The Chainlink

Winter is Coming: Do you know your snow trail etiquette?

Winter is coming up fast and pretty soon there will be some heavy snow on the ground. I know that fat tire bikes are all the rage right now and I see more and more bikers getting out into the snow to bike in it on the back trails with mountain bikes, etc. 

I only recently became an avid biker this year, but I have cross country skied for many years. As a skier I have always tried to get out onto the trails as quickly as possible when fresh snow is down. Not only is skiing through a foot of powder the most fun, but getting on the trail before the joggers compress that beautiful powder to ice also makes it more enjoyable. 

That being said I always as a skier had a pet peeve with other trail users who come out and basically tramp all over the place and ruin the trail. It is inevitable with the use of the trail, but I think with a little cautioned use all users could extend the life of that trail use after a snow fall for as long as possible. I think it would be healthy to have a discussion on here about a little trail etiquette for bikers who want to bike on the snow covered trails. Many of you mountain bikers may be familiar with some of these ideas already, but I have my ideas of proper etiquette and I would love to hear what the rest of the community thinks and perhaps we can develop a sort of consensus on snow trail use.

  1. If a trail is groomed for XC skiers, don't ride over over the groomed rails. Almost all groomed trails will have the rails on the outer edge of the trail leaving 4+ feet of width in the center of the trail. Trails in the Chicago area are almost always marked at the head of the trail if they are groomed.
  2. Typically even on un-groomed trails XC skiers will stay to the outside of a trail and other skiers will follow the paths made. Again, try not to disturb these paths if possible. 
  3. Try to maintain a consistent path on the trail. Don't go fishtailing all over the surface. Disturb as little fresh snow as possible. Leave some powder for other users. 
  4. Trails are shared use. Use proper passing etiquette and control your speed. Chances are a biker is going to be the fastest user by far on any trail. Notify other users if you are passing them. And control your speed. Snow and ice are way different than a single track MTB trail and I have had more than one biker wipe out in front of me while skiing. Be aware that you will very often have walkers, people with snowshoes and people with dogs on the trail. Be aware of them.
  5. Keep it quiet. One of the most beautiful aspects of winter trails is the beauty and serenity of being in the middle of nowhere with the snow falling. I understand everyone wants to get their workout and have a good time, but most other trail users are out there for the silence of it. Try to keep  your tone respectable and don't go crashing through the trails.
  6. Once a trail has become compacted or iced, I feel bikers (and all users) can utilize the entire width of the trail as long as they respect other users while passing and being around them. 

Would love to hear other's thoughts.

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Well said.  I think this is an excellent set of suggestions.

I usually x-c ski in ungroomed areas. I appreciate it when folks don't mess up the trails I worked to make, and I try not to mess up others' trails.

Thanks for posting this. As a xc skier, this is very helpful and well said. 

So ... since we're on the subject, this will be my first winter as the owner of a fat bike. Where do people recommend going for some off road snow riding? Was thinking of checking out Palos. And equally important where do most cross country skiers go so that I can choose a better place. The only places in the city that I know of for cross country skiing are on the lakefront and Northerly Island. 

Come to think of it I'll be all over the Bloomingdale Trail once the snow hits! 

Folks do x-c skiing in parks and forest preserves all over. They don't have to be huge parks. When I lived in Rogers Park and I just wanted to do some quick laps, I'd go to Touhy Park for a while, or maybe go over to the lake at Loyola Park for a longer stretch. 

Palos Triangle may be closed during the winter, at least the single tracks. Their main path may be open. I would check out since they keep track and maintain the trials. 

I think just about any forest preserve trail or something with curshed limestone is fair game. Waterfall Glen is a nice spot. 

If you can head out to the Naperville area The Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve or the Green Valley Forest Preserve are both beautiful areas. Presumably all of the other major trails like the I&M canal, etc. would also be good after a fresh snow. 

I'm interested to see how Northerly Island turns out for skiing this year. I'm betting they plow the new path and there's not much else to use there. But then there are plenty of other parks and unlike the bike I generally have to drive somewhere to ski, anyway.


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