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XC Groomed Trails

How are Cross Country Ski Trails Groomed?


An Introduction to Nordic Ski Trail Grooming


It’s easy to take those fresh, pristine cross country ski groomers for granted, but a lot of good old fashioned elbow grease goes into preparing a cross country ski trail before it is ski-ready. By the time you’ve strapped on your skis and hit the trail, days of planning and work have gone into getting that picturesque winter trail perfected. Whether you’re gearing up to groom a trail for the first time or are just curious as to the process behind the piste, read on to see how your favorite winter trails are groomed.


Why Do Ski Trails Need to be Groomed, Anyway?


If you’re a beginner to cross country skiing, you may be asking why it is necessary to spend the time, energy and money to prepare a trail. Without a well-groomed, densely-packed trail to ski on, cross-country skiing becomes significantly more dangerous and exhausting. Most cross-country skis are not made to handle the deep powder typically found in the backcountry, and without proper packing and leveling of snow, skiers are much more likely to go down and hurt themselves. Track setting is also important so skiers can glide on their skis easier, reducing fatigue and improving posture and mechanics.


Waiting on the Weather


Grooming and track setting requires specialized equipment and techniques that adapt to the condition of the snow. Groomers must adapt such equipment to the condition of the snow—crystal structure, temperature, degree of compaction, moisture content, etc. Depending on the initial condition of the snow, grooming may achieve an increase in density for new-fallen snow or a decrease in density for icy or compacted snow. So, when is the perfect time to get after it? The ideal day to groom looks something like this: a temperature between 25 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit with it dropping to the teens come night time, and one foot of snow on the ground. If the weather is warmer, then the snow will be easier to pack during the day. When you’re all done, it’s best if it has time to freeze overnight so it can be rock solid the next day.


Doing the Groundwork


Before the snow even starts to fly, the trail must be cleared of any underbrush, trees or branches to allow for travel through the woods.This is an important step because any down logs or bushes will impact the smoothness of the trail, creating a trail that is potentially dangerous to ski on. The entire length of the trail must be traveled to ensure there will be no obstructions when you come through with your equipment.


Pack Mentality


Next up on the agenda is packing the snow. The goal of packing is to remove the air from fallen snow, creating a dense and supportive trail base. This also fills holes and divots that would compromise the trail’s structure and consistency. Normally, the process involves dragging packing implements behind a snow machine. Early in the season, however, low amounts of snow often require packing only with a snow machine; multiple passes will create a consistently dense base that will be wide-enough to accommodate ski tracks, and, eventually, bigger, more efficient packing implements.


Cross Country Ski Fun on Groomed Run


Welcome to the (Grooming) Machine


Once an adequate snowpack develops and starts to settle, most recreational areas or ski resorts use a grooming machine (one very similar to how they groom alpine ski runs) to compress the snowpack and smooth out the trail.


A grooming machine is a very large tractor type of vehicle with hefty, tank-like treads capable of moving quickly and efficiently on the snow, no matter how deep it is. Groomers pull a large rake-like trailer behind them, giving the trails that grooved corduroy look.


If you are interested in maintaining your own ski trails, there are a number of options available for the DIYer. Trailers or sleds are available to help smooth out the trail or cut grooves for your ski tracks, and can be pulled with a snow machine or a four-wheeler.


Setting the XC Tracks


After packing and levelling, the trail is now ready for the final step: setting tracks. Tracks are two grooves that allow your skis to glide easier through the snow. Tracks are about 6-7cm wide and about 20cm apart. Single tracks have two sets of tracks, where a double track has four sets of tracks, allowing you to ski next to a partner for company and conversation on the trail.


Ski tracks are created using a track setter, a contraption with weighted molds that you attach to and drag behind a snow mobile or your snow-traversing vehicle of choice. It is easiest to set tracks after a major snowfall, as it is easier to set tracks in fresh snow. Setting tracks on densely packed trails with little or no fresh snow is more difficult and may require extra weight on the track setter.


Now Get Out There!


While grooming a cross country ski trail is a lot of work, it’ll all be worth it when you’re enjoying those beautiful powder white days. Now that you know how cross country ski trails are built, get out there and enjoy them!


To find cross country ski trails near you – visit here


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