Snowmobiling this winter? Ride safely, have fun
Snowmobiling provides great opportunities for recreation with family and friends during the winter months. It’s a healthy activity that combines sightseeing with adventure. Northern New York offers some of the best snowmobiling you’re likely to find anywhere.
Almost all snowsledders experience the beauty and freedom of the open trail on public access snowmobile trail systems. And northern New York is home to thousands of miles of interconnected, public access snowmobile trails. But with that freedom and riding enjoyment comes considerable responsibility — not just for one’s own safety, but for the safety of other trail users, snowmobilers and non-snowmobilers alike (e.g. cross-country skiers, snowshoers, dog-sledders).
Before hitting the trail, it’s imperative that you have at least a basic understanding of the mechanical functioning of your snowmobile, that you fully appreciate your responsibilities as a snowmobiler and behave accordingly, that you’re willing to help foster proper attitudes toward snowmobiling, public trail systems, and the environment, and that you recognize the value of and become familiar with fundamental winter survival skills. You must also understand and obey all of the laws governing snowmobiling – not just the written laws that carry penalties for non-compliance, but the universally accepted guidelines, as well.
¯ Don’t drink and drive. Snowmobilers that drink, frequently drive too fast. Consumption of alcohol and excessive speed are the two most common contributing factors in fatal snowmobile accidents. And alcohol can cause your body temperature to drop at an accelerated rate, increasing vulnerability to cold and hypothermia.
¯ Drive defensively. Snowmobile related injuries and fatalities often occur as a result of riding on highways and roads, riding on ice or on unfamiliar terrain, and/or riding after dark. Staying on marked trails or, where permitted, on the right shoulder of the road is the best way to avoid unseen hazards. Keep an eye out for obstacles such as branches, tree stumps, boulders, and fence wire, all of which may be hidden by or buried in deep snow.
¯ Always operate your sled at speeds that are reasonable and prudent. You could suddenly run into wildlife, oncoming sleds, grooming equipment, open water, unsafe ice, etc. (It’s important to note that during the 2021-22 season, there were more than 100 snowmobile accidents in New York. Nineteen resulted in fatalities. Most of those occurred in the North Country and almost all were caused by riders operating their sleds at unsafe speeds, resulting in collisions with either fixed or moving objects.)
¯ Take additional precautions after dark, when forward visibility is reduced, and when the likelihood of becoming disoriented or lost is greatest.
¯ Stay on top of changing weather and ice and snow conditions. And dress in layers. This will allow you to add or remove clothing as conditions change. Avoid wearing cotton.
¯ Wear a helmet that’s the right size, in good condition, and safety certified, preferably with a face shield that will protect you from frostbite, flying debris, and other hazards.
¯ Whenever possible, ride with at least one friend or family member. There’s safety in numbers. And always make sure that someone knows where you’re going and when you’ll return.
¯ The snowmobile manufacturer’s tool kit and owner’s manual, and a spare drive belt and spark plugs should be kept with your sled at all times. Bring your cellphone with you and consider packing a spare ignition key, first aid kit, maps, compass, extra clothing, work gloves, tow rope, flashlight, high energy snacks, (folding) saw, axe, sharp knife, wire, duct tape, pry bar, and lighter or waterproof matches.
Young teens must complete snowmobile safety training
New York state law stipulates that “youth ages 10 through 13 may operate a snowmobile on lands upon which snowmobiling is allowed, only if they’ve completed a snowmobile safety training course recognized by the state of New York and are accompanied by (within 500 feet of) a person who is at least 18 years of age.” If they’ve completed a snowmobile safety training, youths age 14 through 17 may operate a snowmobile without adult or other supervision. If minors age 14 through 17 haven’t completed the training course, they may operate a snowmobile only if accompanied by a person who is at least 18 years of age. No safety course is required for riders 18 years old and older.
For more than a decade, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County provided snowmobile safety training courses to youth in our region. As a former snowmobile safety course instructor sponsored by CCE, I want to encourage all riders to abide by the rules. And I want to thank extension for taking an active role in assuring that children in the region were given the opportunity to safely enjoy this exciting winter sport in the past. New York state approved snowmobile safety training is now available online at www.snowmobilecourse.com.
Enjoy the trails safely
Snowmobiling allows us to recognize, appreciate, and respect the unequalled and unspoiled beauty of the Adirondacks and all of northern New York. And if we all agree to adhere to a few basic guiding principles, snowmobiling can be a safe sport that everyone can recognize the value of and enjoy.