If you’re not a skier, you probably don’t understand why we get so upset when you go on groomed trails in your snowshoes, boots or running shoes. Maybe you’ve never experienced nicely made ski tracks that got tromped on.
Have you ever had your skate ski catch on a snowshoe divot just when you’ve got your glide going? I have!
Have you ever been going downhill fast only to catch an edge on chunks left by boots and snowshoes and fallen on the snow? I have!
Trails are groomed for skiers, not walkers, snowshoers, runners and dogs. Fat tire bikers are allowed only when the snow is firm enough so they don’t leave ruts. It takes time, money, and effort to groom trails.
Cort Hanson at Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Center told me several years ago that his grooming machine cost more than $130,000 and he has to hire two employees to do the grooming at $65 an hour. MWVSTF grooms for 3-4 hours a day, most days of the season.
Today, it’s even more costly and time-intensive to groom trails. Skiers, snowshoers and fat bikers are required to purchase a pass to use their trails. Those who pay for a pass should be able to expect well-groomed, smooth trails. It’s insensitive or uneducated for people to walk on them.
The same goes for winter hiking trails. If the snow is deep and soft, use snowshoes or skis. Bare booting these trails is not only dangerous for those who do it, but also for other users. Holes left in soft snow freeze up and make snowshoeing or skiing over them rough. Anyone who steps in them risks breaking a leg. When I see trails used by bare booters, I turn around and go elsewhere. It’s no fun snowshoeing where others have damaged the trail.
All I can figure is some people don’t know better or don’t care that their actions damage the trails for others. Hopefully, they’ll read this article and begin to understand.
With this week’s sunny, warm weather, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, snowmobilers, fat bikers, dog walkers, hikers and runners were hitting the trails to get exercise. Last week’s frozen, boilerplate snow softened up in the sun. Places where footprints or tire tracks had barely scratched the surface the week before now were pockmarked with deep shoeprints and tire grooves. My guess is the bare booters and fat bikers had no idea what their actions did to the trails. An inconsiderate or uninformed user wrecks trails for others.
A poster I saw recently gave some guidelines for when you should use snowshoes or stay off the trails with a fat bike. It was called, “Think before you sink.” It was used in Vermont by the Fellowship of the Wheels, a local mountain bike trail organization. It also appeared in Gorham on trails maintained by the Coos Cycling Club. The poster advises trail users to “Stop!” if their tire or foot was sinking more than an inch deep on a groomed surface, and, either, use snowshoes or lower their tire pressure. The message was to “respect those behind you.” In other words, pay attention to the impact your actions, feet and tires have on the trail that others will use. Don’t wreck it!
During the warm weather, I also came across quotes from various trail network managers, advising people to stay off soft trails. In February, when we had warm temperatures and soft snow, this was posted by Fellowship of the Wheel: “With these warm temps you may be tempted to dust off your mountain bike, but please resist the urge to ride any trails. We are fortunate to have volunteers who spend many hours each week grooming for fatbiking/skiing/snowshoeing. Using the trails when it's warm out (above 32 degrees) will negate all of their hard work when more wintry temps return. Thank you for respecting the trails and your fellow users.”
Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Center listed guidelines for trail use in their brochure. They ask that people “do not walk on trails” and that there be “no pets on trails,” except in Whitaker Woods where they’re allowed.
Fatbikes are allowed only in Whitaker Woods, under the following conditions: Access is dependent on trail conditions — check daily snow report. Snow bikes only. Tires wider than 3.7" and pressure less than 10 psi. Bikes yield to all other users. Stay on the right of the trail, off tracks and please give skaters wide berth. Stay off trails with more than 3" of new snow. If you leave a rut deeper than 1", having trouble with straight line riding, or pushing your bike ... please stop riding. Stay on trails designated for fat tire biking.
MWVSTF advises fatbikers to: “Please be a good trail citizen. If the conditions cause you to leave ruts that will impact future health of the trail system, leave the trail. Don't just keep riding because you can.”
At Jackson Ski Touring Foundation Executive Director Ellen Chandler posted on her Feb. 27 trail report: “Please do not walk on ski trails; and if you see others walking on ski trails please help us out by explaining why this is not allowed. Walking on ski trails causes permanent snow damage when the colder temperatures return.”
On groomed trails, even permitted trail users need to be aware of their impact. Another trail manager stated, “Snow-shoes are always welcome, but please keep to one side and preserve the groomed surface for skiers. This is especially important with the difficult snow conditions we're currently experiencing. Bare boots and fat bikes are only appropriate when the surface is completely firm.”
On some groomed trail systems, snowshoers are asked to stay off the groomed surface and make tracks of their own beside the groomed ones. Snowshoes leave “divots” in the snow that freeze up and trip skiers either skating or coming downhill. I’ve had both experiences and they ruined the skiing for me and made it unsafe. The beauty of snowshoes is you can make your own tracks and don’t need to have trails “groomed” for you. Be adventurous, make your own.
There is no easy solution to the trail wrecking problem. Post-holers, bare booters, divot makers and tire rutters may never read the advice in brochures and trail reports or see signs posted about trail use etiquette. The best we can do when encountering someone wrecking the trail is to have a “friendly” conversation with them about the damage they’re doing. Tell them how it affects other trail users.
Make suggestions about where they can walk or ride to do the least damage. That’s about all we can do — be tolerant and educate. Ask them to be mindful and respectful of other trail users and the effort it takes to make trails, groomed or not. Ask them to be trail conservers, not trail wreckers.
Spring snow conditions are here — go out and enjoy the trails and the sunshine.
Great Glen Trails Bill Koch League Kids’ Ski Program — Sundays, 1:30- 3:30 p.m.
Great Glen Trails Nordic, Snowshoe and Fatbike Meisters Race Series — Tuesdays, through March 10, skiers 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., snowshoers at 1 p.m. and fatbikes after 3:30 p.m.
Jackson Ski Touring Sliders and Gliders Social Ski —Fridays through March 27, 1-3 p.m.
Jackson Ski Touring Toddlers and Tots Program: Tuesdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
Jackson XC Nordic Speed Camp: Tuesday, March 3, 3:30-4:30 p.m., grades 2 and up, timed course.
Bretton Woods Mount Washington Cup 10K freestyle race on March 7, and Bretton Woods Nordic Marathon 42K classic race on March 8.
Great Glen Trails Ski, Shoe and Fatbike to the Clouds 10K, March 8.
Jackson Ski Touring’s Long Trail Loppet Freestyle Race on the Hall, Ellis and Kellogg Trails, March 14.
Great Glen Trails Winter Charity Day, March 14, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., make a $25 donation per person to your favorite charity and ski and tube free. Buffet lunch included.
Sally McMurdo is currently a cross-country ski instructor at Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. For almost four decades, she has explored New England’s groomed and ungroomed trails on all kinds of skis.