Since the pandemic began, the outdoors have exploded with new walkers, runners, hikers, and bikers. Across the United States, more Americans than ever before have sought out local trails as a way of getting outside, moving, and being active. For many, a trip to the trailhead to exercise safely with others has replaced a morning cup of coffee or an evening after-work beer.
As winter set in, much of the country was still facing widespread coronavirus transmission and government guidelines. That has meant that many of the new trail users from spring, summer, and fall have continued to seek entertainment, adventure, and fun on snowy trails across the northern states.
There are many benefits in welcoming these new trails users to enjoy winter sports. What trail associations have learned, however, is that more traffic does create new challenges for those who spend their time and energy maintaining groomed trails. Winter sports enthusiasts have an incredibly short season to begin with, this 2020-201 has been a relatively mild winter across much of the country. That has meant more traffic on less snow, and a lot more work for groomers to maintain the high-quality trails required for a positive experience skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking.
Education. One of the toughest challenges for trail associations today is to educate and inform new trail users of basic trail etiquette that helps to keep groomed trails in good shape. New trail users may contribute to deep ruts, footprints, and other issues that can make normal use of trails more challenging and, in some cases, unsafe. Weather conditions can also make repairing damaged groomed trails nearly impossible, especially in freeze/thaw cycles or when there are long periods between snowfalls. Trail associations are constantly working to inform new trail users of best practices through social media, signage, and empowering more experienced trail users to serve as ambassadors to help new trail users learn the ropes. One of the added benefits is that by offering this education, trail associations are also enhancing the recreational experiences of everyone, which can help to recruit more members and trail advocates.
Engagement. More than ever, trail associations are interacting and engaging trail users to learn more about what they want out of their winter trail experiences. Many locations that have traditionally catered or groomed exclusive for one winter sport are finding that these well-known trailheads may need to expand to incorporate new user groups like snowshoers and fat bikes. To reduce friction between user groups, many are working with landowners to establish new trails and fundraising for the additional equipment needed to maintain more miles of trails or to groom for different spots. A cross-country ski trail might be working to mark and maintain a dedicated snowshoe loop, or adapt certain sections of existing trail to accommodate access for skiers and fat bikers.
Equipment. In so many ways, these growing pains are really wonderful things. Done right, trail associations can harness this renewed enthusiasm for trails to build larger, more influential membership bodies that can help protect and expand trails for generations to come. Simply put, the more trail users, the more trails. Right now, the battle is to quickly build the volunteer base and gather the equipment needed to offer these new winter trail users an unparalleled experience. Across much of the Midwest, grooming equipment, signinage, and other trail infrastructure has seen a huge spike in demand. We’ve been working with trail crews in different parts of the country to deliver the equipment they need to provide the world-class quality trails their winter users love, as well as donating a portion of our sales to trail associations to help them expand and grow to meet the rising expenses of operating, especially without in-person fundraisers, races, and events.
If we can help your trail association to groom, market, and grow, get in touch today.