Animals moving across snow surfaces sink to varying depths, increasing the energetic cost of travel. For ease of movement, animals may follow compacted trails created by sports such as snowmobiling and snowshoeing. We tested the assumption that animals less-adapted to snow travel (i.e. animals with a high footload (body mass/foot surface area)) are more likely to use compacted trails and follow them for greater distances than animals well-adapted to moving on snow.
We sampled animal movements on compacted and non-compacted transects in northwestern Wyoming and southeastern Idaho, USA, during two winters. Consistent with our prediction, footload positively influenced the probability of animals following compacted transects, and positively influenced their following distance, although the latter relationship was weaker. Additionally, we found that different snow sports cause similar increases in snow density. We suggest that future researchers experimentally test whether the use of compacted trails by animals with high footloads alters their habitat selection and dispersal, and whether it affects their competitive and predatory success.