Layout a reasonable course so that it can be groomed and you'll still have time and energy to ski it. When planning your course think about how much ground you cover snowshoeing slowly. For skating you'll need to make multiple passes, at least 3 to make a wide enough trail, so take that into account. For skating an out and back course with small loops at each end so you can reverse direction is the most efficient for grooming time.
When picking a location keep in mind that walkers, dogs, and the sun are the biggest threat to your groomed trail, probably in that order. I've experienced walkers leaving a plowed sidewalk and wading through 30 yards of deep unpacked snow so they could walk down the middle of a skate lane leaving deep footprints that ruin the trail. Most walkers won't know why the snow is packed; don't assume they will appreciate all the effort you've put into grooming.
Pulling a groomer loaded with 60-80 lbs behind you while you snowshoe may seem like a lot of work but if you're only maintaining a couple k's why bother with the hassle, time, and expense of a machine? By myself I maintain a 1 to 2 km skate lane. If I were trying to maintain 2-5 km I would recruit some friends to help share the human-powered grooming load. If I were trying to maintain more than 5 km I would buy a machine.
Other Stuff You'll Need
- A 5 gallon bucket or heavy duty cloth bag is good for carrying weight to and from your car to where you’ll start grooming. Thin inexpensive buckets will crack and break in the cold and with weights being thrown in them.
- A pair of snowshoes; they do not need to be fancy.
- A headlamp if grooming in the dark.
When you’re ready to groom just strap on the snowshoes, load the weights in the groomer, put the rope around your waist and start walking. Try to walk as consistently as possible so otherwise you’ll get ripples in your trail.
A lot of folks say grooming is an art but there is a science to it, just so much science that the guys who know it well sure seem like artists. Over time you will learn when and how to groom effectively but to get you started below are some tips:
- Be sure not to add so much weight that you are plowing the snow rather than packing it - Use the most weight that you feel comfortable pulling; don’t strain, remove weight - You should be able to snowshoe at a steady, even pace, if you use too much weight and strain to take each step you’ll get a lumpy trail - Angle the skate groomer slightly away from the middle of the trail so that the snow slides out the trail edge, not it’s middile. - Groom, groom, groom. Don’t let a snowfall go by where you don’t groom. This will create a well packed and better surface for planting your skis and poles. - Grooming can be a great leg strength workout, but watch straining - Be cognizant of changes in sunlight on snow and how that will affect snow packing and course speed. Going from shade to sun frequently can make your trail inconsistent. - Watch the tracking of the device when grooming across hills. Grooming across the slope of a hill is tough, even with skegs on your groomer (all HPTGs have skegs). Try to lay your course out so that your trail is flat from side to side. - Recognize the energy and time it takes to groom. The more trail you groom the more you become a groomer and the less time and energy you’ll have for skiing. - Never groom a golf course, especially the tee and green areas. - Groom in the dark so you can ski in the light. - Don’t store the groomer in sunlight; won’t absorb water but sun will change the lifespan of your groomer
How Much Snow to Groom
Just like most Nordic areas you'll need about 8 inches of snow covering the ground before you can groom effectively. Snow compresses so much that less than 8" just doesn't form a good base layer.
Early season snow, or any snow that falls directly on the ground, that is, not on a layer of existing snow, is frustrating. It needs to be handled with extreme care. Usually you're so excited to see it you just want to strap on the skis and go, or use that new groomer you just ordered. But resist that temptation. Read the blog below, from the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage on how they treat early snow for a realistic and pragmatic view on what to do with early season snow.
Groom every snowfall, especially if you’re skating or biking. Consolidating that new snow helps harden your track and will make your trail more durable.
Deep snowfalls, generally more than 10” will require packing before you groom. Even Nordic areas do this; during a heavy snow they run snowmobiles over the trails before they pull a groomer. You can only consolidate the snow so much in one pass. Snowshoeing is a good way to prepack a deep snowfall. You don’t need to stomp every bit of snow, just go for a snowshoe walk or run on your trail.
Snow will settle some on its own. Some groomers always let the snow settle 24 hours before they groom it. It makes grooming easier.
If you can, groom the trail then let it be for 6 hours or so before skiing it. This allows the snow to consolidate more. Snow that has consolidated more is more durable.
How Much Weight to Pull
Start with at least 6 10 lb. barbell weights, distributing them in the weight compartments and be ready to adjust how much weight you'll pull on any given day. You might make 2 or 3 adjustments in the first 100 yards.
The exact best amount to pull relies on many factors: your strength, the depth of the snow, the moisture of the snow, the temperature of the snow. In general pull as much as you feel comfortable doing but not so much that you are plowing all the new snow, you want to pack it, not plow all of it.
Bricks, pavers, rocks or concrete are not dense enough to give the weight needed to pack the trail. Steel is over 3 times as dense as any of these materials; you’d need 3 times the volume of these materials to equal the weight of steel and that would require more contact area with the snow and so pack the snow less. 10 lb steel plates are relatively cheap and easy to get at your local sporting goods store.
There are many great websites and message boards out there with info about grooming snow trails and more popping up all the time. Not all the best sites are about skiing, there is a lot of knowledge about snowmobile trails that applies to making a great ski trail.
The resources tend to fall into a few categories: how-to groom, trials and tribulations of being a groomer, equipment and equipment talk, and trail construction. The sites come at grooming from different points of few; I have yet to find one that deals with pulling your own groomer but there is still much to learn from these sites. I've listed a couple of my favorites below:
A look into the day to day adventures of maintaining a few k's of private trail. A must read for those considering grooming their own trails. It's not a how-to site, it's about the trials and tribulations (and rewards!) of grooming a private ski trail.