Cross-Country Ski Trail Grooming Guide

Cross-country ski trail grooming is a full-time activity with its own science to it. We’ll take a look into the snow grooming process to give thanks for the hard work of dedicated groomers.

What are Cross-Country Ski Trails?

Classic trails offer undisturbed and tracked snow, whereas skating lanes involve a firm and smooth snow surface. Single ski tracks have two sets of tracks, and a double track has four sets of tracks. A classic trail is around 6-7 cm wide with a depth of around 2-5 cm of snow. It usually comes with a 20 cm spacing that ensures safety.

On the other hand, skate tracks for most international competitions are 4 meters apart from each other.

Cross-Country Ski Trail Grooming

Cross-country ski trail grooming is necessary because only a well-groomed trail will ensure a smooth and safe skiing experience. Without proper leveling of the snow, skiers are more likely to hurt themselves. Track setting is another important part of snow grooming that helps skiers remain safe and stable during the activity.

Before you groom the trail, you need to look at a couple of things, including the crystal structure of the snow, the temperature, the degree of compaction, and the moisture content outside. This is why you should try to groom between 25 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, there should ideally be only one foot of snow on the ground, and grooming should be done at night.


Firstly, you need to ensure that the trail is free of any under bushes, trees, or branches that will pose a hindrance to the skier. The groomer should travel the entire ski trail to ensure there are no logs or bushes on the surface.

The next step is to pack the snow and remove air present between the snow structures. This will help create a dense trail base that supports the weight of the skier. Moreover, this fills holes and allows for greater consistency on the trail.

For proper grooming, usually, a snowmobile or snowcat is used, depending on the affordability of the device. Snowcats are tractors with treads that have both rear and front attachments such as a compactor, powder maker, tiller, and track setter that help provide consistency to the track. These are very expensive and can cost you around $200,000 plus gasoline charges. On the other hand, snowmobiles are relatively cheaper and come with fewer attachments.

Snow farming is also used by many professional snow groomers to retain the structure of the snow and create cache sites, and shovel snow for redistribution later. The wet areas in the trail can hence be covered in hay bales to hold the snow.

Moreover, snowcats come with front blades that allow you to move the snow around. Tillers, on the other hand, break up large structures of ice, and snow rollers help pack up the snow to prevent melting.

Additionally, you don’t want to leave the tracks of the machine on the trail and disrupt the consistency. So make sure you fill the tracks left by your machine. In many snowcats, this is done automatically.

Having said all that, there can be instances where grooming becomes relatively harder. If you have icy conditions and snow has grouped together in large structures, you will first have to break it down using a separate machine. You can then plow them out of the way and get a nice track.

Another common mistake groomers make is that they make the corners of the trail too tight, thus making it harder for skiers to enjoy higher speeds. To avoid this, you should make a step switch track where the skier can step out of the track and back into a new one.


Cross-Country Ski Trail FAQ

What Makes a Good XC Ski Trail?

XC ski trails should be smooth enough to assist free movement and should be free from any protrusions that can hinder performance. Such trails should have a snow depth of about 0.3 m and gentle curves that avoid sharp turns at the bottom of downhill.

How are XC Ski Trails Graded?

For general and XC skiing, grades should be less than a 5% rise over run. However, occasional sustained pitches of about 10% are also acceptable. When you plan the grooming of a trail, make sure you consider grading and ensure it matches your fitness and expertise.


Skiing is an exciting activity, but only when you get a good trail with medium-density snow. So before you jump onto the opportunity, make sure your trail is ready beforehand.