Snowmobiles and Skiers

By Ed Klim
Executive Director,
International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association

Snowmobilers, unlike most Americans, look forward to the cold snowy days of winter and cherish the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors when the temperature hovers near the zero-degree mark. National studies conducted by the Recreation Roundtable reveal the majority of Americans don’t look forward to outdoor winter recreation, and yet here snowmobilers cherish the idea of a winter that starts in mid-November and lasts through much of April.

There are many examples of snowmobile clubs and councils working together with cross country skiers in developing trails and improving trail management. The most visible example of this coalition format can be seen at the Vail Pass Trailhead area near Vail, Colorado. This trailhead was the scene of considerable conflict between cross country skiers and snowmobilers who were forced to use the same trail when leaving and entering the trailhead parking area. Following many meetings, agreement was reached to develop two separate trails leaving the trailhead area and establishing specific parking areas for snowmobile trailers and their tow vehicles. The formal meetings of the two groups were well managed and it was quickly understood that the majority of the problem occurred when non-educated tourists came to the area to enjoy the trails and didn’t realize or understand the trail separation. This lack of knowledge and improper signing allowed their own prejudice to interfere with the enjoyment of everyone else. The groups got together and installed proper, easy to read signs, printed trail maps and, most importantly, in working together they discovered that they had a lot more in common than they thought. Similar examples of individuals sitting down and working out issues can be found throughout North America; but the simple fact remains that snowmobilers, cross country skiers and snowshoers all enjoy the beautiful winter outdoors, but in a different way. In support of diversity and in understanding individual likes and dislikes, it’s the American way to embrace these differences and work together for the common objective of enjoying the great winter outdoors.

Snowmobile enthusiasts have a proud history of working closely with state and local governments and managers of state and national forests in developing snowmobile trails for winter use and
in promoting and protecting the forests for year around use by a myriad of recreation enthusiasts. Snowmobilers work closely with Department of Natural Resource offices in the development and maintenance of trailheads that are used by snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers
in winter.

Snowmobilers are always eager to share their winter recreation of choice and openly and actively participate in planning meetings for trail expansion and coordination with other recreation activities. Snowmobile clubs and their associations can readily be contacted in any snowbelt state in the country and representatives from those clubs are always available to meet and discuss issues with other concerned citizens. We encourage interested
individuals to visit our web site at, which provides information on the snowmobile community and has links to the state and provincial associations across the snowbelt.

By Roger Lohr

All winter trail users have the right to enjoy their chosen outdoor recreational experiences and their commonality is that they do not want their rights restricted in any way. In the winter, trail encounters between snowmobilers and other trail users must be expected. When these encounters inevitably occur, people should respect each other’s love of the outdoors and be considerate. That’s not a rule, an enforceable law, or a line in a list of codified responsibility dogma. It is the way to live.

While the vast majority of encounters between different winter trail users on the snow such as dog sledders, snowshoers, snowmobilers and cross country skiers are friendly and respectful, there are some conflicts that occur and some resentments that do exist.

Factors that may contribute to a problem on shared trails include trail user speed, sight distances, size of the group, overtaking one another silently or without warning, user skill and experience and user expectations and preparedness. Add to that people’s different values and priorities and their tolerance for others’ lifestyle choices and it’s no wonder that you have a recipe for possible conflict.

In the Other Person’s Shoes

The most obvious way to prevent conflicts on the trails and promote safety for those who share the trails is to learn and understand each other’s perspectives. For example, many cross country skiers and snowshoers are not aware that snowmobilers must pay a state registration fee, which is allocated to trail grooming. Snowmobilers have worked hard to secure landowners’ permission to develop and use their networks of trails. If cross country skiers do not want to mix with other trail users they have the option of skiing at “skier-only” commercial ski centers that groom specifically for skiing, where snowmobilers are not allowed. And there are state and national park areas that restrict snowmobiling too.

But snowmobilers may not realize the deep-rooted resentments that many skinny skiers have for the motorized trail users. Some skiers and snowshoers regard their solitude in nature as holy. They may feel that mechanized trail use is inappropriate and are angered by the inefficient two-cycle engine noise and exhaust. Snowshoers and cross country skiers lifestyle perspectives may prevent them from ever being aware of the sheer joy a youngster experiences when (s)he rides a snowmobile for the first time. Certainly, there is enough room and plenty of miles of trails so that all trail users can be satisfied.

Mutual Understanding

Snowmobilers and other trails users can facilitate mutual understanding through the process of communicating and collaborating. The Lyme-Pinnacle Snowmobile Club in the western central part of New Hampshire has discovered some success in sharing the trails. While it is unusual, the club membership is comprised of one-third cross country skiers. They regularly share the trails and pitch in and help maintain the trails in the off-season, too. And there is more than one report of a lost cross country skier or snowshoer, who was glad to see a snowmobiler who provided safe transport back to the trailhead. Perhaps it’s time trail users get into each other’s shoes and try each other’s activity. Work on joint projects such as trail maintenance, repairing a warming hut, deciding where routes are successful and where they are problematic.

There may be a code, trail etiquette, or laws of the land for snowmobilers and other trail users when they come upon each other, but what really matters is that people just use common sense. Snowmobilers should be prepared for anything when approaching a blind curve, which suggests slowing down, being aware and keeping the sled under control.

Upon hearing the approach of a snowmobile, cross country skiers or snowshoers should get off the trail in a place where they can be easily seen. They should give the snowmobiler room to pass, and be more wary if there are many people in either party. Skiers and snowshoers should also keep control of ski poles to avoid the sled as it goes by. Traditional yield rules and signage ask the machine operator to yield, but it is just much easier for the trail user on foot (or ski) to step off the trail.

People familiar with the trail sharing issue will often refer to the fact that there are very few problems on the trails. A common phrase is that problems occur with “less than one percent” of trail users. There is also concern about young people and others who might act recklessly or are using snowmobiles for the first time. Skiers who ski on the snowmobile trails but are not aware of the issues discussed in this article, are of particular concern too. We must try to reach all of these “one-percenters” to keep the trails safe for all to use.