Chester–Sawmill Winter Trail Plan

An advisory committee made up of Friends of Kananaskis Country, Alberta Parks and stakeholders from the snowshoeing and cross country skiing communities has recently submitted a Terms of Reference to the Kananaskis Trail Committee for the proposed Chester–Sawmill Winter Trail Plan.

Presently, the former ski trails are designated as snowshoe trails. The possibility, broached in the Terms of Reference, of reintroducing groomed cross country ski trails was shot down for good enough reasons—no funding. The alternative is to consider if some trails should be multi-use and open to cross-country skiers making their own tracks. However, this multi use idea hasn’t gone down too well in Peter Lougheed Park where the Elk Pass snowshoe trail uses portions of Hydroline and Elk Pass ski trails much to the annoyance of some skiers. Read Skier Bob’s website for a slew of comments from all sides. However, at Chester-Sawmill the situation is a little different. So lets get some feedback on whether you think skiers and snowshoers can share the same trails here?

Personally, I don’t think that long distance ski trails like Green (Snowdrift) and Yellow (Grapple)  have translated all that well into attractive snowshoe trails. Why not leave them as skier-tracked ski trails? For snowshoeing I would like to see more interesting loops and trails with scenic destinations. There are plenty of old logging roads criss-crossing the lower hillsides and going into side valleys that can be put to use. Your thoughts on this also?

11 comments… add one
  • GMJ Feb 26, 2016, 9:24 pm

    To my amazement, there actually was some really good snow at Sandy Mcnabb this winter, though not as good as it always is at Chester-Sawmill.
    At the end of March in most ski trail networks there is pretty much no snow, but at Chester Sawmill there’s a couple metres of perfect powder….

  • Alf Skrastins Feb 26, 2016, 8:41 pm

    Here’s an interesting contrast: Sandy McNabb on Feb 26 and Chester-Sawmill on Feb 25.
    Can you guess which one is the official groomed XC ski trail area, and which one is not?

  • Gillean Daffern Feb 21, 2016, 5:46 pm

    Couldn’t agree with you more Alf.

  • Alf Skrastins Feb 21, 2016, 5:11 pm

    I was back at the Chester/Sawmill trails again this week, checking out some of the former XC ski trails (Red & Yellow/Green Loops, as well as a couple of alternative options along the way.
    One thing that struck me on this day, is that it has now been 5 weeks since there was ANY XC ski trail grooming at Ribbon Creek, West Bragg Creek or Sandy McNabb, due to a lack of snowfalls and a series of drying Chinooks. Yet, on this day, there was over a metre of snowpack everywhere on the Chester/Sawmill trails, with 10cm of fresh, cold snow and it was still snowing! Clearly, this is a great area for winter trails, especially in those years when grooming equipment is sitting idle in other areas.
    There is enough interesting terrain and legacy logging roads in this area to allow for XC ski trails, snowshoe trails and multi-user trails (like the High Rockies Trail).

  • RyderDA Feb 7, 2016, 4:18 pm

    The issue of shared use on winter trails exists today. Chester/Sawmill won’t solve that, nor will it make it worse. It’s a separate issue — though one that does need solving.

    Getting the Chester/Sawmill system back to a practical, usable state is one of the first steps in the process. This will return it back to the way it was before trail maintenance was halted several years ago. There was a lot of user enthusiasm for the area in the window after grooming was terminated and before trail maintenance was suspended. It will be like that again.

    And I agree with Gillean that several of the trails don’t hold much interest for snowshoers, who (like hikers) are more “destination” oriented rather than “journey” oriented. As a result, step 2 of the plan will be to add some selected (probably short) trails that will be more attractive to snowshoers. Some will be connectors to create loops of varying lengths; some will be to “lookout points” that will act as natural magnets. Most (not all) of these have been conceptually identified and several have been walked in summer (winter assessment will begin soon). They will likely be narrower than the logging roads and some might even be snowshoe only, freeing up other trails that go to the same places as possibly being designated ski only.

    This document started out as a Terms of Reference for the project, but has moved beyond that to form the basics of the actual project plan. If the decision is made to restore the old trails to their original logging road full width, perhaps the shared use problem will lessen. There would be ample room for skier-set tracks on one side, and snowshoe/fat bike on the other. There are only a few hills that will be issues. The not-yet-written plan will have to address those.

    There are many details to move this Terms of Reference into a plan, and “the devil is in the details” as they say. But the plan will not include how to solve shared use issues here or elsewhere, since that’s mostly outside the scope of the Terms of Reference. Given the issues re: Elk Pass, it’s kind of clear as to why it’s not just a Chester/Sawmill problem.

  • Alf Skrastins Feb 5, 2016, 9:50 pm

    I was poking around the Sawmill trails on skis today.
    It was +8C and the trails were melting at Bragg Creek. It got to +7C and the Ribbon Creek trails are not recommended due to icy conditions… but at Chester-Sawmill it was -2C and there was a metre of cold, clean snow. Ski touring was good on the snowshoe packed trails or when breaking your own trail.
    Yes, I think it’s a good idea to have ski trails between Chester and Sawmill. And I think the High Rockies Trail between Sawmill and Rummel Creek should be planned as a ski/snowshoe trail. This area has good snow for about 7 months of the year!

  • TR Feb 2, 2016, 10:34 pm

    Peter, I re-read your article again and I agree with you entirely. Especially on trails that are suitable for snowshoeing aren’t suitable for skiing and vice versa.

  • TR Feb 2, 2016, 10:27 pm

    I have been a snowshoer for over 30 years. The immense explosion in popularity of the activity has increased conflicts with user groups in the backcountry. I agree with Peter, there were days when I didn’t see a single soul. Now it isn’t uncommon to see dozens. I posted a comment on the skier Bob website so I won’t repeat the bulk of it. Most people do short loops while snowshoeing. I do 25 to 30km a day. So I have places to go that aren’t suitable for skiers where I can do the long distances and not see the same view and trails over and over again. The idea of multi use trails I agree with. More designated ski only trails means less designated snowshoe only trails which means more shoeshoers on ski only trails hence increased conflict. Multi use is multi use. No different than in summer when hikers, mountain bikers and equestrian users share some trails designated as multi use. Don’t want to step in horse feces? Don’t hike on that trail plain and simple. The idea of having one user group bow to the other doesn’t work. No group is more entitled than the other. I do agree with the enforcement and education aspect. Snowshoers and winter walkers need to know the work involved in grooming and prepping a ski trail for use. Not to mention the safety hazard of walking in the path of a skier coming full bore down hill. As for Chester Sawmill area, leave it multi use with the exception of the Chester ski only trail. As I noted above, grooming more trails for skiing leads to less snowshoe only trails. There is always going to be people that think the rules don’t apply to them. That is unfortunately part of life. All user groups need to co-exist. The mountains don’t belong to skiers, they don’t belong to snowshoers, they belong to everyone. We are truly fortunate to have the places we do to enjoy our outdoor pursuits. Would you rather have it shut down to everyone entirely? Then no one wins. Personally I haven’t strapped on my snowshoes since the flood because of this bickering back and forth between groups. For heavens sakes during non winter months I hike and backpack over 500 km a year in our beloved mountains and don’t see or hear near the amount of conflict between hikers, equestrian and mountain bikers. Different activities and different circumstances regarding the grooming aspect but still.

  • Peter Haase Feb 2, 2016, 9:31 pm

    I have been a cross country and back country skier for about 40 years. Until about 5 years ago I hardly met a snowshoer or encountered snowshoe tracks on the back country trail system in the Rockies. Today it is rare not to encounter one of the above on the trails. While I do not discourage snowshoers as it is great way to get people out in to the wilderness in winter. I also have snowshoes for those days when the ski conditions are poor or I would like to venture into an area unsuitable for skiing.
    I have come to the conclusion that multiuse of the trails by skiers and snowshoers are incompatible activities. 100 skiers can go over a trail and cause little to hinder the enjoyment and safety of the skiers that follow, but one or two snowshoers can completely ruin a ski trail, be it track set or skier broken. For example last winter I skied into Boom Lake, which I have done more than 20 times without incident. This time a group of snowshoers had marched right down the middle of the trail, it must have been a warm day followed by a freeze. On the ski down it was very difficult to control my skis as it was like the trail had been rototilled and then frozen. The end result was a fall and a knee injury, which now requires me to wear a knee brace and limits some of the activities that I partake in. I have encountered similar problems on many other trails. I have recently tried to ski the Sawmill Trails and after a group of snowshoers this is near impossible. The Chester Lake Trail, even with designated ski and snowshoe trails, is often no longer skiable in a safe or pleasurable manner as many snowshoers ignore their designated trails and walk on the ski trails. Many of the trails in Banff NP are now designated as multi use winter trails and have signage to encourage the snowshoers to walk on the side of the trail, but this is often ignored and they will walk side by side and right in the ski tracks.
    My feeling is that cross country and backcountry skiing must be classified as being activities that are incompatible snowshoeing and other winter activities, both for the pleasure and safety of the skiers. I feel that both the National and Provincial Parks must make the traditional ski trails in the Rockies off limits to snowshoers. A good guideline for this would be to include all of the trails that have been listed in the ski trails of the rockies guidebooks for decades. There are on only certain trails suitable for skiing, but there are hundreds of Km’s of trails suitable for snowshoers.
    I feel that there needs to be both education and regulation to enforce this. Individual skiers as well as outdoor clubs for skiers should lobby to make these changes.

  • Kevin Feb 2, 2016, 7:59 pm

    If we received permission from Parks, there are volunteers that would be happy to use Foothills Nordic grooming equipment to do some trail grooming in K-Country.

  • Tony Daffern Feb 2, 2016, 6:06 pm

    The new section of The High Rockies Trail, to be built this year will pass through this area following most of what used to be the yellow ski trail (see map). This will be a multi-use trail with snowshoers, skiers, winter walkers and fat-tire bikers using the trail in winter. Skiers are the “odd man out” here as the other three activities are compatible.

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