By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The call of the outdoors is coming with a few learning lessons this winter.

Activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing have exploded in popularity. The warm weather has even made walking enjoyable.

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With so many people suddenly sharing the same trails, it’s led to questions about proper etiquette.

The sound of skis slicing through the snow across the metro has cranked up to a volume Piotr Bednarski has never heard. While excited, the director of Loppet Trails and Sports admitted it’s presented unique challenges.

“We’re not used to the numbers,” Bednarski said.

Tuesday afternoon, the parking lot outside the Trailhead at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis was full and had been that way since 6 a.m. Drivers circled around only to realize they might have to check the chalet parking lot down the road. Bednarski said that type of crowd size is expected on weekends when the weather is ideal, but now it’s happening almost daily.

“It’s a good problem to have, but it is occasionally problematic,” Bednarski said.

That’s because so many are newcomers, unaware of the rules that come with these winter activities.

Besides skiing, many people have taken to snowshoeing, fat tire biking, or just walking on the trails throughout Wirth Park and down the city’s chain of lakes. Bednarski said its led to some confusion on the trails regarding who is allowed to use them and how.

(credit: CBS)

Max Thorson, who lives near Wirth Park, is familiar with downhill skiing, but picked up cross-country skiing this winter as a hobby to get him outside more often. He’s trying to avoid being cooped up at home during the pandemic.

“I don’t know for sure if I’m doing everything correctly because I don’t even necessarily know what are the etiquette that I’m trying to follow,” Thorson said.

He says he’ll often watch skiers who look like they know what they’re doing.

“Try to learn some form but also etiquette, when to get off the track and make way for someone faster,” he said.

Moritz Roeser and Laura Hoffmann were walking their new puppy next to a trail on Cedar Lake. Roeser says he knows some of the do’s and don’ts, but not all the rules.

“We have not read the rule book if there’s something like that [laughs],” Roeser said.

Whether you skiing, showshoeing or walking, here’s a few tips to keep in mind this winter when you hit the trails.

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BUY A PASS

Skiing on a groomed trail often requires you to buy a pass first, either for the day or the season. The money pays for the trail’s upkeep and the equipment needed to do so.

“It’s a year-round job to keep the trails in shape. It’s not just during the winter,” Bednarski said.

Trail passes can often be purchased online or in person depending on the location.

KNOW YOUR TRAIL

Some trails are for skiing only. Others, like the one carved across Cedar Lake, are multi-use. That means they can be used for skiing, snowshoeing, and walking. Several park districts will have maps online signifying which trails are ski-only or multi-use.

MIND THE TRACKS

If you do plan to walk on the trail, try to avoid walking on the tracks. They look like two parallel grooves, which are used by classic skiers and often beginners. Just walk along the side or off the trail if necessary.

COMMUNICATE

Much like on a bike trail, be sure to call out to the person ahead of you if you plan to pass them. A simple “on your left” would suffice. Conversely, keep your ears open be prepared to move over if you’re walking or skiing at a slower pace.

BE CONSIDERATE

This point has two meanings. Bednarski said many veteran skiers are becoming annoyed at the recent increase of crowds, and often newcomers, on the trails. He suggests being patient and understand that not everyone knows the trail rules.

And for newcomers, be sure to give everyone space. If you need to adjust your ski or snowshoe, step off the trail. It will prevent traffic jams and hearing the wrath of an experienced skier.

MAKE A RESERVATION

Due to the sudden popularity, rental equipment is often fully booked by mid-day. Bednarski suggests reserving rental gear days in advance, especially if you plan to go on a weekend. Reserving rentals can often be done online depending on the location you visit.

Here are more resources for winter activities across the metro:

  • loppet.org
  • threeriversparks.org/crosscountryskiing
  • ramseycounty.us/cross-country-skiing
  • dnr.state.mn.us/skiing
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    Jeff Wagner