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Best Management Practices for Adaptive Trail Grooming

Trail grooming has changed significantly since initial trails and grooming programs were established decades ago. Snowmobile tourism has grown, bringing higher user expectations and requirements. At the same time trail grooming equipment and operating costs have also increased dramatically compared to costs in previous decades. Consequently grooming management in today’s operating atmosphere requires more adaptive approaches to be most responsive to increased needs, expectations, and costs.

by American Council of Snowmobile Assns. (ACSA)


Best management practices for adaptive trail grooming


Snowmobile trail grooming most commonly involves using a tracked groomer to pull a drag which has cutting blades and a packing pan to mechanically produce a smooth over-snow trail surface. In deep snow areas, snowmobile trail grooming may also be performed with a tiller mounted on the rear of a tracked snow cat. Groomed snowmobile trails create a more enjoyable experience for snowmobilers and help extend riding opportunities later in the season. The firmly compacted trail base created by grooming also helps trails withstand heavy snowmobile traffic.

Trail grooming has changed significantly since initial trails and grooming programs were established decades ago. Snowmobile tourism has grown, bringing higher user expectations and requirements. At the same time trail grooming equipment and operating costs have also increased dramatically compared to costs in previous decades. Consequently grooming management in today’s operating atmosphere requires more adaptive approaches to be most responsive to increased needs, expectations, and costs.

Snowmobile trail grooming ranks as one of the most expensive types of recreational trail maintenance since it generally requires frequent restoration of the trail surface on a daily to weekly basis. Grooming efforts must be closely managed since trail conditions are heavily effected by weather conditions that can be wide ranging and include varying snow depths, new snowfall amounts, winds, extreme temperature fluctuations, freeze-thaw cycles, and sometimes even rainfall. Trail terrain, varying traffic volumes, and differing local use patterns all combine with those variant weather conditions to compel flexible and adaptive management decisions if grooming efforts are to be effective.

Trail grooming generally consumes the largest amount of snowmobile trail programs’ operating budgets. The cost of operating grooming programs today is so significant that grooming efforts must be managed much more holistic – more so as regional business operations rather than fragmented local efforts – if they are to be most cost effective and efficient. While grooming management decisions must ultimately made at local levels commensurate with local snow and use conditions, the following Best Management Practices (BMPs) are offered to help guide local grooming management decisions.

Published December 31, 2015

About the Author


ACSA is a national organization uniting the snowmobile community and promoting snowmobiling as a safe, fun and environmentally friendly family sport.

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