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BLM>Colorado>Field Offices>Gunnison>Recreation>Cross Country Ski Information
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Cross Country Ski Information
Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable
Cross Country Ski Trip

Prepare for Fun - Know where you are going, inform someone of your plans and expected time of return. Check current weather reports and avalanche forecasts (970- 349-4022 for the Crested Butte area and (970) 247-8187 for the San Juan Mts.).  Pack enough clothes to be comfortable in a variety of conditions. Learn to layer your clothing to prevent overheating. Learn the basics of recognizing and dealing with avalanche hazards, frostbite and hypothermia. Take adequate food and water. Don't go out by yourself. Bring a flashlight in case you are caught out after dark. Talk with your group about how you would get help if you need it.

Avalanche Hazards - Any moderate to steep slope can avalanche given the right conditions. Check the current avalanche forecasts for your area and learn to recognize unstable conditions in the field. Make it a habit to bring a shovel along with avalanche beacons and know how to use them.

  • Avalanches are most common on slopes of 30 to 45 degrees.
  • Steep slopes or chutes that have been cleared of vegetation are likely indicators of past avalanche activity. Be particularly careful in these areas.
  • Most avalanches occur during or just after a storm.
  • Snow slides easiest when a layer of new snow falls on a hard layer of old snow.
  • Evidence of recent avalanches is a good indicator that avalanche potential is high.
  • Hollow "whumphing" sounds or cracks running out from your skis in the snow indicate unstable conditions.
  • If you must cross an avalanche slope loosen your pack and ski poles. Cross one at a time with the rest of the party watching the skier in case an avalanche starts

Photo of a cross-country skier
Photo by Arden Anderson

The trails in this area generally cross stable terrain but there can be a danger of avalanches starting above and sweeping across the trail. If avalanche forecasts predict moderate to extreme danger you should explore the trails in gentler terrain listed as low avalanche potential and don't venture off the trail. You should also consider staying home and waiting for a day with more stable conditions

Frostbite - occurs when body tissue freezes. The colder the area becomes the more severe the damage will be. Wind and moisture (sweat and precipitation) increase the heat loss and quicken the freezing process. The most commonly affected areas are fingers, toes, nose, ears and cheeks. Dress properly. Stay alert for loss of feeling or whitish skin color in these areas both for yourself and for those in your party. Catch the problem quickly, rewarm the area completely and make sure it does not refreeze.

Hypothermia - a lowering of general body temperature due to heat loss. As with frostbite, wind and moisture hasten your loss of heat. Uncontrollable shivering is a reliable early sign -do not ignore it! Stop and warm up immediately. Drink hot liquids, start a fire, cuddle with a friend but warm up. Once you get too cold to shiver it becomes harder to move, harder to think and harder to help yourself. Untreated, hypothermia leads to death. Catch the problem quickly and rewarm immediately.

Weather - Mountain weather can change quickly and seriously threaten the unprepared skier with wind, cold, avalanches and whiteout. Know the weather before you go. Keep an eye out for changing conditions and leave yourself enough time to get out safely.

Trail Etiquette - Trails on public land are used by a variety of groups. Skiers, snowmobilers, snowshoers, dog sledders and others are all focusing on a limited amount of trail space. Please respect the other users and public resources by following some simple rules.

  • Yield the right of way to users going faster than your group by moving to the side of the trail.
  • Keep your dogs under control so they don't bother other users or harass wildlife.
  • Use the proper portion of groomed trails which usually look like:

    __                 ____________________________________

    The set tracks on the left are for traditional skiers; the flat surface is for skate skiers, snowmobilers, snowshoers, dog sleds, and dogs.

  • If you get off the trail be sure you are not trespassing on private land.
  • Do not stress wildlife by pursuing them in the winter. The energy they use getting away from you cuts down on their ability to survive.
  • Trailhead parking is often limited. Park so that other users can enter, park and exit easily.
  • Pack out all your trash. Clean up after your dogs.
  • Avoid leaving human waste near any streams, ponds or lakes.

For More Information Contact:

US Forest Service
216 North Colorado Street
Gunnison, CO. 81230
(970) 641-0471

Crested Butte Nordic Ski Center
512 Second Street
Crested Butte, CO 81224
(970) 349-620


US Bureau of Land Management
650 South 11th Street
Gunnison, CO 81230
(970) 641-4940

Created by the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado
Point of Contact:
Brian St. George