The U.S. Forest Service wants people to know that they should not "do as they see" when it comes to the service's snowmobile use on Rabbit Ears Pass in the next few weeks.
Forest Service crews have been using snowmobiles to mark and maintain cross country ski and snowshoe trails in the Routt National Forest on the pass.
"We do this on snowmobiles because it allows us to carry all of our stuff to do this right in an efficient manner," said Jon Halverson, wilderness manager for the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears district. "We're hoping people will understand and hopefully not follow our lead."
The Forest Service maintains more than 30 miles of nonmotorized winter trails. For those trails, it encourages skiing, snowshoeing and other nonmotorized recreational uses.
There are other trails, mostly on the east side of the pass, that the service maintains for motorized users.
Forest crews use snowmobiles in the nonmotorized areas twice a year, once in early winter to maintain and mark trails and once in the spring to remove the markers.
Their work includes clearing deadfall, removing tree branches, placing bamboo guidepoles and replacing or putting in new trail markers.
Snowmobiles are necessary because of the distances the crews travel and because of the equipment they have to bring.
"We can do the job in a few days using snowmobiles, but it would take about three weeks to do the job to the same standard on skis or snowshoes," Halverson said.
A well-kept trail system is important to a fun, safe backcountry experience, he said.
Recreational users have come to depend on the marked network of ski and snowshoe trails on Rabbit Ears Pass. For people new to the area, marked routes can be vital. People are not required to follow the trails, but trails can be a safe way to get through the snowy area, he said.
"You can start out with nice sunny weather, and you get done and it's whiteout conditions and you may need those trail markers," he said.
Halverson also recommended that backcountry users go into the forest prepared to spend a night outdoors if weather conditions change and also encouraged people not to go by themselves. People new to the area should consider skiing or snowshoeing with a friend familiar with the terrain, he said.