This winter I was menaced by a dog on the trails at Eastman Cross Country Ski Center, which is a golf course with cross country (XC) ski trails in N.H. with homes along the trails. That dog was nipping at my heels sprinting behind me for more than 150 yards and barking with bad intentions.
Then I noticed a story in the Grand Junction Sentinel about dogs on trails in Colorado; XC ski trails that are groomed by the Grand Mesa Nordic Council on U.S. Forest Service land. A proposal to formally designate some of these trails as dog-free (or trails that allow dogs) has divided the community of trail users.
The Council wants some of the trails labeled with a “no dogs” rule and enforced to formalize the unofficial law. The local ranger stated that the U.S. Forest Service’s view is that trail users are required to have their dogs leashed at trail heads and on the trails, and dogs must be under control of their owners, but that can be voice control.
There was a dog biting incident on the Grand Mesa trails in February 2016. The other concerns are with waste, safety, and trail maintenance. Dogs can be an obstacle on the trail that causes skiers to lose control on fast downhills. Some trail users have commented about the amount of dog feces on trails and dogs behavior jumping on skiers and being aggressive.
Those who want to continue bringing their dogs to the trails feel they have a right to do so and they believe the area is open for public use including pets. Signs banning dogs have been installed illegally and some skiers were using intimidation tactics to discourage people from bringing their dogs on certain trails. While some skiers want one trail dedicated as dog-free there are other skiers who favor restricting dogs from all the trails.
The Nordic Council claims that it annually spends nearly $80,000 to groom the trail network, but the Council does not have the legal power to restrict use because it is pubic land. The Forest Service is taking comments to determine if a formal environmental analysis is needed, which will take months and not guarantee any action.
According to the Cross Country Ski Areas Association there are more than 60 XC ski areas in the organization that allow dogs on some trails (there are about 300 XC ski areas in North America and many more parks with trails). Some XC areas have designated specific trails for the dogs, others welcome dogs on all the trails, and some invite the skiers with dogs to use the snowshoe trails. Some XC ski areas require the dog to be tethered to the skier and it is suggested that dog owners check with the XC ski area for their specific dog trail policy. The association’s suggestions for taking your dog on ski trails include:
- Keep your dog under control at all times.
- Be particularly aware of your dog at the parking lot and trail head, where you’ll encounter skiers without dogs.
- Abide by all municipal animal control ordinances and city, state/province, and federal regulations.
- Have proof of current rabies vaccination.
- Be courteous to other skiers and snowshoers.
- Bag and remove any feces.
- Restrain dogs before and after skiing, either by attaching to leads, tying up, or by leaving them in your vehicle. Keep dogs within three feet of you or your vehicle.