Wanted: Pennsylvania snow farmers to groom cross-country ski trails
Posted by Howard on September 26, 2014
Wanted: Pennsylvania snow farmers. Pennsylvania needs more snow farmers. A snow farmer is a farmer, landowner, winery owner, or golf course owner who provides groomed cross-country skiing. Here’s how to get started.
Some regions of Pennsylvania get snow on par with Vermont. Vermont has a population of around 626,000 and around 40 groomed cross-country ski areas. Pennsylvania has 12.7 million people and only four dedicated ski only groomed cross-country ski places. To make a fair comparison, there are a handful of state parks that groom but those paths are often shared with non-skiers too. The best skiing is on cross-country ski only trails. Granted, people travel to Vermont from the surrounding region, including Pennsylvania, to cross-country ski. Obviously, not everyone in Pennsylvania can afford to travel to Vermont every weekend. So the potential is huge for Pennsylvania landowners to make some extra money in winter. The key in being successful in PA is to have low overhead and to take advantage of the snow when it is present. So what does it take to create groomed cross-country ski trails?
First, it takes some land that is properly drained and situated to be out of the direct rays of the sun in afternoons and of sufficient size to be interesting for skiing. A healthy annual snowfall helps too. Day use areas can be fairly small in acreage but the minimum size is probably around 160 acres, 200 acres and beyond will make it better. It depends on the quality of the trails and the grooming as to what size would be minimal. Next, the landowner needs to be able to control the access to the trails so all the work going into grooming trails is not trampled by humans and animals or run over by machinery. State parks have this situation as many non-skiers use the trails. Finally, working out a trail system that is safe and interesting for skiers is the fun part in providing ski trails. If a landowner has these ingredients, land, ability to control access, and a creative trail system, the groomed skiing boils down to grooming equipment.
Grooming equipment is another key needed to be successful. If the trail system is groomed well, skiers will pay to ski. Groomed trails provide the most enjoyable skiing for most cross-country skiers, backcountry skiers being the exception. There are two types of groomed trails, track setting for classical skiing and skate lanes for freestyle or skate skiing. Most recreational skiers in Pennsylvania are familiar with classic skiing. A track set trail system would be the most likely way to start snow farming in Pennsylvania. However, freestyle or skate skiing has become more popular in Pennsylvania and grooming for freestyle usually creates a surface that can survive melt freeze conditions better than classical tracks. Modern grooming equipment has been designed to be lighter and more efficient. A medium duty snowmobile or other snow machine and track setter would be the minimum equipment required to groom classic trails. A roller and scarifier, for breaking up crust, and a comb would offer more ability to groom well. There are other grooming devices but for those starting out on a small scale a track setter and something to pull it with is most important. There are many websites dedicated to grooming equipment and how to groom.
Finally, landowners need to protect themselves from loss. Liability releases and insurance are the final ingredients in creating ski trails. Insuring for cross-country skiing is not as intense as it is for downhill skiing as the injury rate is much lower. A landowner needs to have a very good liability release and enough insurance for financial protection. Landowners also need to have a plan on how they would assist an injured skier. By working with their local emergency services and coordinating some volunteers the landowner can create an excellent safety net for skiers. The Cross Country Ski Area Association is a non-profit association dedicated to representing cross-country ski areas in North America. This association can assist landowners with legal matters and provide resources.
If a landowner is looking to increase traffic to their business in winter in a healthy fun way, cross-country ski trails offer a great opportunity. Skiers enjoy amenities and having a place to sit, relax, and eat after a day of skiing is ideal. Wineries, restaurants, spas, bed and breakfasts, golf courses, and farmers would all benefit with increases in winter customer traffic. Groom it and the skiers will come. Last year Crosscountryskipa.com saw a huge jump in website traffic. A little cold air and widespread snow resulted in a jump in interest in the sport. Pennsylvanians are looking for ways to stay active and healthy in winter. If you are a landowner and have an interest but don’t know where to start contact us for free consultation. Crosscoutryskipa.com can assist you in getting started.