Trail Preferences: Groomed or Ungroomed?

I finally decided to try some new trails out at a ski area that catered to snowshoers and cross country skiers. I always snowshoe on trails in public places such as National Forests so this occasion was my first groomed trail experience. I had no expectations other than knowing that I had found another great place to stretch out and snowshoe!

I had a great time but something felt amiss. Near the end of my workout, I stumbled off the groomed part of the trail into the newly fallen ungroomed snow. There it was: what had been wrong (to me.)

I started contemplating the pros and cons of ungroomed versus groomed trails. This need not be a black and white issue. Snowshoers can love both, either, or one more than the other.

My personal preference leans toward ungroomed trails. The groomed snowshoe trail felt too packed to me. My snowshoes didn’t float and everything rubbed my feet and ankles the wrong way. Of course, the conditions of the groomed trail depended on previous usage and recent weather, but it just didn’t feel right to me.

At a resort area, you will have clearly marked trails. You’ll meet many people who share your love of the outdoors and the snow. You likely also have facilities where you can rent equipment, change into and out of your snow gear, dine, relax, and socialize.

I prefer ungroomed trails for many reasons. I enjoy the solitude that I find on seldom used trails. I enjoy breaking trail and being the first one to do so. The workout is more intense when I’m plowing through a couple feet of fluffy snow as opposed to walking on top of groomed, packed powder.

I also find that the looser, unpacked powder is much easier on my joints. The packed trail was harder on my knees and hips. When I hit the untouched snow, it felt like I was walking with two downy pillows strapped to my boots.

I enjoy the lesser used local National Forest trails that are not part of a heavily used resort areas. I am able to view more wildlife and can enjoy looking for paw prints in the virgin snow. I’ve seen bobcats on several occasions that I doubt I would have seen in a busier resort area.

The only downside I can find are the limited facilities but it isn’t relevant since I do not crave the social scene at the resorts, and I pack in and pack out all that I need during my outings.

If you do prefer the soft, ungroomed powder and the convenience and socialness of ski and resort areas, there are snowshoe centers that do have a combination of groomed and ungroomed trails.

I’ve found that I prefer non-resorts to resorts and ungroomed to groomed trails. Which do you prefer? Where do you find yourself snowshoeing the most? What aspects of snowshoeing are important you and are the most satisfying?

Reflection on these questions might tell you a lot about yourself. Feel free to join us in the Snowshoe Magazine forums!

About the author

Heather L. Nicaise

Heather L. Nicaise is a freelance writer and photographer living in southern California with her husband and three adopted dogs. She is concerned about animal welfare and preservation of the outdoors. She spends her winters snowshoeing and hiking. She spends summers cowering in dark air-conditioned corners.