Conflicts between cross-country skiers and snow bikes have prompted some suggestions on their use from the San Juan National Forest.
Snow bikes, also called fat-tire bikes, utilize oversize tires that allow for travel across packed snow. The relatively new technology has been gaining in popularity, but does not always mix well with cross-country ski tracks and groomed areas.
"We've heard some complaints and witnessed ski tracks wiped out by snow bikes," said Toni Kelly, a forest public information officer. "It is an issue of education and trail courtesy."
The Chicken Creek nordic ski area near Mancos has had some conflicts with bikes. The 15-mile trail system is groomed by volunteers and cherished by local skate skiers.
To minimize conflict, the Forest Service has installed a sign at Chicken Creek encouraging non-skiers including snow-bikes to ride elsewhere, such as Boggy Draw or Transfer.
"It is not prohibited, but we are suggesting they ride at other winter play areas and avoid ski tracks," said trail specialist Chris Bouton. "There is enough room out there for everyone."
There are no restrictions on snow-biking. Users can travel over snow on roads, off road and off trail. Frozen, packed snow is ideal.
Peter Brind'Amour regularly grooms Chicken Creek, and has seen problems caused by bikers.
"We started seeing the snow bikes the last couple of years. If the track is very firm and no damage is done, no one will complain too loudly," he said. "However, soft trails have already suffered some moderate damage this year as a result of bike travel."
Skate skiers depend on a smooth, groomed surface, said skier Nancy Marion. Bike ruts damage the surface, freeze over night, and can be difficult to groom smooth.
"I was amazed the first time I saw them on the trail," she said. "I suggested some other areas that are not specifically maintained for skiers."
The new winter recreation option is gaining traction. But framing the issue as skiers versus bikers is misplaced, said Scott Darling, a snow biker and co-owner of Kokopelli Bike and Board in Cortez.
Snow bikers for the most part regulate themselves, he said, because the bikes are only practical in firm, frozen snow conditions that leave a minimal track.
"If they are leaving a rut, then it is too soft, and they should find someplace else to go," he said. "They put in a lot of time grooming there and don't want to see anyone ruin it."
Part of the issue is the limited groomed areas for skiers and bikers who prefer those conditions.
To solve that, Kokopelli Bike Club recently obtained permission from the Forest Service to groom a 16-mile snow bike trail in the Boggy Draw area. The trail will leave from the cattle guard at the Boggy trailhead and travel south along fire roads.
"We made a modified groomer and are going to experiment with it when there is enough snow," Darling said. "Snow biking is a great workout, but it requires a firm snowpack with not more than a few inches of fresh snow on top."
Kokopelli sold 40 snowbikes last year, and is on pace to repeat that number this year.
Backcounty skiers have a long tradition of being possessive about ski tracks. They laboriously break trail to be used over and over, only to return later and see their hard work has been trampled by snowshoers.
Public education campaigns helped, and now it's common to see separate ski and snowshoe tracks. As with any new technology, there will be a learning curve.
"Snow bikes are pretty new to the scene," said recreation planner Tom Rice. "Winter biking has become a niche, and in our multiple-use forest, everyone should respect each others' different uses and tracks."