The increase in the number of sledders on Smuggler Mountain Road has prompted Pitkin County Open Space and Trails officials to remind people to be responsible users of the trail.
During the last week of January, there were two separate instances of dogs biting people sledding down the road. One was a nibble while the other was a bite, said John Armstrong, the county’s open space and trails ranger.
“Neither is acceptable,” Armstrong said. “People have to feel and be safe when they’re recreating on their open space. We can’t have people feel threatened.”
Both dogs were off leash at the time of the encounters and their owners were ticketed, Armstrong said.
The county has received multiple comments from hikers who report “close calls” with sledders descending recklessly, Armstrong said. This year, there has been a rise in the number of people sledding down Smuggler and it appears the road averages dozens a day, he said.
“There’s been a marked increase up there,” Armstrong said. “Partly because it’s a great winter up there and partly because it’s just caught on.”
Open space officials issued a statement Monday reminding users that Smuggler Mountain is a multiple use recreation area. The road is heavily used by hikers, dog walkers, sledders and occasional snowshoers and skiers, while it remains open to motor vehicle use. It averages between 200 and 400 users on bluebird days and over 100 dogs, according to Armstrong.
“If you are using Smuggler Mountain Road it is going to be an interactive experience,” the statement says. “There are other people engaged in other recreational pursuits and this means sharing and staying aware.”
That means saying to the right of trail, listening to music on a lower volume and descending on sleds at a safe speed. Sledders should be in control and able to react to unpredictable dogs, who may feel threatened or surprised by a sled, the statement says.
A dog can be off leash on Smuggler as long as the owner has voice and sight control over the pet, Armstrong said.
Still, pet owners should know how their dog is going to react to something that they don’t know, whether that is a cyclist or a sledder, he said.
“The onus is on the owner, not on the dog,” Armstrong said.
Ultimately, everyone just needs to use the road responsibly, he said. In the meantime, the open space department is updating signs on the road and has rangers reaching out to people on the trail to make sure that happens, Armstrong said.
“If people are really seeking solitude, open space recommends they access the extensive woodland trails system above Smuggler observation platform,” reads the statement.