How Are Crosscountry Skiing Trails Groomed?

How Are Crosscountry Skiing Trails Groomed

With the increased awareness of the benefits of outdoor recreational activities, sports like crosscountry skiing have gained massive popularity across the globe. As a sport, crosscountry skiing has done its part in promoting the winter Olympics and bringing communities together.

Well, like any other recreational activity, it has its track requirements- you might never have heard of this but, the trails on which you ski or your favorite skier glides are pre-prepared by experts. Before the commencement of any sanctioned crosscountry skiing event, the trails must be groomed.

Trail grooming in crosscountry skiing is all about easing the road ahead for the skier by creating a clear pathway to guide them through and avert possible injury.

How Are Cross Country Skiing Trails Groomed?

How Are Cross Country Skiing Trails Groomed

Today, every daunting task is mechanized. This was not the case in earlier years as the machines we have at our disposal today were not available then. Trail grooming then was done by the first man on the trail. In simple terms, the first man to ski on a track left behind a trail which other skiers behind him followed to the end.

With the advent of mechanical technology and the adoption of crosscountry skiing as a mass sport, there was a need to develop easier ways to cut tracks through undisturbed snow. Today, snow grooming is done using snow tools for local tracks and large grooming machines for commercial tracks.

The most common snow tools are snowmobiles, they can be spotted on almost every domestic cross country ski trail- they are ideal for making short near-perfect lines. There are however other large snow trailing machines for grooming larger tracks, they can be as wide as 5m depending on the track requirements.

The art of grooming a cross country ski trail is a science on its own- it calls for hard work and an advanced level of understanding of the crosscountry skiing sport. We’ll take you through this “art” and unravel a few aspects you might want to learn.

Cross Country Skiing Trails

Cross Country Skiing Trails

If you are familiar with the sporting aspect of xc skiing then you know that there are two main types, classic skiing and skate. Skiing trails for the two skiing techniques are also groomed differently as they employ completely different propulsion tactics.

Classic crosscountry skiers glide on fairly unaltered but tracked snow terrain while their skating counterparts prefer smooth but firm surfaces, to enhance the skating facet.

The tracks can be in two forms; single or double. The former features two-set tracks while the latter has four sets.

Skaters have up to 4 m of space between them. This is very important; skate skiing with limited space can be dangerous for you and your fellow skiers especially if the terrain is steep.

Classic xc ski trails are different, the spacing is usually maintained at around 20 cm, which should be enough. The trail width can be anything between 6 cm and 7cm. Depending on the groomers’ judgment, the trail depth can be 2cm or deeper although not too deep- gliding on tracks deeper than 5 cm can be daunting.

These dimensions have been in use for decades and have been reviewed accordingly to ensure safety and convenience for the skiers.

The Cross country Ski Trail Grooming Process

The Cross country Ski Trail Grooming Process

The main reason behind ski trailing in cross country skiing is to improve safety and sportsmanship. For experienced crosscountry skiers, this might not be an issue but we ought to consider our novice partners on the track.

With well-maintained snow covered surface, even the newcomers can enjoy the cross country ski with ease and reduce the probability of injury. Aside from leveling the surface another important area in trail grooming is track setting. It improves stability among skiers, especially at high speeds.

Prior to grooming, there are several factors expert groomers take into account. They include;

  •         Crystal structure within the snow
  •         Temperature levels
  •         Compaction
  •         Moisture penetration

Reports indicate that the best grooming temperatures range from 25-30 degrees Fahrenheit although that’s just a report, individual experience with snow conditions can also be a guide.

Experts also advise that you groom at night and ensure that the snow depth is at least 1 ft.

Even with the adherence to expert guidelines, it goes without saying that ridding the track of any form of obstruction on the surface will go a long way in improving safety. Trees, shrubs, and logs can easily district or trip forward-focused skiers. If this happens on a downhill or with the skier at high speed, the results could be catastrophic.

The next stage in the trail grooming process is compaction. We do this to drive out any air particles within the snow structure un ungroomed trails. Air removal creates better bonds between snow particles and this in turn creates a denser trail that can support the skier’s weight without sinking. Inconsistent ski trails are the worst.

In the majority of tracks, groomers employ the snowmobile or snowcat although budgets dictate the choice of equipment. Snowcats are simply tractors with trail grooming attachments. The tractors come in different designs, some have the attachments on the front, others on the rear and the more advanced options have both front and rear attachments.

The attachments are nothing out of the ordinary. They feature compactors, tillers, a track setter, and maybe a powder maker- all designed to add consistency to fresh snow even in icy conditions.

Snowcats are strong and get the job done much faster but they attract a major drawback; costs. These tractors are anything but cheap, they are in fact expensive.

The average snow cat sells for $200,000 at the dealership, that’s the purchase cost, you’ve not factored in the running costs like fuel and the operator’s pay.

Snowmobiles are the cheaper option. They might come with lesser and not-so-strong attachments but in local or domestic trails, they’ll serve just fine.

Snow farming is another although less-heard-of snow trail maintenance method. It is mainly employed by snow groomers to counteract snow structure disintegration. The next time you come across Snow farming will also help when you want to create cache sites on a snow track. For snow preservation in the wet areas, you can use hay bales.

Each attachment in the snowcat serves a specific purpose. The front blades serve as snow movers, the tillers work to break down ice blocks, and finally, the snow rollers pack up the snow. The snow rollers’ role is crucial in preventing ice from melting after grooming.

Another thing, you might be working on the snow quite well only to realize that the more you drive over the terrain, the more your machine’s tracks ruin the completed work. This rarely happens though because most snowcats have an auto-filling feature for that. Check for this feature in the snowcat before signing that cheque.

The insights above are useful and all but they only work in ready-to-groom snow conditions- new snow calls for more skill. There are instances when the temperatures fall so low that the snow hardens- you can’t groom ice. In this case, you will need a separate machine; an ice breaker that will turn the blocks into little bits of groomable ice.

A final tip; sharp turns on the groomed trails especially at downhills are dangerous. Most groomers forget this, mainly because most corners appear just after steep hills.

If the corner cannot be avoided, you can create a step switch track. This is a trail where the skier can shift from their trail and into another without tripping over.

Important Aspects To Consider When Grooming A Cross Country Ski Trail

Important Aspects To Consider When Grooming A Cross Country Ski Trail

Being both an art and a science, trail grooming can be daunting and frustrating for inexperienced groomers-here, skills are key. Even with the skills, there are a few factors you ought to put into consideration to improve your snow grooming results.


One of the most useful tricks to this art is knowing the best time to lay the ski tracks. Just after the storms die down can be a good time. You’d also want to hit the ground before the skiers do.

That icy layer that forms over the snow terrain just before the sun rises will only frustrate your efforts, let the warm temperature deal with it first unless you have an ice breaker.

Slushy snow is the best for laying ski tracks. When the whole thing freezes, the tracks appear perfectly although things don’t always go according to plan.

With the timing point stressed, however, not everyone is ok with holding their xc skiing plans until the time is right. If the snow is icy, you can always get a snow groomer with an icebreaker feature- with the right tools, nothing is impossible.

Ice is not the only handle you can get out of the way- if you can plow any drift off the track the skiers will have a much nicer experience.

Poor Workmanship

As we stated above, sharp corners are the easiest way to mess up a good trail grooming job- gentle curves serve better. Sometimes, even the most experienced cross country skiers have trouble navigating sharp corners.

If the switch track proves too hard to construct, you can make the corners wide so they’ll have time to adjust to the sudden change in direction.

How Should A Proper Cross Country Ski Trails Be?

How Should A Proper Cross Country Ski Trails Be

Xc ski trails should be debris-free and smooth enough for easy gliding. The curves should be wide, especially at the end of downhills, or have proper switch tracks to enhance performance.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

Cross country skiing might be all about skill and endurance but the track on which you glide has a substantial bearing on your performance. The trail grooming process might be far from easy but the results are in every way worth it.

The tools and equipment employed in cross country trail grooming include the snowcat and snowmobile. The former is expensive- we leave that for the commercial while the latter, well, that’s affordable- it serves local tracks quite well.

The article above is a detailed guide to cross country trail grooming. With these insights, you will have yourself a smooth, stable, and safe cross country ski track. You can use the knowledge to groom your parking lot as well.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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