An Ode to Switchbacks

I love a good curve! Be it on a trail or road, there are few things so beautiful as a well laid out turn. But not just any turn, it must meet criteria. It needs to be more than 90 degrees, ideally even more than 110. And it needs defining, with clean borders. What it turns around is equally important, a well placed tree, rock, or maybe it just frames something distant, and beautiful. The pavement or trail surface must be smooth and in contrast to the outside. Ideally it is a banked turn and with an ever so slight change in pitch to what comes before and after. Finally, and this is a key point, the entire radius must be clean and visible, this so you may see where you’ve been and where you’re going.

They’re not for everyone. One must be a cyclist, trail runner, hiker or even backcountry skier who appreciates a good skin track. I am all of these.

But what is it we love about these switchbacks?

For me, it is the change of energy from what direction to another. Change feels good.

We must slow down for them and make good decisions in anticipation of the changes, then accelerate away and head for the next. You must appreciate where you are, but also where you are going.

They’re visually beautiful as they let us rise to great heights, or play with gravity as we descend back to reality. They allow us to overcome obstacles and demonstrate what man is capable of building, and where he intends to go.

The tighter together they are, the more the change flows, transfer from one to the next is stimulating and aesthetic. The trained body takes just reward by the feelings of shifting this way or that to compensate for momentum. They’re a drug, the faster we go, be it up or down, the better they feel. They test our nerves.

For them, we are always seeking to improve. We stare at them and dream. They forever inspire us to grow and we reflect on how well we’re doing based on how we perform, on a switchback.



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