Choose Your Own Adventure With Aspen Trail Finder
All Preston Files wanted was a quick way to learn more about all the trails in the Roaring Fork Valley. Was that too much to ask?
Apparently, it was. When Files moved to Basalt from Texas about seven years ago, no such comprehensive online tool existed. So, he invented his own: AspenTrailFinder.com.
“Like other transplants around here, I moved to this area because I love the outdoors,” Files says. “As soon as I got here I wanted to know more about how I could get out and discover what trails the area had to offer. Sure, I could have just bought a book, but a book wouldn’t necessarily help me find something really fast or even up-to-date. So, basically, I created Aspen Trail Finder because it was something I wanted to be able to use myself.”
Nowadays, the rest of us can also benefit from his vision and hard work. Anyone—local resident, weekender, tourist, or far-away trip planner—can use the wealth of information available on the website free of charge. Or, for a mere two bucks, the new Aspen Trail Finder smartphone app can be downloaded and utilized for handheld quick-reference on the go.
Files says that Aspen Trail Finder is, for him, a labor of love that combines his interest in local trails with his professional skill set. Files manages Aspen Trail Finder, soup to nuts, as a sort of multifaceted one-man show. When not managing the site or exploring nature in his free time, he works as a web developer and graphic designer.
“I’m not some big corporation with a huge Aspen Trail Finder team. It’s just me,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean users are only going to find my thoughts or opinions on the site—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’ve built it so that it functions as a community tool where anyone can comment on a particular hike, or add information about trail conditions or difficulty. That’s the real power behind it: collective knowledge.”
Files admits that he isn’t into the typical Top Ten lists that litter social media and Colorado travel websites, and that he almost always hesitates to offer direct trail recommendations to strangers. Why? Because he believes that the definition of adventure is different for everyone.
“You could take the exact same trail, and one person would say it’s too easy while another person considers it a real challenge,” he says. “So I feel that it’s important to provide information about all the options, so that people can make those decisions for themselves.”
Users will note on the website that Files has specifically steered away from giving his own definitive answers for just this reason, and instead leans on that collective user knowledge by offering “Most Popular” and “Highest Rated” trail lists for each major area of the valley. Other tools available to users include a customizable search, online maps for both summer and winter trails, an area for conditions reporting with weather forecasts and road closures, and a guide to local parks. For those who love a good surprise, there’s even a fun “Random Trail” button. And once trail-seekers have finally finished their searches and chosen their routes, printable maps are available for use along several of the valley’s largest trail systems.
Files says that in the two and a half years since Aspen Trail Finder went live, the response has been immense. As webmaster, he has tracked the site’s progress and pulled together some impressive numbers on how it’s being used.
“It has just sort of blown up, and I have no idea where the end is,” Files says. “I can see how people are using it, how much, and when. About a third of them are local, a third are from the Denver area, and another third are people from all over the U.S. who are probably planning trips here.”
With so much data available, Aspen Trail Finder has also become an attractive advertising tool for certain brands hoping to reach a targeted audience. At this point the sky seems to be the limit, but Files asserts that his ultimate goal will always be to provide a reliable tool that inspires others to discover the great natural wonderland that is the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I’m always trying to find a way to get outside,” he says. “And my hope is that Aspen Trail Finder will encourage other people to get outside, too.”