Successful snowmobile rides start with safety mindset
DNR reminds snowmobile riders of safety tips ahead of Snowmobile Safety Awareness Week
Snowmobile riders throughout the state would welcome a fresh round of snowfall, but despite less-than-ideal conditions in some areas, they’re hitting lakes and trails with a fervor. In advance of Snowmobile Safety Awareness Week – Jan. 19-27 – the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reminds snowmobilers of the importance of safe and responsible riding. Minnesota has more than 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, about 21,000 of which are maintained by local snowmobile club volunteers. Add in the thousands of lakes on which people ride and there’s no shortage of opportunity to experience Minnesota atop a sled. Every year, however, multiple riders are killed or injured while riding a snowmobile. “Snowmobiling is fun and exciting – and is a great source of physical activity – but every time they fire up the engine snowmobilers should make safety their priority,” said Bruce Lawrence, recreational vehicle coordinator for DNR’s Enforcement Division. “By keeping a clear head and using common sense, snowmobile riders can go a long way toward ensuring a safe ride.” Here are some key safety points to keep in mind:
Don’t drink and ride – alcohol and snowmobiling are a bad combination.
Wear a helmet and proper clothing.
Drive slower at night and be prepared for the unexpected.
Check local trail and ice conditions.
Cross with care.
Avoid riding alone.
Ride safe, stay on the trail and respect private property.
Smart riders are safe riders – take a snowmobile safety training course.
Etiquette for Encountering Trail Grooming Equipment
It is important to respect the work trail groomers do to smooth and restore the snowmobile trails you ride on to a safe condition. Recognize that groomers may be working on the trail at any time. Always keep your snowmobile under control and anticipate that a groomer could be around the next corner or over the hill—and they are a large, immovable object that will win should you collide.
Snowmobiles are much smaller and much more maneuverable than groomers, so always yield to trail grooming equipment. Always slow down when approaching or overtaking grooming equipment. Understand that groomers move very slowly—typically only 5 to 8 miles per hour—so they are almost stationary when compared to a snowmobile traveling 30 to 60 miles per hour.
When approaching an oncoming groomer on the trail, slow down and move your snowmobile to the far right side of the trail. Realize that the grooming drag or tiller behind the grooming tractor is very wide, may extend wider than the tracks of the tractor, and may take up most or all of the trail's width. If the trail is narrow or winding, you may need to stop at the far outside edge of the trail, or even off it, to allow the groomer to pass.
When overtaking a groomer from the rear, slow down and assess the situation ahead. If there is good sight distance and the trail ahead is clear of oncoming traffic, pass the groomer while operating with caution. Beware that the groomer may create snow dust and make visibility poor as you pass it. If the trail is narrow or winding, you may need to stay behind the groomer until the operator pulls over and signals for you to pass. Be patient since it may take quite a bit of time before there is a good location with sufficient room for you to safely pass.
If you need to stop a groomer to ask the operator for information or assistance, understand this should be done only in an area where there is good sight distance and is safe for it to stop. The groomer operator may instruct you to follow the groomer to a safer location where he can safely stop to provide the assistance you need.
Trail Quality and Set Up Time
Snowmobile trail grooming requires a 'set up' time whereby the freshly groomed trail can re-freeze. Therefore riders must understand that riding on freshly groomed trails during this essential set up time can quickly destroy the trail base, resulting in long-term rough trails. Set up time will vary depending upon temperature and moisture content of the snow. Generally, at least two to six or even more than ten hours may be needed for the freshly groomed trail to set up to where it is durable and can withstand heavy snowmobile traffic.
Respect the work trail groomer operators do by never following directly behind their grooming equipment, since it immediately destroys their work. If possible, try to avoid riding a snowmobile on freshly groomed trails for at least two hours after the groomer passes by either waiting or choosing an alternate route. Showing this respect can help improve the quality and durability, as well as the safety, of your snowmobile trails.
If you come upon a groomer working on the trails and absolutely must use that route, try to minimize your impacts by observing the following groomer etiquette:
Try to stay off the fresh grooming if the trail or adjacent area is wide enough to safely and legally do
only at the far outside edge of the fresh grooming if your only option is to
ride upon the newly groomed trail
your group in single file versus allowing everyone to take a different path on
the fresh grooming
be purposely disrespectful (and damaging) by intentionally fishtailing or powering
through the soft snow
Understand that aggressive riding styles harmfully impact the quality and smoothness of the snowmobile trails you ride on—whether the trail is freshly groomed or not. Powerful engines, carbide runners, aggressive tracks, traction devices, fast starts and stops, and powering through curves all combine to destroy the smoothness of any snowmobile trail. So the next time you hit the brake or throttle, think about how you may have innocently (or purposely) contributed to destroying the trails you would really prefer to be smooth.
Best Trails! If you didn’t know that Minnesota has an outstanding system of recreational trails, you do now. American Trails has recognized Minnesota as the best trails state in the nation. Minnesota boasts over 21,000 miles of snowmobile trails, 600 miles of paved bike trails, 1000 miles of equestrian trails, 2000 miles of cross country ski trails and thousands of miles of ATV or off highway vehicle trails, hiking trails and water trails.
by John T. Prusak Used with permission of Snowmobile Magazine
This list is meant to be serious, and from the heart. At various times in this space, we intermix references to snowmobile clubs. We do this because we strongly believe in the value of snowmobile clubs and the need to support this grassroots level of the sport. Without our clubs, there would probably be no snowmobiling infrastructure, and the trails that might exist would be ungroomed, unfunded and basically unrideable. Therefore, if you are not a member of a snowmobile club, it is time to accept the fact that you are a freeloader. That may sound harsh, but it is the cold, hard truth. To those people, we offer this list. In no particular order, here are the Top 10 Reasons You Should Join A Snowmobile Club. Drum roll please: 10. Snowmobile clubs gain land access to create snowmobile trails. Without the clubs securing land leases and paying insurance costs, no trails would cross private property, and that means the sport as we know it would not exist. All this takes time, effort and money. 9. Snowmobile clubs clear and create trails. After the land access is received, somebody has to go out and clear away the brush, cut down interfering limbs, haul out trash and smooth the base of the trail. They also must build bridges over creeks, rivers and low spots, and that takes a lot of work and a lot of money. This is all done by volunteers who truly love the sport. Without these hidden heroes, either the trails would not get cleared, bridges would not get built and most trails would close, or some entity (say, the state) would have to pay a team of workers to do the grunt work. And if that happened, you could expect to pay several hundred dollars, maybe even a thousand, to register your snowmobile each year. 8. In most areas, members of the snowmobile clubs groom the trails. Sometimes these groomer operators get a token fee for their hard work, but the dollar-per-hour rate is menial at best, and that's when a groomer operator actually gets paid. Again, these are more of the hidden heroes who spend their time in a slow-moving groomer, tending to the trails and making them as smooth as they are. Remember, if you are not a club member you have no right to complain about trail conditions. 7. While we're talking trails, who do you think puts up all the stop signs, the directional arrows and the signs that tell you the distance to the next gas station or restaurant? If you said "the snowmobile clubs," give yourself 10 points and keep reading, because we've only just begun. 6. When funding is needed to pay for groomers, insurance or trails development, do you know where that money comes from? Sure, the $30 or $35 people spend to join a snowmobile club helps, but in most states the money comes from snowmobile registrations and gas tax rebates. Why does our sport get this money from the state? Because our sport is organized. If the state snowmobiling association can talk about its 25,000 members, for example, and those members call their local lawmakers and ask for support, the bill has a much better chance of getting funded. Furthermore, it is the snowmobile clubs and state associations that fight the battles to open public lands to snowmobilers, and there is strength in numbers. Become one of those numbers. 5. With some clubs and associations, membership brings financial benefits. I know I get a couple grand worth of accidental insurance, I get discounts at sponsoring businesses and I get the state publication. All this and more for a mere $ 35 a year. 4. Belonging to a club makes for better, safer snowmobiling. That's right, surveys and accident statistics have shown that snowmobile club members have a much lower accident rate than non-club members. Why? Because club members ten to be conscientious, they tend to stress safety and they are aware of safe-riding issues. 3. Belonging to a snowmobile club gives you a great social outlet for your favorite hobby. You can attend club rides, go to club meetings, take part in club fundraisers or take a club trip to a faraway snowmobiling destination. Belonging to a club gives you a good opportunity to ride with different people, experience different areas and hang out with people who have similar interests. 2. Belonging to a snowmobile club makes you a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem. If you think the snowmobile trails should be groomed more often, that a certain trail should move to the opposite side of the road or if you consider some corners on the trail dangerous or poorly marked, get involved. Most snowmobile clubs seek fresh opinions and want more feedback from users. 1. And the No. 1 reason to join a snowmobile club: It's just the right thing to do. For all the reasons listed above and many more you should belong to a snowmobile club. The costs are minimal, the benefits are nice and it is your responsibility to support the sport. It's cheap, it's simple and it's right.
International Voyageurs Snowmobile Club P.O. Box 1089 International Falls, MN 56649