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Trail Maintenance


All trails require some work to keep them in a safe and usable condition. The information below includes only a few of the basic guidelines you need to know. If you have never done trail maintenance work, we encourage you to participate in a work party or join a club before heading out on your own so that you can learn from more experienced people.

As always get the landowners' or land managers' permission before working on a trail. State or federal lands are included here; get permission before doing any work. Nothing will sour a person's perspective of a trail faster than having no knowledge of work being done on their property. If the trail is legitimate, they can inform you as to who put it in and who is supposed to be taking care of it.

Cut high and wide.

Maintenance on ski trails is primarily keeping brush and low branches trimmed back from the trail. Few people do ski trail maintenance in the winter months. It is usually done in the fall when leaves have fallen and the weather is still enjoyable. Because of this many people fail to trim brush high enough. Remember that you may be on two to three feet of snow, and even more in the North Country. Snow loading can also cause branches and brush that normally are not a problem, especially evergreens, to droop into the trail.

Cut low and close.

When cutting brush, remember to cut as low as is possible. Leaving stumps high is dangerous for two reasons: They can catch ski edges and direct the skier off the trail. When someone takes a tumble, as can frequently happen when skiing, falling on a stump can cause serious injuries. When cutting branches off, cut close to the tree. It is healthier for the tree and safer for the skier. (Click here for more Pruning Guidelines.) You can probably imagine the injuries that could result to a person's face if they ran into the branch stubs.

Mark the trail.

Make sure the trail can be followed easily. Verify that the trail signs give good information and that they are easily seen from a little way down the trail. Make sure the trail markers or blazes are in good shape and clearly seen, particularly in hardwood stands. When freshening blazes make sure the rectangle's edges are sharp, as it is the shape and crispness that catch the skier's eye in the woods. A good way to find out if the trail is adequately marked is to have someone who has never been on the trail lead you around the system. If they choose the wrong way, figure out why they made that choice. Usually a sign or another trail marker is needed.

Designing new trails.

The overall design and layout of the trail can impact skier safety. It can also affect the amount of yearly maintenance required to keep a trail open and should only be done by experienced people. If you feel an area could use a new trail or needs a relocation of a bad section of trail, involve the landowner/ manager. They usually are familiar with the lay of the land and can recommend alternatives.