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On proper winter sports etiquette

Winter sports enthusiasts were (likely) thrilled to see some snowfall in the area recently. I know I was.

It has been a relatively snow-free winter. Sure, the ground is still white, but that is because it has simply been too cold to melt the little snow we have gotten. Up until recently, we had not gotten much for fresh new snow.

That means some winter sports have been difficult. Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing have all been challenging. It takes fresh snow to maintain the trails for those types of activities. The trails get worn down and beat up when they are used frequently, and, with a season of not much snow, it leads to busy trails with lots of people in a short timeframe.

While it is great that so many people want to enjoy the outdoors even in the coldest months, it seems some have forgotten snow sports etiquette.

There is etiquette that applies to all snow sports, — like not trespassing — and other etiquette that relates to specific snow sports. One of the groups most frustrated with lack of respect for their recreation of choice is cross-country skiers. Cross-country skiing is different from other snow sports in that most people prefer to ski on groomed trails, which limits the available areas in which to ski.

Groomed trails are safer, not as hard on your equipment, and easier (although still a great workout).

The problem is there are many people who do not respect the groomed trails. Grooming is done by volunteers. It takes time, equipment, and money.

I spoke with Jeff Blumenthal from Thunder Bay Trails Association (he and Randy Fairbanks do most, if not all, of the grooming for Norway Ridge, Chippewa Hills, and the Alpena Golf Course — thank you!) to get an idea of just what is involved in grooming.

There is the equipment (a snowmobile, trailer, and grooming equipment), equipment maintenance, fuel, and volunteer time. The trails also need to be prepared/cleared properly. After the first snowfall of this season, which was a heavy snowfall that caused lots of damage, it took volunteers several weekends to clear the trails. Funding for the equipment comes from Trails Association memberships, grants, and donations — not tax dollars, as some may assume.

There are two results of grooming. First is two tracks that are about 20 centimeters apart, with each track approximately 6 or 7 centimeters wide. Those are the grooves that skis are placed into. The second result is a packed surface that looks like corrugated cardboard. That type of grooming is for skate-skiing and is often found next to the groomed tracks.

When you encounter an area that has been groomed, and you are not planning on skiing, the respectful thing to do is to stay clear of the tracks so you do not disturb them for people who want to use them. Do not walk or snowshoe on them, let your children or dog walk through them, pull a sled over them, or engage in any other action that will destroy them. When the grooming is destroyed, it makes it much more challenging, and therefore dangerous, for a skier. If you have never been on skis before, you may not realize how easy it is to slide sideways and lose your balance, and how much easier it is to ski when you keep your skis in those prepared grooves or on the groomed areas.

I went to Norway Ridge recently. It was great to see so many people hiking, sledding, walking, and skiing. The groomed ski tracks at Norway take up a portion of the trail, but there is plenty of other room to recreate without disturbing the groomed tracks. Yet so much of the trail was destroyed by footprints and sled marks. I want to think it is because people are not educated about the purpose of the tracks, how important they are to a skier enjoying their adventure, and how they are created. I hope the destruction is not because people are aware of the purpose and value of grooming and are choosing to destroy the tracks, anyway. People are not that awful, right?

As you enjoy the new snow we’ve been fortunate to receive recently — and into the future — please remember to be courteous and respectful of others and of the work that has been done so everyone can enjoy the outdoors. There is plenty of space for everyone to safely enjoy their recreational activity of choice without crushing someone else’s ability to do so.

Jackie Krawczak is president of Jackie Krawczak LLC. Her column runs every three weeks on Thursdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.

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