Winter Trail Etiquette

- February 13, 2012

"Please be courteous on your outing so that other folks can best enjoy theirs"

I've laid aside my snowshoes and driven north for the day to find some quiet time and deeper snow for my cross-country skis.  A pretty meadow off a forest road beckons, untracked except by one coyote's trail, and I clip on my skis for a sunny tour.  The snow is light but deep, with a faint crust about a foot beneath the surface.  Each sliding footfall sinks in and I work a bit to circumnavigate the meadow, pausing occasionally to catch breath and admire the sparkling scenery. 

In about 40 minutes I have returned to my starting point in an arcing loop probably a half-mile long.  My trail is a slightly wandering curve of two parallel ski prints.  Into those tracks I go again and my second loop takes half as long as the trail has already been "broken" for my skis.  By the third navigation, I am enjoying the kick and glide of a well-set ski trail.

Around Santa Fe, more and more folks are taking up winter snow hiking and we share many trails for snowshoeing, hiking with YakTrax/microspikes and cross-country skiing.  In the spirit of togetherness, I offer a few observations.

Unlike the summer, when everyone's footwear is pretty similar, the tracks left in snowpack by the various winter users are rather different and do affect visitors who come afterwards.  Nobody likes a trail which has been "post-holed".  If you are on a previously packed trail which has softened and you are sinking in over your ankles--please stop!  Your holes will remain for several snowfalls and make it less enjoyable for all others who come after you whether they ski, hike or snowshoe.

On trails designed and mechanically groomed for both skiers and snowshoers, a set of parallel tracks is laid for skiers and a separate, wider lane (called "corduroy") is set aside for snowshoers.  Why?  Because skis are long and narrow and their sliding motion requires a smooth track.  Snowshoes do not slide and result in individual prints. They also require a wider track.

Santa Fe has one designated skiing-only trail, the Norski Trail up near Ski Santa Fe, which was originally built and maintained by the Norski de Santa Fe nordic ski club.  It is open for use in winter to skiers only please, no snowshoers, hikers or dogs (which leave their own skier hazards).  There are also separate groomed ski/snowshoe trails off Pajarito Ski area near Los Alamos and in the Valles Caldera National Preserve as well.

If you are on a trail or road like Aspen Vista Road which is not formally groomed but wide enough to allow a track for snowshoers/hikers and a ski track, then please keep to your track, especially if you are fortunate enough to be out after a good fresh snowfall.  Yes, it may be tempting to us to snowshoe over a ski track because it is easier than breaking a fresh trail alongside, but why are you out if you're not willing to do that?  Go with a friend and take turns.  Ditto for skiers.

I love my snowshoes--they let me go places and see things that I couldn't do without them.  But I love my skis, too, and the smooth glide through a quiet meadow that I can enjoy on a good track.  Please be courteous on your outing so that other folks can best enjoy theirs.