Etiquette patrol

Lively couple of threads on ‘Trail etiquette’ at the Mid-Hudson XC Ski Google group (with a digression by those who knew the late Ken Roberts). The discussion feels similar to a certain interior dialog I have when encountering some on the trail, in which I debate whether I’m going to be One of Those People. To explain I’ll first model a trail etiquette scenario:

Who’s in the right?

Group A is a set of friends out for a casual ski. They stop in the trail to adjust clothing, have some water, and there’s no other skiers anywhere in sight. They’re standing in a circle because they want to see each other.

Group B is a few buddies on skate skis and doing V2 down the trail, which gently descends toward Group A. They’re moving so fast so that Group A doesn’t notice Group B until it looks like they’re about to get knocked down like bowling pins.

The people in Group A are startled because they were busy talking and didn’t realize how fast skiers could come down the trail . They scramble off to either side as best they can. Having slowed down just enough to give Group A time to scatter, the skate skiers glide through and half-mutter disparaging remarks at the other group.

The skiers in Group B are pissed- coming off a great descent they had no predictable path around Group A because the skiers were across the entire trail and it wasn’t clear which direction any of them would go. Someone could have been hurt.

For their part, the skiers in Group A aren’t ashamed as much as they are offended- who said a bunch of yahoos could just bomb down the trail like that and invade their space so abruptly? They’re just trying to enjoy the peacefulness of nature, and no one group of skiers has more claim on the trail than any other.

The people in both groups wind up feeling the same thing: doesn’t anyone know how to be polite?

Defensive skiing

Now let’s flip that over and pose the inverse question: what could each group have done to make the situation clear to others? To practice ‘defensive skiing’ in other words (like defensive driving).

  • It’s easy to misjudge closing rates when people move faster than a walk, and skiers don’t ski at the same speed. Group A skiers could have moved to one side of the trail, keeping their poles, skis, and gear as much out of the tracks and skate lane as possible.
  • Skiers in Group B could have called out ‘trail!’ from farther up to give Group A more warning and more time to react.
  • The faster skier has the greater responsibility to ski in control, and sometimes that means controlling our mouth. Muttered criticism by Group B as they passed Group A was yucking their yum and d**k behavior.

I have to admit I’ve been on both sides of that scenario. Sometimes when I see someone doing something that blocks or messes up the trail, I am tempted to give them advice. But then I remember that much as I try, I know I’ve inadvertently done a little trail-blocking myself.

No one has a corner on politeness and correct behavior. The moment we start thinking ‘I can tell them what to do’ is the moment we should do a validation check. Becoming the trail police makes us One of Those People.

Admittedly it’s a Good Thing to have rules about how to behave in traffic situations. Imagine the chaos if everyone decided to make up their own rules of driving. And yet, we still like the rules to feel common-sense, as if arrived at by… consensus.

And that’s exactly what the rules of trail etiquette are, at least in places where participation is shared broadly, because humans are adaptive herd animals. If newbies see lots of people using good etiquette, then they’ll start doing it too.

So, just like people on the platforms at NYC subway stations started standing aside from the car door instead of right in front of it, so people inside the car could get out faster (WTF right?), let’s get our trail etiquette on and be the nice and welcoming kinds of people that I know cross-country skiers to be.

Tips for the trail

Not that you need them of course, but here’s a couple of links on trail etiquette:

REI’s take on winter trail etiquette is concise and easy to absorb.

Below is a summary of tips I saw on Justtrails, Snowshoemag, and the Rocky Mountain Ramblers (Canada), and a couple from experience.

  • Be nice to other people on the trail. Try not to yuck the yum.
  • Use verbal alerts to clue your own group in to traffic. Examples: ‘skier up’ for skiers approaching from the front, or ‘skier back’ for ones coming from behind.
  • Clue other skiers in to your presence: ‘skier back!’, ‘passing on your left’ or just ‘hup hup’ to let someone know you’re passing them. Call ‘track!’ to communicate that you want someone to yield the track to you. But don’t be a d**k about it – if you can easily pass without making them yield, do it.
  • Pay heed to trail restrictions and signage. And weather or avalanche guidance.
  • Regroup at intersections or breaks in the route. Don’t want to have to call trail patrol, SAR, or wait till spring to find a buddy.
  • Never walk in the ski tracks with boots or snowshoes. Don’t leave holes or divots in the trail that groomers have to fill in later.
  • Stop where you won’t be an obstacle or hazard for other skiers. Examples: stopping at the bottom of a hill- hazard. Anywhere near a corner- obstacle. Go to the side of the trail even for short breaks; don’t stay in the tracks or center of trail.
  • Skiers going uphill should yield track or trail to skiers coming down.
  • Overtaking skiers have the responsibility to avoid slower skiers; all skiers are obliged to ski in control.
  • Make sure you know where your pole tips are, especially when passing children (I keep mine tucked behind my feet).
  • Practice the seven principles of ‘leave no trace’. Here’s REI’s restatement of them and the National Park Service’s.
  • Think of the above as things you can do to help people, not correct them.