Snow Skiing Etiquette

The Do's and Don'ts While on the Hill

Ridgeline Rick

1/24/20245 min read

It’s pretty obvious to those who know me that Skiing is a passion of mine. Transitioning Ridgeline from a Bicycle shop to “Ridgeline Bike & Ski” was as much a passion project as it was a business venture. To me, being on a trail is just awesome, whether it’s on wheels, skis or a board.

But sometimes, when I’m out on the trail (alone, with buddies, or with my family), it becomes painfully obvious that not everyone knows the etiquette around skiing. This makes sense, though. It’s not like driving on a road, where you have to pass both a written examination and driver’s test with a qualified examiner in the vehicle! This is a good thing, though. It removes barriers to entry. I can only imagine how horrible it would be to have to pass a snow skiing test before you are allowed to jump on the bunny hill. Ugg.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to other people on the trails and slopes though. Being a good snow citizen means that you’re aware of the situation, aware of others, and aware of the etiquette required.

What is etiquette? If we want to get strictly “dictionary definition,” Oxford dictionary says it is the custom code of polite behavior in society among members of a particular profession or group.

And when you’re on the mountain enjoying the winter sports associated, you’d better believe you’re in a “particular group!” And it comes with social responsibilities. I’ve seen quite a few lists out there (they’re easy to search for), but if I have to come up with ten points of etiquette for the mountain, here they are:

  1. Know the rules of the location. This one is HUGE. Many of the places you’ll be area actually privately owned. They’re publicly accessible, of course, but that doesn’t mean anything goes. Visit the website, or call the resort to find out what the rules of the trails are. Knowing this ahead of time, keeps you both out of trouble, and safe. Some places, for example, tell you very specifically what the orange markers may mean. For example, if one mountain has orange barriers up, it may mean “out of bounds.” Another mountain’s orange barriers may mean, “if you go here, you will probably die.” There’s a bit of a difference! Know the rules.

  2. Get off the trail, when you need to stop. I’m not talking about a 5 second stop so you can look at the terrain. If you’re going to stop and take of a few layers of clothes, have lunch, or meet up with some friends, be mindful of those who will be passing by. Move out of the way. And if you’re going to use a snow shovel to create a break area with snow couches, please, for the love of the sport, do it OFF TRAIL!

  3. Practice Leave No Trace. I was a boy scout (that won’t surprise most of you who know me). Leave No Trace means that you try to leave the area you’re in, better than when you found it. It’s a good rule for all aspects of outdoor experiences. If you have snacks, don’t litter. Take the packages back with you. Remember that the experience of the mountain is its beauty and solitude. Nothing ruins that more than a candy wrapper or trash dump on the trail.

  4. Go the right direction. Most trails (especially cross-country), are two-way streets, but some are one way only. For safety reasons, alone, you should know the trail map and know what the rules are, but it’s important to go with the flow of traffic. Someone traveling on the wrong side can really break up someone’s concentration and ruin the mood and experience. Be a good traveler.

  5. Knowing who has the right-of-way is good manners! This is pretty easy, but it IS dependent on which type of sport you’re enjoying

    1. For snow skiing, people going DOWNHILL have right-of-way on trails and tracks. It’s correct to move and let them pass.

    2. For snowshoeing, people going uphill have the right of way, just like on hiking trails. Be sure to move aside.

  6. Signal your intent! With helmets, hats, and earmuffs, things can be dampened a bit. It’s easy to sneak up on someone. Common methods of alerting others to your presence are to say, “Behind!” or “On your Left!” or “On your Right!” or just a plain ol “HUP!” This is especially true if you are skiing around beginners. Let them know where you are and give them wide berth. Just like a boat wouldn’t appreciate a jet ski zooming by at close proximity, the same manners should be given on the slopes. Note: Just because you are slower doesn’t mean you need to get off the trails. Just be mindful of your placement and use common sense to help avoid accidents.

  7. Fix your divots. What’s a divot? In golf, it’s that hole you make with your club when your swing hits the ground and takes a chunk out. In skiing, falls are inevitable (especially for the newer recruits!) What’s important is when you make a hole in the snow, when you get up, you do what you can to fix it, making it passable again. This is ESPECIALLY true on ski tracks. The goal here isn’t to make the snow pretty, it’s to make it passable. Skiers may be relying on ski tracks, and if you’ve disrupted it, it could cause others to fall as well.

  8. When snowshoeing, stay out of the ski track! Sure, it looks like it’s already smoothed out and would be much easier to walk it… but the skiers have worked to make that track work for them. Either use an existing snow show track, or make your own beside the ski track. It’s both unfair to the skiers to destroy the ski track, and just is plain old “good manners” to do the right thing.

  9. For fat tire bikers. I don’t see many of these at the mountains, but I have seen a few. Those that I have, have always been great and super well-mannered. The top rule here, is never ride on ski tracks. The second top rule is “if you’re sinking, go home!” Sometimes it’s just too soft for a good ride.

  10. Stay visible. This one is just plain safety consciousness at it’s finest. Be aware of how visible you are to others. Be visible. Be safe.

The list I just wrote is just a list. It is not a hard and fast set of guidance that is published by some international standards of snow use! Most of them are about using good sense on the slopes and ensuring that your enjoyment of the experience doesn’t hamper someone else’s. When everyone practices etiquette, the world is a better place. Enjoy the snow!