Snowshoers have their own dedicated trail to the top of Elk pass, yet they choose to use the ski trail, which lessens the enjoyment and can even create dangerous conditions for skiers. We’ve received some insightful comments on the issue which are posted below.
It would be great to hear from some snowshoers who could give us some insight into this phenomenon.
I’ve come to the conclusion that snowshoers would use the snowshoe trail if we started skiing on it. I think Alf has a good point when he asks, “nobody has packed down the snowshoe trail and actual snowshoeing is too much work?”
If I was a snowshoer, I’d have mixed emotions about being on a ski trail. I’d see all those skiers having way more fun, and I’d be very envious. I might be willing to put up with the sideways glances from skiers, however, because of the ease of walking on those nice tracks.
Peter Haase(on facebook):
Over the past five years or so there has been an explosion in the numbers of snowshoers out in the Rockies. I’m not against snowshoes, I have a pair and use them when ski conditions are poor. My complaint is that when I first learned to cross country ski about 40 years ago, the instructor gave us tips on the ethics of skiing, such as the down hill skier has the right of way etc. But today most snowshoers plunk down there $100 at MEC, Canadian Tire or 10 bucks at the rental shop and off they go. They are not skiers, because if there were, they would realize how boring snowshoeing is in comparison to skiing. The problem is that many are using the traditional ski trails as winter trails. Parks are trying to discourage snowshoers from using trackset trails, but are deeming the skier set trails as multiuser. Here in lies the conflict, soon after a group of snowshoers use a ski trail it become difficult or dangerous to ski on. Case in point, last winter I suffered a knee injury skiing out of Boom Lake on a frozen set of Snowshoe tracks. A couple of weeks ago I skied Redearth Creek and a trio of snowshoers marched three abreast up the trail including on the trackset. The snow was still soft, so it was less pleasurable and not yet dangerous. I think that the time has come when skiers need to write the parks to demand that the traditional ski trails be declared off limits to snowshoers. There are lots of trails that are completely unsuitable to ski, but would be great on snowshoes.
Alf Skrastins(comment on this blog):
I took a photo of the official Elk Pass Snowshoe trail from Elk Pass. There is not a single snowshoe print along the entire length of the “hydro-line” section. Why is that? Why do the hordes of snowshoers insist on stomping right up the ski trail instead? Is it because none of the junction trail maps show any snowshoe trails? Is it because the snowshoe trail is sometimes on the ski trail and sometimes not… without any signage to explain the difference? Is it because the Hydroline portion of the Elk Pass Snowshoe trail is mind-numbingly boring and tedious? Or is it because nobody has packed down the snowshoe trail and actual snowshoeing is too much work?
At the north Elk Pass-Hydro Line junction, a little girl pointed at the snowshoe trail coming out of the woods from Fox Creek and asked her mother “where does that trail go?” Her mom said “that’s not a real trail, it’s just something that snowshoers broke on their own”. There is no signage around to dispute that observation.
It can’t be because it is boring or unscenic. Hydroline is open and exposed and offers magnificent scenery. The photo on my blog header was taken on Hydroline.
It’s important to note that the people destroying groomed ski trails are not “snowshoers”, but rather inconsiderate/uneducated/possible idiots who just happen to be on snowshoes. The distinction is quite important! As skiers you’re confined to groomed trails and so you’re missing the 95% of people on snowshoes who prefer virgin snow, solitude, and getting up high; the small minority you meet on the ski trails don’t even come close to representing the activity. Every activity has its turkeys!
I’m not about to judge the folks on snowshoes. I am just trying to understand why most of those on snowshoes who are going to Elk Pass are using the groomed ski trail and none appear to be using the official, designated snowshoe that ends at the same place.
I haven’t been there, but my guess would be that it is a combination of better views, a packed trail, and the appearance that everyone else (or at least the majority) are going that way. For many inexperienced people taking the most used trail (packed, crowded) is usually a good (safe) idea.
Signage would most certainly help and perhaps more snowshoe trails, or perhaps even some sort of map that showed avalanche-safe, but off-trail, areas to snowshoe in the park. Years ago I snowshoed right up the middle of the Evan Thomas ski trail because heck, why not? Once I found out why not I never did it again! Signs could have prevented the first occurrence though.
Margot has explained exactly why they would stay on Elk Pass in her post below. They are required to use a groomed ski trail as there is no separate snow shoe trail in that area, and they probably consider that it is safer and easier to use Elk Pass rather than Hydroline.
There is a dedicated snowshoe trail upon reaching the top of the Hydroline Hill. Skiers and snowshoers share the same trail for about 200 metres. -Bob
I agree that it is only 200 meters, but that 200 meters is one of the steepest trails in the area. I believe that I saw it referred to as the “Drop of Doom” on the Hydroline video. As Margot says, this is a major disincentive for more novice snowshoers to follow the snowshoe trail and that fact that many skiers are barely in control on this descent doesn’t help.
I am a keen cross-country skier and snowshoer who goes to Peter Lougheed Park most weeks in the winter. I have spoken with many snowshoers and done a little myself in the Elk Pass region. Most snowshoers/ walkers are quite careful to avoid the track setting. Some people snowshoe on the Elk Pass trail because they are going to the Elk Lakes cabin and it is a shorter route. Others think it dangerous going up the first part of Hydroline as barely-in-control skiers come down and therefore take the more obvious and less steep route. The snowshoe trail puts people onto the main ski trail going down the big hill north of Fox Creek trail junction. It is easy to just stay on the ski trail. This year the snow cover in the trees is poor anyways. For me snowshoeing is most enjoyable when you are going through relatively unpacked snow. Otherwise you might as well put on some yaktracks, walk in your shoes and go faster.
I think the real solution is for parks to make a snowshoe trail that does not go on the ski trail and make some new snowshoe trails in the area.
I noticed that from looking at the Trail map. If I was snow shoeing I would definitely not feel safe going up that hill on Hydroline. I think that it is probably safer for everyone if the snow shoers to stay on Elk Pass.
You’re probably correct about the solution being a new trail, but I suspect that that would cost money that Parks don’t currently have.
I’m the organizer of Calgary Hiking and Scrambling Meetup. This issue was brought to my attention by another member of meetup. It is very unfortunate that this happened and I’m very sorry that the group led by one of the organizers of this group did not stay away from the ski tracks. I have sent a message regarding this to the person who organized this event. I have also made it clear not to follow (or use and destroy) any ski trails in the future, and about doing proper research prior to the trip.
However, as this is a volunteer run group, I usually don’t monitor other events, and I haven’t heard from the organizer of this event yet. So, I’m not really sure what exactly happened that day. My apologies again. Thanks,
Thank you for looking into it. We’d be interested in knowing what happened.
Nothing really. The guy who led the hike never responded to my message and stopped organizing hikes for the group.
As an experienced snowshoer, it disappoints me a great deal to see designated snowshoe trails go unused and making a mess of groomed xc ski trails in the meantime. It has been a few years since I have snowshoed Elk Pass. For one, it isn’t uncommon for me to travel 25 to 30km a day in snowshoes which is a lot of trips on the same trails in that area. Also, I respect the space of skiers, leaving parking lots and trail junctions for them to enjoy. So I go to different areas. Sawmill to Chester Lake/Elephant Rocks and return is a favourite 25km but I haven’t been there since the flood. What I can tell you from my experiences and judging by the tracks. Most people opt for easy short loops. Rules me out as I like the longer technical trails but I have other places to go. Signage at trail junctions seems adequate for me. Areas like WBC and Sandy Mcnabb have color cided trails on their signs and I will assume PLPP and the rest of K country is tge same. Heck when I was hiking to Tombstone Lake in October some of the signage was updated. So I don’t know if it is ignorance, laziness, or the quickest way to a viewpoint. Hydroline is nice if you like looking at the power line in your mountain view.Having people walk/snowshoe on groomed trails is also a huge safety hazard for all parties especially downhill. Common sense by those not on skis needs to prevail. Those that snowshoe on groomed trails are missing the whole point of the sport. Groomed trails are for skiers. Leave it at that way. The money and man hours involved to groom and trackset a trail adds up. Maybe an educational video could be posted on line or brochures at trail junctions be available showing the work involved in getting a trail prepped for skiing and what could happen if nonskiers wreck the grooming/tracksetting. Costs money I know, but would it be any more than having to regroom and set the trail. Just an idea. There is always going to be people that think the rules don’t apply to them. Enforcement and fines would help. Funding would need to be allocated for such a project.
Cris did correctly identify the culprits in the pictures, they have posted lots of pictures of themselves in action destroying the groomed ski trails, no club member has posted that their pictures being on skierbob.ca in the event comments for some reason. As someone whom enjoys both I have consideration for both activities. Have spent the past two winters in Nova Scotia, same mentality here, am in a ski club and the club grooms trails in a provincial park which attracts people whom decide to snowshoe and walk on the groomed trails. Due to the fact it is “public property” we are unable to do anything when people have the nerve to destroy the groomed ski trials.
That’s not quite true. You’re not allowed to snowshoe or walk on the groomed ski trails at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Also public property, a Provincial Park no less just like PLPP.
I think the big difference at the Nordic Centre is that skiers are paying for exclusive access and grooming. In the other Parks, skiers are paying exactly the same amount of money as other trail users (hikers, snowshoers, fat bikers, etc). If you don’t like sharing the trails, simply go to the Nordic Centre (where the grooming is also generally much better).
I absolutely agree that other users shouldn’t damage the ski tracks, but it seems that some people want other users banned completely which doesn’t seem reasonable to me. I always find chatting to other users to be a great part of any trip, as it is always interesting to get their perspective on the day.
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There is definitely room for better signage. I would be willing to bet that almost all of the snowshoers on the trackset had no idea that there was a dedicated snowshoe trail.
Great comments on our multi use trails. All very frustrating for everyone and it will not get better with the increasing use. In bend they have more people and great trails for hiking, biking , etc. They have those little vertical sticker signs showing; no horses on bike trails which work great down there. For snow shoe people here (and we do both), the snow shoe trails need to be set up better with more signage. They also need to be redesigned so the snowshoe trails are not going straight up the hills which is way to hard for most. I agree this is probably the main reason they end up on the less step cross country trails. Ditto for back country skiers also, what a way to ruin a good xc ski track.
What a hoot. The snowshoers don’t want to break trail because the new snowshoes do not allow them to stay above the snow. There was a time when SKIERS did not have track-set trails and had to break trail with every snowfall. They used (wait for it): wide-long skis. Herein lies the answer to the snowshoers dilemma. If you want to break trail you need a larger snowshoe. However, I can see how snowshoers may balk at this: why do skiers get nice groomed and trackset trails and the snowshoers, not? The answer seems to be answered already with those close to the upper echelons of the outdoor world perhaps planning to give greater service to the snowshoers. People should remember that in the end we are ALL out there for a couple of hours of fresh air.
The new-style of snowshoes do not stop you from sinking down as far as the old style. If there is nothing packed then snowshoers will end up hitting as far down as their legs will go. (this is from experience) That being said snowshoers need to realize that staying of the actual track part of the ski trail is the proper thing to do. I really don’t mind if they want to walk the edge of the trail but if that is where they are they should be single file and over. There is nothing worse than coming down a hill with speed and running into a pack of snow shoers Or Skiers who have decided to move three wide across the track.
I was skiing up Elk Pass last “winter” and passed the snowshoe trail. “Why would anybody want to follow THAT” I thought. Not so long later, I read the post Tony is referring to on his blog. What do you know, the whole thing goes under the silly powerline. How dull. Couldn’t they have made a nice signed trail up the long meadow of Fox Creek? No? Surprise surprise, the snowshoers find their way onto the ski trail and wreck the tracks, and the corduroy. They must feel jealous, stomping along when all the skiers are zipping and gliding along.
I thought snowshoes are so that you don’t sink in the snow and can walk through deep snow with impunity. Not for tramping up hard packed trails that you could much more easily walk up. But people wear them anyway. Why is this? Couldn’t they have snowshoed right up the middle of Fox Creek’s meadow? Wouldn’t that be more fun?
A few years ago, I was going to snowshoe up to Chester Lake but abandoned the snowshoes upon finding that the trail was very hard packed. I walked up the whole way no problem. It was the same thing in the High Noon Hills a month ago: almost no snow, but snowshoe tracks.
I think there needs to be rules, not just encouragements, and enforcement to keep the snowshoers from ruining the machine-set ski trails. Grooming ski trails requires big, expensive machines, much man-hours, and therefore government (in the case of PLPP) or donor money. You would never see snowshoers demolishing ski trails at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
As an aside, these people would be better off reading Andrew Nugara’s snowshoe guidebooks. They are full of trails suitable for snowshoe but not ski.
Agree, lots of options in that book. One year at Chester it was the ultimate snowshoe paradise, just depends I guess.
Seeing as Bob’s site is for skiing, we could have some fun here (sorry for those of you who do both sports).
There could be contest for wording on a snowshoer’s sweatshirt, like;
“My other set are Fischer RCS Classics”
“3 points for going under every hydro pole”
“No minimum speed limit”
“Did you just pass me for a third time?”
A couple of other thoughts on Elk Pass/Hydroline Snowshoe Trail.
Hydroline can be an enjoyable trail for skiers, when it is nicely track set and fast. Double poling or skating (where there is just corduroy) at 30 kph is fun and it’s also over with pretty quickly. However, trudging slowly uphill in a dead-straight direction, into the wind along a never ending power line is BORING! There is no reason why the Elk Pass snowshoe trail couldn’t use some of the nearby existing old roads or weave in and out of the forest, in order to break up the monotony.
The Elk Lakes Provincial Park cabin in BC is one of the features that attracts snowshoers (and Alpine Touring skiers) up to Elk Pass. Often, they are loaded down with heavy packs or pulling sleds or chariots. Given the option of trudging up an unpacked, tedious snowshoe trail or walking up the nice, smooth grooming of the Elk Pass ski trail, I can understand why someone would choose to wreck the ski trail.
There’s also no way for snowshoers to make even a partial loop out of an Elk Pass outing, without using a ski trail.
Sorry Bob, the Hydorline section of the snowshoe trail is as Alf put it ” mind-numbingly boring and tedious” when you’re on snowshoes, especially in poor weather.
The root of the problem is that most snowshoe trails in K Country are an afterthought. Someone said we need more snowshoe trails—lets dream some up. Certainly in PLPP there appears to have been no planning and certainly no consultation with the outdoor community in spite the fact that Alf, Gill and others sit on the Trail User Group committee and are very cognizant of the needs of snowshoers.
As we suggested in a blog http://kananaskisblog.com/snowshoe-elk-pass/2015/ a much better route for snowshoers would be to either make a trail through open trees and meadows east of Hydroline to Elk Pass at the power line, or find a route to the west of Fox Creek ski trail that would end up at West Elk Pass.
Calgary Hiking and Scrambling Club from Meetup had a snowshoe trip on Elk Pass on Saturday.
I see they have a map of the PLPP snowshoe trails posted on the Trip Notice. It clearly shows the snowshoe trail heading up Hydroline. I tried to contact the organizer, but it won’t let me send her a message. It would be enlightening if the organizer could give us some insight into what transpired. When they reached the Hydroline junction, a choice was made to take the ski trail. Was it due to poor signage at the junction? http://www.albertaparks.ca/media/3815840/peter_lougheed_pp_-_snowshoetrails.pdf
I was one of the first to take up snowshoeing, and there was no such thing as a snowshoe trail back then. We went wherever we wanted (that wasn’t avalanche terrain), breaking our own trail (it was helpful to have a 20-year old guy with limitless energy along!). We got a heck of a workout in an hour or two, because snowshoes don’t actually “float” on the snow! Sometimes we didn’t cover much ground, but it felt more like play than skiing did, because we could go anywhere, jump off logs, and slide down small hills on the tails of our snowshoes. Snowshoeing these days, as most people practice it, is a completely different sport, and I tend to agree with Alf that many snowshoers don’t want a real workout–I’m less ambitious myself these days.
I skied at Lake Louise yesterday for the first time in a couple of seasons and was impressed with the number of portable signs installed in the middle of the path as it leaves each trailhead, particularly near the lakeshore parking lot. These signs need to be removed and replaced every time the trails are trackset, but they seemed pretty effective.
And as Peter says, there are plenty of trails that are not skier-friendly that could be designated as snowshoe trails.
I enjoy both skiing and snowshoeing. It drives me bonkers when hikers and snowshoers walk right on top of the groomed tracks. I don’t know why they do it, but I can tell you as one who gets lost quite easily, the more signs the better for me. Even when I look on a trail map, I can manage to miss a turn-off and find myself on the wrong trail. Signs are good.
I also may be different from other snowshoers in that my ideal snowshoe trail still has fresh snow on it and has not yet been packed down. It’s more enjoyable that way.
It doesn’t make sense to me to make a trail multi-use if you’re going to go to the trouble to groom ski tracks on it. People will think if they have the right to be there, then they have the right to walk side by side and use ALL the trail. (I think it’s inconsiderate, but can kind of see the rationale.)
I headed out from Okotoks early and enjoyed skiing a bit ” ahead of the pack” a nice 25k loop up WhiskyJack-Terwhitt-BB Hill(side trio for POW) then on to Elk-FoxCr-Moraine. SkiIng was fantastic with beautiful cream on groomed track much of way through the high country. Finishing with a fun and very fast Fox Cr. ducking trough the woods. About “others” enjoying the trails: I don’t get there often but was displeased to see the afore mentioned snow shoe prints on groomed & track. Given explosion of users, I’ll opine Parks NEEDS to double down on more prominent colour-coded signage with dare I suggest, dedicated staging areas. And I mean REALY BIG kiosk/billboard signs and frequent “dinner plates” enroute. There will always be those that flaunt or ignore but can’t see status quo working for skiers going forward. PLPP will see increasing user conflicts in future …especially when droves of fat bike users ALSO start rolling in. Ski-on!