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Winter Trail Etiquette: Cross Country Skiing

Making the Most of Time on the Trails

Our backyard of Park City is home to miles and miles of multi-use trails for winter pursuits. From fat biking to nordic skiing to snowshoeing, the Mountain Trails Foundation maintains trails in the Park City area to help us stay active all year. To help us all make the most of this winter, we talked with Lora Smith of MTF to learn more about winter trail etiquette and best practices for cross country skiing. Whether this is your first season on skinny skis or you’ve spent all summer yearning to return to snow, these tips will help you share the trail for a successful winter.

Recreate Responsibly

As with every activity this winter, there are a few extra steps to ensure you help folks in your community stay healthy in light of COVID19. Physical distancing and wearing a mask are your first steps to staying well. Especially at the trailhead, where you may be closer to another party, take care to cover your face and mouth as you gear up to ski. As you pass other skiers, it’s easy to pull your neck gaiter up over your nose for those few strides when distancing isn’t possible. See Recreate Responsibly’s website for more.

Mind The Tracks


When heading out to skate ski, make sure you’re sticking to the groomed trail and not skiing overtop of the classic ski tracks, if they are set. Classic tracks are more subject to conditions and snow depth than the main trail, so require extra attention.

Check Your Speed


Yes, there are Strava segments to chase. Like anywhere, make sure you check your speed around corners and especially coming into trail junctions. Other trail users will be going at a slower pace than you are on skis, so make sure to yield to them as you decide which direction to chase your PR. Skier speed is the greatest factor in winter trail incidents.

Right of Way


Most trails are multi-direction, so follow the same traffic pattern as roads: stay on the right side of the trail. Generally, yield to the person skiing uphill, as they will need more room to manuever, and the person skiing downhill can pop in the tracks or otherwise scoot by.

Practice 10 Seconds of Kindness


Slow down, let folks know you’re passing, smile (even under a mask!), say hello. It’s a simple way to make fellow trail users feel good as you cross paths.

Check the Trail Report


Most trail systems post daily (or close) updates of what trails have been groomed. Avoid skiing or snowshoeing on trails that have just been groomed, as it takes up to a few hours for the trail to set with that fresh corduroy.


Subscribe to updates via whichever method the trail managers use most frequently to stay up to date. Knowing what to expect when you arrive at the trailhead helps you plan your ski and also know when it may be a better day to hit the ski resort for some alpine. Mountain Trails, for example, updates both their social media and a whiteboard at the main trailhead, so we all know which trails are in prime conditions. 

Ruts Suck


If there is fresh soft snow, leave time for that to firm up rather than skiing in the fresh fall. Ruts or postholes create hazards for skiers and other trail users. Not only do they make skiing difficult, but they can also cause someone to lose balance or direction as they ski. Do your best to avoid soft terrain, either skiing early in the day when the trail is more frozen or waiting until the snow is more packed down over time.

Be Prepared


Particularly in a mountain environment, the weather can change quickly. Make sure you have appropriate layers for the conditions as well as food or water if you’ll be out longer than an hour or so. Also, make sure you understand the terrain you’re skiing in, whether predictable groomed trail or remote backcountry. If cross country skiing in avalanche terrain, such as skiing into a remote mountain hut, be familiar with avalanche risk and rescue

Keep an Eye on Your Dog


If you ski or skijor with your dog, make sure your pup is both comfortable and well-behaved enough to share the trail. While your dog may be a model canine in other settings, the potential distractions of skis and fat bikes require some extra training time. Keep your dog on-leash until you’re away from the trailhead, and then only take off the leash if your pup can be trusted to avoid distractions and not rush up to other trail users. If your pup is fond of finding sticks, toss those sticks off the trail when they lose interest. Brush and dark spots accelerate snow melting, which can make for a pot-holed main track. And, there is no poop fairy. Those little baggies create headaches and hazards for the trail groomers, who could run over and drag that doggie bag.

Leave No Trace


No matter what activity you are doing, it is important to always keep in mind the Leave No Trace 7 Principles. Regardless of whether you are exploring the backcountry or at an established cross country trail network, remember to always pick up trash, respect wildlife, stay on trail, and be considerate of others. Read more at LNT.org.