What is a Groomed Trail? Is Machine Groomed Snow Good?

Groomed trails are ski and snowmobile trails with a surface that has been smoothed and packed. There are many different types of equipment being used to manipulate snow on the trails from towable groomer sleds to professional snow grooming snowcats.

If you want to learn about snow grooming, this post is for you.

We at PowerSportsGuide have compiled the basics under one roof!

What is a Groomed Trail?

Groomed trails are easily recognizable even by beginners. They are smooth, and in many cases have a special pattern on their surface called “corduroy” (narrow parallel lines). The grooming process primarily involves flattening and compacting the trails, but professional groomers can also rototill the snow for an even better result.

This process is typically used to improve the surface conditions of snowmobile trails, ski slopes and cross-country ski trails.

Depending on the size of the trail, the terrain and budget, operators can choose from a wide range of snow groomers.

Smaller trails are often groomed with tractors and ATVs, while ski resorts typically invest in snowcats specially designed for snow maintenance. What’s more, larger resorts own a complete fleet of these expensive machines.

Are you wondering why they groom the slopes and trails? Keep reading!

Why do They Groom Ski Slopes and Snowmobile Trails?

Frequent grooming of trails is the key to maintaining good snow conditions on the surface. There are many benefits of grooming trails and ski slopes, but the most important are arguably as follows:

  • Packing fresh snow
  • Creating a firm trail base
  • Covering icy and low-snow spots with fresh snow
  • Spreading artificial snow on the surface
  • Eliminating moguls and pits
  • Making the slopes/trails safer and more enjoyable

All of these are important in keeping the snow in good shape during snow season!

What Causes Moguls on Snowmobile Trails?

Contrary to popular belief, moguls on trails are not primarily caused by an uneven terrain surface. Although this does play a role, moguls on snowmobile trails are mainly caused by the tracks of the machines. How?

When a snowmobile is in motion, its suspensions move up and down to compensate for the uneven surface.

When the suspension moves down in a groove the snowmobile track digs the hole deeper and creates a small bump behind it.

The snowmobile that follows, packs this small snow bump and even builds it higher when coming out of the dip.

Since the suspensions of snowmobiles move up and down when the machine is in motion they continue this pattern of creating a lot bumps on the trails, which are also known as moguls.

Consequently, moguls are most easily formed if the snow is ungroomed and the surface is naturally uneven.

So, does this mean that every trail will be covered with moguls if the surface is not completely flat? The answer is no, since if a sufficient amount of snow falls, a groomer can eliminate the unevenness and create a smooth and solid surface throughout the trail.

A lot of snowmobile riders claim that most of the moguls on trails are created by “trail racers.” These disrespectful owners ride their sleds hard, which means driving too fast, braking hard before the corners, and hammering the throttle all the time. They are also prone to starting their sleds at full throttle after each stop.

All of these practices contribute to countless moguls on the trails, which causes a lot of headaches for all the other riders as well as the snowmobile clubs!

Moguls on Ski Slopes

What are the Bumps on Ski Slopes Called?

Just like on snowmobile trails, you can also find bumps on ski slopes, which are also referred to as moguls. This wave-like pattern is very annoying and makes the terrain exhausting and difficult to ski on, especially for beginners.

That’s why ski slopes are groomed more often than any other type of trail in the U.S.!

How are Moguls Made on Ski Slopes?

Surprisingly, moguls can be created artificially for mogul skiing, but this is the rarer case. Instead, moguls on ski slopes in most cases are made by the skiers themselves. When skiers turn, they carve out a little snow while pushing away with their skis. When other skiers and snowboarders follow the same line, the snow starts to accumulate into small piles. Finally, these piles turn into bigger bumps, which are also called moguls.

Because skiers continuously link turns, they create complete “mogul fields” on the slopes. If the whole slope is covered with bumps, they force skiers to turn around them, which speeds up the process.

Additionally, it’s quite common to find icy and shallow-snow spots around moguls. Since many skiers turn on the same spot, snow conditions begin to deteriorate dramatically on these spots.

What can ski resorts do about it?

First, they can build the ski slopes as wide as possible. The more room for skiers, the less chance they will repeatedly turn on the same spot. Finally, this will result in fewer moguls and icy spots!

Another common remedy is grooming the snow as often as possible.

But is machine groomed snow good? Find out in the next section!

Is Machine Groomed Snow Good?

Yes, many skiers and snowmobilers agree that groomed snow is the best surface, especially for beginners. This is because mogul runs not only require advanced skiing skills, but they are also exhausting even for experienced skiers! Mogul skiing is very demanding on the joints and muscles, thus it’s not for everyone.

It’s safe to say that every mogul is different, so skiers have to constantly adapt to changing terrain conditions. Therefore, to ski on a slope covered with moguls you need a lot of flexibility, strong muscles, and great skiing skills.

Moguls can also completely destroy the riding experience on snowmobile trails. Unlike the freeride snowmobiles built for backcountry rides, trail sleds are designed for smoother surfaces.

Thus, traveling with them on moguls is always an unpleasant experience, which can ruin the entire ride!

That’s why many snowmobile clubs make big effort eliminating moguls on their trails. Let’s see how they do it.

Grooming Trails and Slopes

How are Ski Slopes Groomed?

Ski slopes are typically groomed with giant snowcats specially built for snow maintenance. These unique vehicles are often called ski groomers or snow groomers. You can literally see them at every ski resort.

These large snowcats are equipped with a complete set of grooming accessories. These usually include a dozer blade, a tiller, and a smoother.

The machine moves up and down the ski slopes to create a nicely groomed surface.

How do They Groom Steep Ski Slopes?

Steep ski slopes are groomed with special snow groomers that are equipped with a huge winch. These heavy–duty winches have several tons of pulling force, while equipped with a rope 3,000-4,000 feet long and a durable gearbox. The rope is attached to a secure point to support the groomer on very steep slopes. Thanks to these features, the machine can safely groom steep slopes.

How are Cross Country Ski Trails Groomed?

As they are usually much less steep and wide, cross country ski trails can be groomed with tractors, ATVs, or snowmobiles. Besides the vehicle, special equipment is also needed, which is known as a “groomer drag” or “tow-behind snow groomer.” As its name implies these devices must be towed behind a vehicle. Thanks to their weight and design, groomer drags can level, compress and smooth the snow on the trails very efficiently.

Additionally, snowcats can also be used for trail grooming, however they are much more expensive compared to the afore-mentioned machines.

What’s more, smaller vehicles can more easily create the ideal lines of cross-country trails, since many larger snowcats tend to be too big for this purpose.

How Wide Are Groomed Cross Country Ski Trails?

As a rule of thumb, cross country ski trails should be at least 8-10 feet wide. However, this size is not recommended for two-way use, so these trails should be considered “single track ski trails.” The recommended width for a convenient two-way use ski track is about 12-24 feet.

When it comes to recreational trails, the width of the groomed surface is often dependent on the dimensions of the grooming machine.

How are Snowmobile Trails Groomed?

Just like cross country ski tracks, snowmobile trails are often groomed with tractors or ATVs. They feature special tracks that can be mounted in place of wheels. The main advantage of these vehicles is that after a quick transformation they can also be used in the summer. In contrast, snowcats can only run on snow, and come with hefty price tags.

Therefore, tractors are probably the more commonly used vehicles for grooming snowmobile trails.


Grooming a trail means manipulating the surface snow. The process typically consists of packing, leveling, rototilling, and smoothing the snow.

The purpose of grooming is to maintain the surface of ski tracks and snowmobile trails.

Ski resorts and large snow clubs typically use professional snow groomers, while shorter trails and cross- country ski tracks are usually groomed by snowmobiles, ATVs or tractors.

Lack of grooming often leads to moguls and icy/shallow-snow spots. These are not only annoying for skiers and snowmobile riders but can also be dangerous in many ways.

If you would like to know how to properly groom a trail, don’t miss our step-by-step guide on the topic!




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