners|
If mountain bikers keep on upsetting other trail users then it’s obvious people are not going to be particularly happy about sharing with us. It is only if we can show people that we are a responsible group of people who are respectful and friendly that we can reduce the desire of others to completely ban us from multi-use trails. Both hikers and bikers need to be educated into sharing and being respectful for each other. In Davos and other area they have signs on the trails to encourage hikers and bikers to look out for each other. Educational efforts like this should be further developed and brought to the mainstream. Mountain biking press should be encouraging responsible mountain biking and as mountain bikers we should have a voice which represents us on a national level here in Switzerland. Organisations like Züri Trails, IG Mountain Bike Zug and Trailnet all represent Mountain Bikers in their areas and do amazing work, but as far as I know there is no national organisation representing the needs of mountain bikers.
Our sport is amazing. It gives us the freedom of the mountains, the ability to cover large distances in a day, the exhilaration of an adventure sport and the peace and contact with nature that you only get by ski touring or hiking. Switzerland is a unique country due to the infrastructure which we can use to allow us to access some incredible mountain bike terrain. It’s up to us to make sure that we can keep this access.