Preparing a Trail Base

Getting the Most Out of what Falls From the Sky

Ok, this is going to be the year that we turn this little trend around. This year we will get the snow we remember from seasons past. If you are involved in Nordic skiing, whether a skier or a trail groomer, you have to be an optimist if you are going to keep your sanity.

On the other hand… Who among us is willing to waste even a flake of snow, anymore? Here are some strategies that you can use to get the most out of whatever snow you are blessed with:

Prepare the best possible trail base with the resources you have. Start with the easy and obvious stuff – Mow and clear brush, rocks and stumps. When you get to the obstacles that pose a bigger challenge, step back and think before you bring in the dozer. Sometimes it is cheaper and much easier to cover the obstacle with something like wood chips. Sure it would be great to grade the whole trail and seed it in turf, but that may not be economically feasible. And sometimes, once you start to push the dirt around, it is hard to find a place to stop, and often, the grading presents an additional challenge of controlling erosion. If you have a supply of chips and an economical method of spreading them, consider it.

Also, think back to the times last year when the skiing was marginal. What areas melted out first? Can you do something to help shade them? Can you concentrate on smoothing out or covering those areas in wood chips first so if they do melt out, they don’t present such a problem for skiers and their skis?

Do you have areas where the wind always blows your base away? Consider a snow fence. Remember how they work: The area immediately down wind will have increased snow depth, so put your fence just upwind of the trail.

Pack that snow early and often! It is a complete fallacy that snow can be “saved” by leaving it alone. Your snow will always last longer if you compress it into a base. The very best way to pack early season snow is to roll it BEFORE grooming with a drag type implement. A roller will pack snow directly into the trail without displacing (plowing) any to the side. Your snowmobile is a roller, too – it is just a narrow one. You can do an acceptable job of pre-packing by running your snowmobile around without pulling anything.

Whether you use a conventional roller, or simply run around on the snowmobile, DO wait for enough snow so that you are not churning up dirt, leaves and other stuff into your snow. These foreign objects will simply absorb solar radiation later and melt snow faster.

So, if you use a roller, why even bother use a drag type implement like the Trail Tenderizer? Well, the main advantage of a roller, packing snow into the trail without displacing any to the side, is also ultimately a disadvantage. A roller does not level the trail at all. Every undulation remains when rolled. Eventually these build into dips and moguls that lower the quality of the trail. A drag type implement will knock off the high points and deposit snow in the low points. A roller is best used in conjunction with a finish tool like the Trail Tenderizer.

Get the most out of a storm. Many times a snowfall will be accompanied with wind. If you groom the snow as it is coming down, you will be less likely to lose the snow to the wind that often follows. If you are using a deep ribbed roller, you can even gain base this way, because the blowing snow will drift back into the grooved pattern left by the roller, leaving you with more snow on the trail than in the woods next to it.

Groom more often, but do it more efficiently. An example: A basic skating/classic trail needs to be about 10’ wide, minimum, for skaters and striders to co-exist. But let’s say that you have trails that you like to groom much wider. Consider grooming more frequently, but only to the 10’ width. BUT, ALTERNATE SIDES EACH TIME, so that you are maintaining a base across the full width of the trail. That way you will always have a freshly groomed trail to the minimum width, and the rest of the trail width will still be firm and skiable, giving skiers a place to go to get out of each other’s way when they need to. I believe that you will find most skiers would prefer this freshly groomed minimum width preferable to a wider trail that is groomed less often.