Cross country skiers in the Fairbanks area who ski at Birch Hill Recreation Area take great grooming for granted. They shouldn’t! If skiers in Fairbanks traveled around North America to other cross country ski venues—be they public, commercial, or club-operated—those skiers would definitely notice how well the Birch Hill grooming stacks up against those other places.

The task is especially challenging here because our snow is not characteristic of the snow in many other parts of the continent. In general, Fairbanks snow is dryer (lower moisture content) and has a finer grain than in most other areas. The total snowfall in Fairbanks is also lower than in many other cross country skiing regions, so our grooming crew has to do more with less snow, and that snow is more difficult to work with.

In addition to understanding how “Fairbanks snow” works and responds to various grooming strategies, our top-notch groomers need to understand how to choose and operate the tools in the manner needed to optimize the end product: great corduroy and great tracks. That’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

Operating the NSCF’s new PistenBully is not as simple as jumping in the driver’s seat, turning a key, and taking a spin or two around the White Bear. Look at the attached photo of the control panel in the cockpit of the new PB. I don’t know about you, but I would not want to have to learn what all the buttons and switches on the joystick do – and there are three rocker switches and 12 buttons on the topside and three more buttons on the bottom. That’s not to mention all the icons on the screens. The groomer must manipulate all those buttons, switches, and icons AND run the throttle and steer at the same time.

So, when you are skiing around the Birch Hill trails on a snow prepared to near perfection, take a moment or two to think about everything that goes into producing those conditions, especially the expertise of our operators. And when you get home, drop an email or comment on Facebook thanking the groomers, and go to and donate to the NSCF for the trails/grooming program.

Remember that ALL expenses related to trail maintenance during the off-season and all grooming and trail work in-season (labor, fuel, equipment and tools, depreciation on club-owned equipment) is paid for through those donations. Included in those costs are annual savings dedicated to maintaining an equipment replacement fund so that the club has the resources to replace grooming equipment when it reaches the end of its functional life – and the equipment is not cheap!

The FNSB Parks and Recreation Department, which supports the Birch Hill facilities in many ways for which the skiing public should be very thankful, does not contribute any cash toward grooming expenses. It’s up to us to keep great grooming.

John Estle, NSCF Director of Competition, wrote this story.