Snowshoer wants advice

Hi Bob,

I am an avid hiker, backpacker, scrambler, and in the winter, snowshoer.  Very rarely do I find myself near a groomed cross-country ski trail – I prefer solitude and forging my own route – but occasionally I find myself wanting/needing to follow a groomed track.  (For example, this winter I’m looking into snowshoeing to the Kananaskis Fire Lookout, which seems to have a ski track heading to it from Boulton Creek).

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about what is courteous and what isn’t when it comes to skiers and snowshoers sharing the trail, and as I’m not interested in being one of the guys that messes up the ski trails for everyone else I was hoping you could provide some level of clarification on the matter.  (Not sure if it’s of interest, but I also thought it might make a useful blog post on your site too – there’s certainly enough misunderstanding out there to need clearing up!  Photo aids would be a big help as snowshoers, or at least me, are quite clueless when it comes to groomed tracks and skiing!).

Thanks for any clarification you can give!



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  1. As an ardent xc skier, bc skier ,and snow shoer here is what I have noted over the years.
    If there is no trail set don’t worry.Set a new one.
    Try to avoid groomed xc trails at all costs.
    If you do have to go on a groomed track, always stay in single file, and as far to the right side as possible .Watch out for xc skiers at all times.
    If you are on a back country terrain trail,and it is narrow ,following
    the up track may work.Do not trample on any new snow that is available. Stay out of the fall zone and middle of the trails.
    Be prepared for skiers to be annoyed when they see you.
    Always stay in single file and save the snow as much as possible for people that enjoy turns in the new snow. Don’t be a powder hog .
    Stay in single file at all times on the descent to the far side of the trails.
    If there is a designated snow shoe trail be sure to utilize it.

    Be courteous and acknowledge that there are other trail users .
    No trail, make your own through the brush. That’s what snow shoes are for ,and it is a lot more fun than following a super highway

  2. Please refrain from snowshoeing on ski trails. Even snowshoeing (walking, etc.) off-the-track on groomed ski trails can damage them (they are both used for skiing), never mind snowshoeing in the track. And snowshoeing on wide groomed ski trails isn’t nearly as fun as a narrow trail through the woods, anyway.
    I suggest you also try cross-country skiing. It’s a lot of fun.

  3. Matt, On your way to Lookout, if there’s a good supportive mid-pack and you’d like some off-trail too, you could try heading about halfway up Packers then make your way over to Whiskey Jack by connecting a couple of long meadows.

  4. Quoted from the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park snowshoeing brochure:

    “Snowshoeing and hiking on designated ski trails is dangerous for all users and ruins the groomed trails. To reduce conflict on these trails, snowshoers should only explore the designated snowshoe trails….”

    Although….as the route to the fire lookout from Boulton hasn’t been groomed yet and skiers will be sparse, especially given the frigid weather, maybe now is your time to go for it. I would still suggest making your track along the margin, and being alert for descending skiers.
    This would NOT be a good plan once the ski trails are groomed and xc ski season is really underway in PLPP.

    • The etiquette is that you should not tread on the tracks (the grooves that the skiers’ ski follow) or damage them in any other way (such as letting a dog walk on them), however that is about it as far as I know. Obviously you should always smile and say “Hello” to people as well. The only exception that I know of is at the Canmore Nordic Centre which has some pretty strict rules about where you can and can’t go, which I hope you would consider to be reasonable given the fact that the skiers have to pay to use the trails and the snow shoers don’t.

      K-Country is has a wealth of confusing, misleading and contradictory information about winter activities and what is permitted where. In part this is due to the fact that some parts are Provincial Parks and some are not, which means that they fall under a variety of jurisdictions. Steve’s comment shows this perfectly, I’m sure his quote is correct, but if you look at the Alberta Parks web page for the Elk Pass snow shoe trail, you will see that there are stretches of this is are on groomed ski trails, including the extremely steep section of the Hydroline Trail. I would assume that if it is considered safe for this section to be shared between skiers and snowshoers, then the majority of other trails would be as well.

      Personally I’m alway pleased to see other people out on the trails whether they are skiing, hiking, fat biking, dog walking, so long as they are having a great time.

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