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Forest Service prepares for winter recreation season

Moving into the winter months means several things in Pagosa Country: snow tires, winterizing homes, Christmas shopping. But none is as much fun as winter recreation.

From snowmobiling to snowshoeing to cross country skiing, Pagosa Country offers it all.

However, before the snow starts to fall and not melt, certain preparations must be made so trails will be in good condition for the winter outdoor enthusiasts.

“We are still preparing cross country ski trails for grooming” said Paul Blackman, recreation officer for the Pagosa Ranger District.

The preparation includes removing brush and other obstacles, at times including downed trees. This, Blackman explains, is done in the event that if there is not much snow, the trail will still be skiable.

Blackman says that the Forest Service is also mowing Coyote Hill, a favorite spot for cross country skiers.

“Before long, we will get snow in some type of quantity,” Blackman said, and that’s when the Nordic Ski Club, the Wolf Creek Trailblazers Snowmobile Club and the Forest Service will start major, official grooming (see a related story in the Sports section).

The Forest Service grooms only the Coyote Hill and West Fork trail system. All other trail systems are groomed by the volunteer services of either the Nordic Ski Club or the Snowmobile Club.

Once that first big snow comes, signage must go up.

“Signage is a big deal. Indicating road closure,” Blackman says. Because many snowmobile trails are roads during summer, the roads must be closed before the snowmobile club can groom.

Blackman says that driving on these closed roads is not safe. A vehicle may drive on the packed snow fine for awhile before sinking into the snow. When this happens, he says people sometimes have to wait until the snow melts before retrieving their vehicle.

“Immediately after a big snow storm, we ask that people use patience and common sense and wait for CDOT or the county to get streets and parking lots groomed,” Blackman said, adding that while he understands the eagerness to get out in the snow, it can be a safety hazard.

For those interested in backcountry skiing, there is not much done besides signage to prepare for that.

Blackman, though, offers this advice to backcountry skiers: “Pay attention to the avalanche forecast.” The forecast, he says, is readily available on a variety of websites and is available at the front desk of the Forest Service office. For those who are not at expert level, Blackman advises general avoidance of the backcountry until they are certain of their abilities.

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