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Salt Lake Valley trails get busy as mountain biking skyrockets during pandemic

Posted at 10:13 PM, May 21, 2021

SALT LAKE COUNTY — Breathing hard and pedaling fast, Jeff Waldmuller cruised along the Juniper Crest Trail Friday afternoon. He sailed down a hill, the dust rising behind him.

He hits the trail often, which is a stone's throw from his house in Herriman.

"It's the freedom of being on two wheels. It's the freedom of being outside, seeing trails. You get to see the most beautiful, expansive views of the valley," he said.

Waldmuller, an adaptive rider, also races. He's been mountain biking since he was a kid and racing for over a decade.

What he loves about mountain biking, many others have discovered during the pandemic.

"Not just mountain bikes, but also runners, hikers and even equestrian use," Waldmuller said. "We saw upwards of 400% increase in trail use from 2019 to 2020 across the whole valley."

That statistic, he said, came from the Salt Lake Valley Trails Society. And it makes sense, as people pent up during the pandemic turn to trails for relief.

This spring, Waldmuller has noticed the trend isn't slowing down.

On the busy trails, he's been coming across novice riders with improper etiquette. Perhaps people who haven't gained enough confidence in their newfound sport, or those who don't know the trails that well yet.

"That can cause tricky situations. That can cause accidents," he said.

Or perhaps, it's not wearing the proper gear.

Just this week, someone needed help from Search and Rescue after a crash in Herriman led to a serious head injury. Waldmuller has been in contact with the group that was riding.

READ: Salt Lake County sees increase in search & rescue calls

"It was a simple mechanical error, but because a rider wasn't wearing proper gear like a helmet, and gloves and such, it ended up being very serious," Waldmuller said. "And he's been spending some time in the hospital, with quite a bit of pain."

Even an expert rider can end up in a tough situation.

Utah State House Rep. Jeff Stenquist (R-Draper) shared his story of crashing last weekend in the Draper area. Stenquist is a longtime mountain biker who has coached high school mountain bike teams and helped plan part of the park system around Draper.

On Saturday, he said he was riding with other people when suddenly he went down. The crash caused a blackout, and Stenquist doesn't remember what led to it. The others with him heard the crash but didn't see it.

He ended up needing rescuers to get him off the trail and take him by ambulance to the hospital. Stenquist is now recovering, but said he suffered a concussion and several broken ribs.

The legislator is out on the trails enough to know about the increase in mountain biking, and what can come with it.

"We do have a lot of people that ride the trails, and sometimes we have some user conflicts," he said. "We’ve done a lot to try and educate people about ways to share the trails, and we’ve tried to do things to help minimize that as well."

The demand for mountain biking has risen so much that businesses like Salt Cycles Bike Shop in Sandy have had a hard time keeping enough inventory in stock.

"Sales are through the roof, and the tough thing now is to get bikes," said Chris Austin, one of the owners.

They also offer bike repairs after someone goes down on a trail.

"We get people in here with a new story every day about what happened to them," he said.

In addition to selling all the bikes and safety gear, they offer something you can't put a price on: Education.

"We consider that one of our jobs is, 'Hey, we're here to help you. We're here to educate you a little bit,'" Austin said. "You're new to this sport, we've been doing this for a long time. We're happy to help and give you the information you need so you can have an enjoyable and safe experience."

Waldmuller also passes on his knowledge while on the trails. He encourages people not to ride with headphones on so they can hear what's around them and make callouts. If a group is riding together, he says they should be spaced out and not packed tightly together on the trail.

Riders climbing uphill have right-of-way over those going downhill.

Never leave home without telling someone where you are headed, he said, and try to ride with someone who is at or above your skill level.

Waldmuller recommended checking out the Salt Lake Valley Trails Society for information and resources.

There's also wearing the proper gear to help minimize injury in the inevitable spill. Waldmuller said when he is riding enduro-style, he'll wear a helmet, gloves, elbow pads, chest plate, and knee pads.

On Friday afternoon, he asked a helmet-less rider if they had a helmet to wear. Waldmuller just wants people to be safe while enjoying the sport he loves.

"I want to advocate for the sport. It's such a wonderful thing," he said. "I want everyone to experience that, but they just need a little bit of encouragement to do the right things in regard to trail etiquette and trail safety."