Hitting the trails this winter? Mind your lane.

By Brittnee E. Henry

Fresh snow and colder temperatures across the Driftless make this the peak time for Nordic (also known as classic) skiers and skate skiers to hit the trails. 

Fresh snow and colder temperatures across the Driftless make this the peak time for Nordic (also known as classic) skiers and skate skiers to hit the trails. Nancy Sojka is a Nordic skier who has skied in the area for more than 40 years. She and other skiers live for winter days when the temperature is around 20 degrees, and a fresh layer of powder covers heavier snow. While winter seems long, Sojka said there are only about 35 days of the year that fit criteria for Nordic skiers, and practicing trail etiquette whether walking, snowshoeing or skiing ensures everyone can get the most out of the season.
“Our season is so short. It can be frustrating when your ski hits a hole left by a boot print or even a paw print. Those marks left in the track by walkers, pets or snowshoers freeze when the sun hits them and can cause falls or equipment damage for skiers,” said Sojka.
The Decorah Park and Recreation Division agreed. The division works throughout the winter to groom more than 20 miles of trails to accommodate all types of trail users, making specific lanes for Nordic skiing, skate skiing and walkers. 
“If your boot, bike tire or snowshoe is sinking in about an inch or more, consider it not a good time to be using the trail,” said Erika Huegel, Superintendent of Recreation and Business with the Decorah Parks and Recreation office. Huegel explained that grooves and ridges are the result of using the trails when conditions aren’t ideal, and once established this damage is hard to fix. 
Huegel also suggested becoming familiar with signage and icons on trails noting which lanes are reserved for Nordic and skate skiers. Lanes for Nordic skiing often have two parallel tracks while lanes for skate skiing will have a smooth, packed surface much like an ice-skating rink surface. Additionally, skiers headed downhill have the right-of-way.
“The main thing is for walkers and those with pets to stay off the ski lanes to ensure everyone has the best experience,” Huegel said. “If you’re walking on a packed, pristine, glass-like surface, that’s not where you should be. That’s for skate skiers.”
The Decorah Park and Recreation website is the best resource for the latest information about groomed trails. Check the website before heading out for information on what trails are ready, suggestions for which trails best fit your activity and how to decipher trail signage. 

New to Nordic skiing? 
As an avid Nordic skier, Sojka favors ski areas like Silvercrest Golf Course, but for those just starting out or thinking about taking up the winter sport, Sojka suggests seeking out a flat, groomed trail where there are already tracks for ease and efficiency.
“Ice Cave Road is an excellent place to ski for your first time. It being flat and wide makes it a good spot for a beginner. You probably don’t want to go on a trail with a lot of hills your first time out,” Sojka said. She also suggests renting skis before buying to get familiar with the various types of skis and boots available. Decorah Bicycle rents Nordic skis as well as snowshoes. Dressing in layers to keep dry and warm but not too hot is also key. 
“You burn a lot of calories skiing and you warm up quickly. That makes it possible to ski when it’s below zero and no wind. You should plan to dress for exertion,” Sojka said. She suggests checking out video tutorials online to learn skiing techniques and become familiar with what to wear and how to operate equipment.  
“There are many resources online that are helpful to beginners,” Sojka said. 

Winter trail tips: Know before you go
• Visit www.parks.decorahia.org or other community parks and recreation websites to check grooming schedules and trail conditions.
• Know your trail and who you’re sharing it with. Understand which lanes are reserved for your activity.
• Is it too warm to be using the trail? The trail could be damaged if boot prints, pet paws, snowshoes or bike tires are sinking an inch or more, it is not the best time to use it.