Sharing the trails with kindness, respect, and awareness is important year-round. But in some winter climates, snow adds another layer (both figuratively and literally) to trail etiquette. Your actions on snow matter to other trail users long after you’re gone. For instance, snowshoeing, running or fat biking directly on or across a machine set cross-country ski track destroys them, ruining the experience for the skiers and creating a potential danger. Likewise, fat biking on soft groomed surfaces leaving ruts deeper than 1 inch really bums out skate skiers. Too much air in fat bike tires can lead to rutting but sometimes the conditions are simply too soft for fat biking.
Winter trail users can exist harmoniously, and one form of recreation can actually help another. A snowmobile, for instance, packs down a winter trail and makes it possible for winter runners, fat bikers and skiers to avoid breaking trail for miles.
To keep winter trail experiences positive for all—both during interactions between user groups and regarding imprints left in snow—we recommend these general guidelines.
- Know and honor specific trail guidelines. Most snow trail systems have important educational signage, please read any signs you encounter. Typical topics include:
- Some winter trails allow one-way travel only, or might be closed to certain activities. Not every use is allowed everywhere.
- Some will be dog-friendly, while others will not.
- Wider groomed trails may ask certain users to stay far to one side or the other to preserve the machine groomed surface, which is crucial to the experience of some users, mainly cross-country skiers.
Check websites before heading out, and signage at trailheads, to make yourself aware. To be courteous of others, and of the trails, let’s all do our part and follow local guidelines.
- Avoid stepping on ski tracks. Ski tracks cut by grooming machines or by other skiers should be kept as pristine as possible for both the enjoyment and the safety of skiers. Snowshoers, hikers, fat bikers, motorized trail users, equestrians, and dogs should stay out of ski tracks, and take care to step over ski tracks when crossing trails.
- Respect machine groomed tracks and trails. To keep groomed trails created specifically for cross-country skiers—or packed down by snowmobiles—in good condition for all recreationalists, take care. Humans should attempt to maintain the integrity of corduroy while keeping our furry friends from churning it up. NOTE: It takes a few hours for freshly machine groomed trails to set up hard. Please avoid any use on freshly groomed trails, especially if they are soft and you are leaving marks deeper than 1 inch.
- Respect all trails, and each other. Fat bike tire pressure kept low (1-4 PSI for soft snow and 4-6 PSI for medium snow) leaves less depression on snowy trails of all sorts than high-pressure tires. (Aim for depressions of one inch or less.) All other trail users, please be respectful of keeping trail conditions as pristine as possible. Snow is fun, and everyone deserves to enjoy it.
- Be aware. Beanies, hoods, earbuds and snowy conditions can make it hard to hear, and sometimes, to see other trail users. Staying aware of your surroundings will keep you and others safe.
- Be kind year-round. Sharing the trails comes down to kindness, respect and patience between recreationalists of all kinds. Generally speaking, motorized trail users should yield to all others, and slow down when passing. All trail users should yield to equestrians, and bikes should yield to skiers and foot travelers. Use common sense and courtesy to keep trail interactions friendly and positive.
Other general resources we love:
From there, look to winter etiquette information laid out by the following great organizations (links below), which we’ve categorized by winter trail activities. Your local trail organization might be your very best resource for your area. A quick google search should bring you to any local winter trail organizations.
And lastly, let’s all do a snow dance!
Hiking, Trail Running and Snowshoeing
- Snow Trail Information from Snowshoe Magazine
- Snowshoeing Resources from American Trail Running Association (ATRA)
Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding
- Fat Biking Best Practices IMBA Canada
- Tips for Fat Biking Etiquette Fat Bike Planet
- Fat Biking Etiquette from Backcountry.com
- Tire Pressure Information