8.5 Routine Cross-Country Ski Trail Maintenance

General Notes

  • Design the trails keeping in mind the type of grooming equipment that will be used. Narrow bridges, deep depressions, unsafe ice over water, and steep hills may hinder or prevent the use some types of equipment.

  • Carry out pre-season maintenance prior to the first snow. Remove windfall and undertake any tread repair maintenance as outlined in the summer trail maintenance guidelines. Remove large rocks, twigs and branches at ground level so that protruding material will not injure falling skiers. Mowed trails hold more snow than unmowed trails.

  • Ski season maintenance focuses on the snow cover. For more detailed information on snow packing, tracksetting and snow grooming procedures consult the Cross-country and Ski Touring Development Guidelines - B.C. Parks Branch.

  • Set new tracks after a heavy snowfall. Light snowfalls will not obliterate the old track. The simplest way to reset a trail is to ski it. A good track provides a smooth level base that is sound and continuous, and is 2 to 5 cm deep.

  • Use a track vehicle in high use areas to compact new snow and set tracks. Compaction helps to extend the use season since compacted snow is slower to melt in the spring thaw. If tracks become badly iced from frozen rain or freeze-thaw cycles, a track cutter helps improve them.

  • Prohibit ATV and snowmobile use on ski trails. ATVs and snowmobiles obliterate ski tracks, create "moguls" that are difficult to ski across, roughen the trail surface, and cause trails to become overly compacted and icy. Walkers and snowshoe users also break up parallel ski grooves. If walkers or snowshoe users are expected on ski trails, place signs to remind them to stay to the side of the ski tracks.
Groom to Standards
  • Check the trail conditions after every snowfall.

  • Trail grooming and packing depends on the type of trail. It includes packing and/or setting newly fallen snow and renovating poor trail conditions, such as hard pack and ice. The amount of grooming increases with the number of skiers using the trails. After considerable use, trails become hard packed and often rutted when wet snow freezes. This makes control difficult and skiing tedious, especially on hills.

  • Track setting means preparing a set or sets of two ski tracks, according standards shown in Figure 11.
Figure 11: Track-setting Specifications
  • Packing a trail with a snowmobile is easy, but there are a few tricks to producing the desired smooth trail. Pack at a slow speed since snowmobiles lose directional control as speed increases. Second, pack in several passes. Start by packing the extreme side of the trail and work towards the opposite side with each pass. Packing an entire trail width once is usually adequate. If heavy new snow means it must be done again to insure a firm surface, wait until the entire width of the trail has been done once, then start again. Use any type of snowmobile for packing. Heavier machines set a firmer base.

  • Keep the machine flat at all times or the treads will angle into the snow and leave a ditch which must be filled in before it freezes into place. On traverses, pack flat by angling the machine into the hill: stand with both feet on the uphill side of the snowmobile and lean uphill. This creates a flat trail shelf. On extra steep hills, it's sometime necessary to shovel snow to the low side of traverses to build the trail up and make it flat. Do this before packing.

  • Know when to pack. For instance, avoid packing wet snow if the temperature is expected to drop below freezing, because an unskiable frozen surface will result. When left alone, the wet snow will dry out with the drop to below freezing temperatures, resulting in loose granular, almost powder like snow. Groom the improved snow after the freeze. Packing may be necessary several times during a heavy snow storm; otherwise too much snow will accumulate and you will not be able to keep the snowmobile flat. Keep the machine flat while packing deep snow by travelling at a low speed and a constant shifting of body weight. It's easier to begin packing after 15 cm of snow have fallen, and repeat each time that much snow accumulates.

  • Set tracks on packed trails when there is adequate snow cover to drag a track sled without having to worry about hitting stumps or rocks under the snow. Most track sleds work in the same manner. There are two 5 cm wide cutting blades set 15 cm apart which are mounted to a sled and pulled through the snow. The upper section of the blade is one inch wider than the lower section to allow for passage of the binding and ski boot. These blades carve two tracks through the snow about two to three inches deep. Track sleds must be heavy enough allow the cutting blades to dig into the packed snow surface. Ensure that track sleds have enough lateral stability so that they set straight tracks. This is especially important when going downhill.

  • Before setting tracks, choose a route that will avoid going over the same set of tracks twice. Parallel sets of tracks are useful wherever the trail is wide enough. On hills where skiers are likely to snowplow to maintain control, keep the track as far to the side as safely possible. Otherwise, it will be eradicated after two or three skiers snowplow over it. Set two tracks on hills, one for going up and one for coming down.

  • On trails wide enough for skating technique, set the track to one side to allow a clear packed path for skating.

  • Set tracks with enough room on both sides for poling without hitting brush or trees, or interfering with other skiers. This is especially important for races. Set tracks at a low enough speed that the tracks are deep enough and do not fill in with snow thrown back by the sled. On downhill runs, travel slowly to prevent snow from coming off the sled and rolling into and filling the tracks. Do not set tracks on steep hills on touring trails if they will present control problems for skiers descending.

  • Increase machine speed going uphill to keep the snowmobile from bogging down. If the machine does bog down, it will dig a hole which must be filled before the track can be reset from the bottom. If possible, set tracks going down the steeper hills to avoid the problem.

  • When tracks have been skied out or become iced, and when trails are packed hard or snow has melted and refrozen solid, control of skis is difficult and it's time to groom again. With proper grooming equipment, such trails can be good to excellent again without additional snow.
Use the B.C. Parks Standard Maintenance Guidelines

Type I and II Trails (Racing and cross-country skiing trails)


  • Pack the total width of the trails after the first snowfall, or after an accumulation of 15 cm of the first snowfall.

  • Repeat packing when necessary to provide a solid base, and at least after every 15 cm of snowfall.
Grooming and Conditioning
  • Create a smooth, level trail bed that is firm enough to support skiers and their poling action and at the same time have enough loose snow to enable a track to be set into it.

  • Pay special attention to renovation of the tracks whenever icy conditions are encountered.
  • Provide a level, smooth, hard base, with a sound, continuous track with hard sides and no sharp kinks. Set tracks 2-5 cm deep.

  • Avoid setting tracks on sharp curves requiring step turns to negotiate, on steep downhills where snowplowing is required for control, or on steep uphills requiring a herringbone technique.
Type III Trails (Packed Trails)


  • Use a snow machine to drive over the snow after at least 15 cm of new snowfall.

  • Vary the frequency of packing depending on trail use, but aim for one packing pass after every 15 cm of new snow.
Annual Maintenance
  • Conduct annual trail maintenance as required.
2 to 3 Year Maintenance Cycle
  • Improve and regrade problem areas over the entire length of the trail system. Assume costs ranging between 6-10% of the initial cost of construction. Maintenance tasks will include:
  • - rebuilding ditches and shoulders,
    - repositioning culverts,
    - repairing or maintaining signs,
    - resurfacing or regrading trail sections,
    - repairing or maintaining bridges and other structures, eg. painting, or replacing parts,
    - removing brush.

5 to 10 Year Maintenance Cycle
  • Anticipate major trail upgrading, alterations or facility replacement. Assume costs between 15 and 30% of the cost of initial construction. Maintenance will include:
  • - rebuilding, rerouting or upgrading trails,
    - repairing or replacing bridges and structures,
    - replacing signs.

Be Aware of Race Standards

This is a summary guideline of Canadian Ski Association Rules and Regulations for park managers. Consult the most recent manuals for full details on race preparation.

  • Lay out the cross country course to be a technical, tactical and physical test of the racers' qualifications. The degrees of difficulty should be in accordance with the level of the competition. Lay out the course as naturally as possible, varying the prescribed differences in height, climbs, flat and downhill sections to avoid any monotony. When possible, lay out the course through woodland. Avoid locating the most strenuous climbs on the first two or three kilometers, and avoid long downhill runs during the last kilometers.

  • Avoid breaking the skiing rhythm with too sudden or sharp changes of direction or by steep climbs, which force the competitors to herringbone. Lay out the downhill sections so that they can be negotiated without danger, especially on a particular fast or icy track. Locate changes of direction before, rather than at the end of downhill sections and icy bends. Avoid sharp angles and narrow passages.

  • Use a mechanical track setter for national sanctioned and F.I.S. meets. i.e. Canadian Senior and North American Championships.

  • Ensure the width of the trail is no less than 3 meters so that mechanical preparation is facilitated.

  • If two tracks are set for classic style events, they should be at least 1.2 meters apart, measured to the middle of each track.
Use Standard Course Lengths:
Veteran men:
Junior Men:
Junior Boys:
Junior Ladies
30 50
The maximum distance for our younger classes are:
Consider Height Difference

The difference in height between the lowest and highest points of the course may not exceed:


15 & above
The difference in height of any single climb, without a break of at least 200 m., the so-called "maximum climb" must not exceed:
Junior girls & ladies


The total climb should not exceed:
Ladies & Juniors
Men & Juniors
150 - 200
250 - 300
250 - 400
300 - 450
450 - 600
750 -1000
1000 - 1500
10 & 15
Prepare the Course

  • Prepare the trails before the winter so that later they can be raced without danger even with very little snow. Remove stones, trunks, roots, brush-wood and similar obstacles.

  • Trails must be wide enough for skis and poles on the same level, but must also allow unhindered overtaking. The course must be wide enough for double tracks, and if mechanical track-makers are used in winter, there must be enough room to operate them. If heavy machines are used, they must keep to the original conformation of the track and not drive straight over all obstacles.

  • Use a group of forerunners to ski the tracks in at least 1 hour before the start.

  • Where changes in direction occur, stop mechanical track-making to allow racer's skating tracks to develop on the turns. On downhills at sharp directional changes do not set a track in order to allow the skiers to use alpine turning technique on the smooth trail surface.
Mark the Course
  • Mark the course so that the competitor is never in doubt where the track goes. This is especially important in downhills and in turns. The competitor, on reaching one marker, should be able to see the next. In crossing fields or open stretches, insert frequent branches, sticks or stakes with bunting along the trail. Use wooden pegs or coloured strips or flags made of paper or cloth as route markings.

  • Attach route markers to sticks, trees or branches at eye height or below. The marking should be done in the direction in which the race will be run. Where there may be reasonable doubt as to direction of course, marked with clearly visible arrows. Post special sign boards indicating the length of course (i.e. 15 km. or 50 km.).

  • Mark in the following colours (or combinations in relay races):
  • Ladies:
    5 km blue
    10 km violet
    20 km other
    3-4 x 5 km red/blue
    15 km red
    30 km yellow
    50 km orange
    3-4 x 10 km green/yellow
    15 km nordic combined green
  • Place kilometer signs marking every completed 5 km., and mark the last 5 km. of the race every kilometer. i.e. for a 30 km. race, signs would read from start to finish.... START, 25 km, 20 km, 15 km., 10 km., 5km., 4km., 3km., 2km., 1km., FINISH
Measure the Course

Measure the course using tape or line or a wheel with an odometer.

  • Include a course profile showing the topography of the course in the bid sent to the National Office prior to the race and made available to the competitors at the meet site.

  • Adapt profiles off large scale topographic map or determine with survey instruments such as altimeters or levels.
Inspect the Course
  • Give competitors an opportunity to inspect and practise on the course. Provide maps and profiles.

  • National Championships courses shall be marked and ready for practising 3 days prior to the day of the race. Only in exceptional circumstances may the Jury close or limit it to certain sections or hours. If closed, another course must be open for training. Competitors are to be requested to ski in the direction of the race while on inspection tour.

  • All Cross Country Championship events, Junior and Senior as well as all Nationally sanctioned events requested must be approved and inspected with respect to facilities and organization by an appointed Technical Delegate.
Provide Refreshments During the Race.
  • Place a refreshment station on all courses up to 15 kms. at the finish; on longer courses food stations should be available to the competitors at a minimum of 5 km intervals and a maximum of 7 km intervals.

  • Provide warm drinks at a temperature of (70-80F). On no account should any alcoholic beverage be provided.
Prepare a Ski Trail Map


  • a map of the trail, with an inset map which provides regional location,
  • identification of all access points and orientation points to the trail,
  • trail classification and its designed purpose or activity, for example touring or crosscountry skiing,
  • the trail difficulty rating,
  • the trail length in kilometres and/or time required to complete a circuit,
  • the location of all potential hazards as well as points of interest along the route,
  • address to write for further information on trails in the vicinity.