Winter trail-sharing etiquette?
February 15, 2014 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Cross-country skiing on trails also used by snowmobiles: Apart from common courtesy and common sense, is there any etiquette that I should be aware of?

I have an OK grip on cross-country skiing trail etiquette, but I am wondering specifically about sharing trails with snowmobiles.

Back-story: Last summer I did C25K and was enjoying running a few miles every couple of days, right up until the days got short and the cold settled in. I am so tired of being stuck indoors and sedentary during this long, cold, snowy winter that I've gotten my old cross-country skis out of the attic. It's been 20+ years since I did any skiing, probably closer to 25. I was basically an amateur; my parents set up the whole family with basic equipment and we did a few group lessons in the classic style. At the time we lived in a rural area with some logging roads in the woods behind our property, and I would go ski there by myself fairly regularly... once in a while there would be snowmobile tracks but I pretty much had the place to myself.

Now I am fortunate enough to have a huge trail network practically at my front door, but snowmobiles come and go on a regular basis. I wouldn't call it high-traffic, but it's enough that I'll always be listening extra-carefully for approaching engines in hopes of not getting run over. My natural inclination is to just get off the trail whenever I hear a snowmobile approaching, but after reading this and a sampling of online snowmobile forums I'm wondering if I'm just going to irk snowmobilers off no matter what; a common refrain is "I pay a state registration fee that goes towards trail grooming, why should I have to share the trail with slow people on skis and snowshoes who don't pay anything!"

The land in question is state-owned (Massachusetts) and as far as I can tell there are no posted restrictions on winter activities. Now that I think about it I realize that people may well ski in there all the time, but never having gone in during the winter I wouldn't know! I am probably over-thinking this, but it's one of those situations where I have so little knowledge of the culture of either activity that I wouldn't be surprised if there was some kind of "well of course everyone knows that person [X] has the right of way!" rule that I just don't know about. (For cross-country skiing alone, I know that people coming downhill get the right of way)

So... TL;DR: is there any kind of unofficial inter-sport winter trail code of etiquette that I should be aware of, beyond "stay out of the path of the high-speed 500 pound machines?"
posted by usonian to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If there are no restrictions, and both skiers and motorized vehicles are allowed, I see no safe/sensible option for you other than to either avoid those trails or, if you're certain that you'll always hear them coming, just step off the trail and let them go by. You are far more likely to be aware of them then they are to be aware of you, especially from around a curve or over the crest of a hill/rise. "Etiquette" is a useless term, it's like insisting that a pedestrian has right of way when crossing the street... Yep, maybe, but dead is dead.

Give them a wave and a smile, accumulate the Karma, and enjoy your time outside.
posted by HuronBob at 12:06 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

It might help to know what snowmobilers may be expecting? We have a pretty organized snowmobile group in Vermotn and they put out this little brochure: Winter Multiple Recreational Use on GMNF (pdf) that explains the general level of expectationsof snowmobilers.
posted by jessamyn at 12:10 PM on February 15, 2014

I concur with HuronBob, and would add that (unless things are done differently in Massachusetts than in Minnesota and Michigan's UP) you'd do well to assume that some of those snowmobilers have been hitting the bottle.
posted by mr. digits at 12:12 PM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

some of those snowmobilers have been hitting the bottle

Or are idiots! Now, of course, plenty of cross-country skiiers are idiots, too, but far less likely to mow somebody over in the course of their idiocy.

I think you would be wise to wear some bright clothing as well while sharing the trails with motorized vehicles -- a safety vest could go along way toward keeping you safe. Then, yeah, step off the trail if you hear them approaching. Wave and continue on, enjoying the sights and smells of nature...and exhaust fumes.
posted by amanda at 1:14 PM on February 15, 2014

Best answer: I ski on trails shared by snowmobiles. I just move over to the side. I don't know of any official or unofficial codes of etiquette and I've been nordic skiing for over 30 years.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 4:53 PM on February 15, 2014

Best answer: If you don't KNOW the specific trails you are using are multi-use trails you should find out. There is typically a complicated set of trail rules governing winter trails and God forbid a neophyte snowmobiles on a ski-only trail or vice versa. People will talk about The Time That Asshole left footprints on the fresh groom or skied the wrong way down a dogsled only track for years. Ask the park or local ski club for a map or a trail guide and then you should be good to go.

If they are multi-use then those exact same people are usually really good about sharing, and you are doing the right thing by moving to the side, also a nice friendly hello. Snowmobiles, skiers, dogs etc can all get along just fine when they have to!
posted by fshgrl at 5:46 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I purposefully avoided booze/idiot language in the question because I didn't want to potentially poison responses of the gate, but I will admit that it's an assumption that I tend to make about people on snowmobiles too. (Which is to say: I know that there are plenty of people who operate their snowmobiles safely and responsibly, but it's the drunken idiots who make the news by killing other people and/or themselves, so I'm going to err on the side of drunken idiot whenever I see one headed my way.)

The car/pedestrian analogy is good; to be clear, I would always wear something bright and never not get out of the way if I heard a snowmobile approaching. I guess what I was wondering is whether my very presence is going to be antagonistic ("The Time That Asshole was skiing," period) but given that I've seen our neighbors occasionally mushing their huskies too, I think it's mostly me beanplating.
posted by usonian at 6:06 AM on February 16, 2014

If it's a multi use trail you have as much right to be there as they do.
posted by fshgrl at 10:44 AM on February 16, 2014

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