XC Skiers And Snowshoers And Winter Trails In The Snow

XC Skiers And Snowshoers And Winter Trails In The Snow

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Snowshoe Etiquette And Cross Country Ski Glide

big views for xc skiers on the passskier's FYI for the pass

XC skiers and snowshoers have a lot in common. They both love to be out in the winter backcountry enjoying the solitude, and quiet, and the scenery, and how invigorating it is to be out in the snow and cold on a winter’s day.

The thing they don’t have in common is the tracks they leave behind in fresh snow. Take a look at the photo above. Here is a rare instance where the two tracks are parallel to one another. This is the correct way backcountry xc tracks and snowshoe tracks should coexist. One on each side of the other.

All too often when a XC skier is out there first and breaking a first tracks trail – snowshoers, looking to get into the backcountry follow the path of least resistance and snowshoe right over the xc skier’s tracks. Easy for the snowshoer but not so good for the skier…

The point is skiers really enjoy a smooth ski track vs. the cattawapus up and down undulations of a snowshoer’s track. When a few skiers pack in their trail the track is smooth and easy gliding and the skier can put together a nice rhythm of kicking and gliding. A pounded snowshoe trail can be skied but it isn’t nearly as nice feeling with the ups and downs and ridges and divots.

Snowshoe etiquette states that a snowshoer, seeing a cross country skier’s track in the snow, should break their own snowshoe trail just parallel to the skier’s track thus preserving a nice experience for the skier.

The converse can be true too. In the case of the XC skier following a snowshoer – the skier should break trail for the next skier to follow. Think of it! Perfect tracks for each backcountry user to follow and everyone has a great experience.

Of course this doesn’t happen too often. With the increased popularity of snowshoeing it is more common to see only snowshoe tracks. Where do you think the skier’s tracks are? Um, oh, yeah, trampled in the snow. Most likely, new to the activity, many snowshoers just aren’t aware and so here I write and I’m not out skiing or snowshoeing (I really like to do both).

Thanks for listening and have fun out there!

Photos: (Top)The view from the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass looking at the Flat Tops Wilderness on the horizon.
(Bottom) The backcountry sign at the West Summit. Line 3 reads “Skiers and Snowshoers should create parallel tracks.”


  • Debbie Seidman says:

    Thank you so much for posting this about different ski and snowshoe tracks. Is there some way I can assist with this education? I live in Ft. Collins and have skied Cameron Pass for years. The west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone both have signs that are more apparent and seem to help.

    • Murray Selleck says:

      Hi Debbie,
      On Rabbit Ears Pass the trailhead signs say to create parallel xc and snowshoe tracks but really it just the luck of the day whether that happens or not. Most folks don’t read the signs at the trailhead. I think our local Routt National Forest Service knows separate snowshoe trails need to be created but that might a ways off before that happens. Talking with your local National Forest office can start the process and patience is needed. The Forest Service can be slow to react even if they want to act quick (ie: studies and public comment). And through a local retailer you might contact some of the bigger snowshoe manufacturers like Atlas or Tubbs… they may be able to help with trail signs. I know Atlas did this quite a few years ago. Your local retailers might post some FYI signs near the snowshoes they sell to educate snowshoers. Baby steps. Good luck and happy skiing! Murray

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