Stay Classy Out There with Winter Trail Etiquette
Winter is finally here! It took a shockingly long time, but now the trails are filled with snow and the great white awaits. Modes of travel vary greatly in winter and many of the traditions rules of thumb actually reverse in the snow months. Whether you are hiking in winter or in search of pow in the backcountry, keep it classy out there with this quick guide to winter trail etiquette.
Yield to Faster Traffic
On snowy trails always yield to downhill traffic. This is opposite of summer, where those in the throws of the uphill grind have the right of way. In winter, you have to contend with skiers, riders, and other modes of transport. For many of these sports, downhill stops are difficult and dangerous. Like that one time, I literally couldn’t get my splitboard to turn in the mushy snow. Luckily, no one was around for me to crash into, but there were plenty of trees and rocks to frustrate me. If you’re headed uphill keep an eye out for skiers, sleds, snowboarders, and bikes that may be moving quicker than you.
Don’t surprise the folks who kindly stop the flow of their uphill grind to let you fly past. Fast moving parties should holler the number of folks traveling with them as they pass, so those still cranking to make it up that hill know how many zippy skiers are coming their way.
Regardless if you are traveling up or downhill, never stop before a blind corner, such as a switchback or bend to avoid a potential collision. No one wants a yard sale on the trial or an insurance bill to follow.
Keep Fido Close
Since speeds vary on wintery trails, your dog could wander in harm’s way. As much as we love our fluffy friends, dogs don’t understand that they are in the way of downhill progress. Typically stop dead in their tracks, like a deer. Be sure to obey all leash laws, or, if the situation is dangerous, have your dog travel between members of your party. That way, someone can grab the pup in a jiffy if there’s a surprise.
If your dog decides to leave a dookie on the trial, clean it up. Burry the poopy problem off of the trail, deep in the snow, or pack it out in sensitive environments. If you can’t handle that, then consider leaving your dog at home. No one wants to see poop bags on the trail. Even if the intent is to pick it up on the way back, no one traveling your way while you’re out and about wants to see it. Tie it to your pack.
Some areas allow dogs to travel off leash if they are under voice command. If so, let Fido fly free! Just don’t let your dog chase wildlife. During the winter months, animals who don’t hibernate have to work hard to survive. It’s kind of like meeting a tough deadline. They are stressed out finding food anxiously awaiting spring similar to how you want a bad client with a tight deadline to just disappear. Allowing your dog to chase wildlife forces animals to spend precious energy that they need to flee from predators.
Keep in Your Lane
With crampons, microspikes, snowshoes, skis, sleds, and bikes all using the same space, trails can get a bit crowded. Respect each sport and try to stay in your lane. For example, if you see ski tracks and you’re on snowshoes, consider making a snowshoe path instead of running amuck on a nicely laid skin track. Alternatively, if you’re on skis, steer clear of the snowshoe track. This isn’t always possible, but on trails where there is a little bit of room, keep a respectful distance from one another so everyone can enjoy some nicely laid out trails.
Be Friendly and Respect Your Wild Spaces
I can spot someone new to the outdoors on a trail from afar. Why? They don’t say hello, or even look at you. Trail space is friendly space. Everyone is excited to be outside and we have built a community of folks who love, respect and care about one another. So don’t be shy, say hello! Or at least a smile and a nod. Ignoring someone on the trail is like calling your grandmom “a dude bro,” you just don’t do it.
Also, just because there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean Leave No Trace Principals go out the window. In fact, it’s a sensitive time for Mother Nature. Life in many of these places hangs on by a thread, so don’t trash it. Try not to scar the environment, and pick up after yourself.
For more on Leave No Trace in winter, check out an article I wrote for OutThere Colorado.
If you spot someone doing something harmful to the environment say something. Be that person! We all get upset when our favorite spots are trashed, so seek to educate instead of complaining.
Trail manners in the winter are important. Just like the seasons’ change, so do some of the tried and true rules. Keeping this winter travel tips in mind will not only help keep you safe, but you’ll be creating a better space for everyone. Happy Hiking!