After two weeks with temperatures in the single digits, some more comfortable weather doesn't sound all that bad. We should be seeing overnight lows near freezing, with daytime highs peaking near the mid-40s. What does that do to groomed trails? Not much. It's what trail users do in those conditions that can make or break the rest of the season.
Warming temperatures add moisture to the snow, helps the trail settle and pack, and provides a rock-solid base for future snowfall. It's not a bad thing to have a few days of warm weather to check all these boxes and set us up for the next month or two of winter. However, those conditions make any traffic very impactful. The tire tracks, ruts, footprints, or snowshoes can cause deep divots that our groomers can't get out of the trail, making bumpy and even unsafe conditions for other users.
You can still ride the Winter Sports Singletrack and other trail systems, but we do ask that you use your best judgment and plan your outings based on current and expected conditions.
Ride Early. Make the most of overnight lows by popping out of bed and hitting the trails before work. A long 10 hours of darkness, colder air, and the chance fo the snow to set up makes morning riding by far the least impactful.
Play The Snow Temp. Snow temperature tends to lag 2-3 hours behind air temperature. Even if the air is sliding over 32 degrees, the snow is still a bit colder and tends to hold its shape and structure fairly well. Areas with direct sunlight will soften and deteriorate more quickly, while forested or shadowed trail with stay firm for some time, even if it's getting warm. This makes a mid-morning or lunchtime ride possible, especially when there was a cold overnight low.
Make The Call. If you can only ride after work, be smart. The air is warmest in the late afternoon, which means the snow might actually be at its softest just before the sun sets, which is when most of us are hitting the trailhead. If you're leaving any sort of indentation in the trail, sinking in more than a 1/4", or digging in in the corners, call it a day. The ruts made in warm conditions can be extremely hard or even impossible to erase by our grooming equipment.
As always, tire pressure is the best way to protect and maintain the trails. Lower psi can not only reduce your impact, it can be faster, offer much better handling and control, and offer superior floatation for sections of softer or more drifted snow. The right number can vary based on rim width, tire width, and rider weight, but a universal range is between 2-5psi. There is rarely any real benefit to riding tire pressures over 5psi on snow...really!
We'll be adjusting our grooming plans to meet the fluctuations of temperatures and moistures, and we'll be sure to keep you updated on how the Winter Sports Singletrack, Cadillac Pathway, Glacial Hills, and Winter Sports Trail at Leelanau State Park are holding up.
Looking to stay informed on conditions at your local trailhead? Purchase your grooming badge for the WST in Traverse City, Cadillac Pathway, Glacial Hills Trails, or get involved with NMMBA to help maintain trails year-round!