Be smart, safe when snowmobiling this winter | SkyHiNews.com

Be smart, safe when snowmobiling this winter

Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Winter is settling in on Colorado and snowmobile season is starting. Colorado Parks and Wildlife reminds snowmobilers to travel safely this winter and to review state regulations that apply to this recreational activity.

"Snowmobiling is a great way to get into the backcountry in Colorado, but we recommend reviewing some safety precautions to assure a safe trip," said Ryan Crabb, trails coordinator for CPW and an expert snowmobiler.

At the beginning of the season, give your snowmobile a thorough inspection. Check the track and belts for abnormal wear, clean and replace spark plugs if necessary and change fluids. Closely inspect the skis, A-arms, suspension, and check the steering system to assure minimal play. Belts are susceptible to deterioration over time and from damage during operation, explained Andy Dean, a ranger at Ridgway State Park.

"A lack of proper snowmobile maintenance is a common reason for breakdowns in the backcountry," Dean said. "Be sure to thorough check your snowmobile before each ride, replace damaged and worn parts. Always carry things like extra belts and spark plugs."

Be sure to carry the owner's manual with you, be familiar with how to make repairs in the field and how to tow your machine with another snowmobile.

Weather can vary significantly during any day, so inspect your clothing and other safety equipment to assure that you'll be safe and warm.

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Before you head out, study a map and become familiar with the area where you'll be traveling.

"It's very important to know the terrain, such as the slope gradient, drainages and creek beds. Understanding the lay of the land will help keep you out of trouble," Dean said.

Early in the season, be aware of snow depths in your riding areas. Two feet of light snow isn't usually enough to hold a snowmobile, but it is enough to obscure stumps, fallen trees, rocks and other hazards. Always check local snow and weather conditions.

Avalanches are a constant concern for all backcountry travelers. Last year two snowmobilers in Colorado were killed in avalanches. Nationwide, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, more snowmobilers die in avalanches than any other single winter activity.

CPW recommends that snowmobilers take an avalanche safety course, and always carry shovels, probes and avalanche beacons—and know how to use them. Monitoring snow conditions, especially after large snow falls, big changes in temperature, and big wind events is important in judging the safety of slopes. Be especially careful on steep slopes, above timberline, and when maneuvering through drainages.

Snowmobilers also should be familiar with the American Council of Snowmobile Associations Code of Ethics. The code recommends that you: know state and local rules and regulations; help others who are in distress; respect all other backcountry users; respect private and public property; never harass wildlife; do no damage to vegetation or natural features.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife web site provides complete information for snowmobilers, including: rules and regulations, safety tips, links to web sites of other snowmobile clubs, accident reporting procedures, links to annual registration materials for resident and non-residents, and links to trail system web sites.

The web site address: http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/SnowmobileHelpfulLinks.aspx.

To register for the class at Ridgway State Park, call 970-626-5822, or RSVP to Andrew.dean@state.co.us.

snowmobile safety tips

• Be sure your snowmobile is in top-notch mechanical condition throughout the season;

• Read the owner’s manual to familiarize yourself with the machine;

• Wear sensible, protective clothing designed for snowmobiling;

• Use a full-size helmet, goggles or face shield to prevent injuries from twigs, stones, ice chips and flying debris;

• Don’t wear long scarves because they can get caught in moving parts.

• If you are unfamiliar with the terrain, talk to someone who has traveled there before.

• Don’t travel on unfamiliar terrain at night;

• Know the weather forecast and the local ice and snow conditions;

• Never ride alone;

• Never pursue wildlife or domestic animals, and if you see a someone else doing that, contact local law enforcement;

• Be sure your lighting system is working properly; travel slowly at night as snowmobile lights are not bright enough to allow you to travel safely at high speed;

• Always carry a flashlight and spare batteries;

• If you are traveling over a lake or reservoir, make sure the ice is thick enough to hold;

• Avoid riding in freezing rain because goggles can freeze over.

• For more information about Colorado Parks and Wildlife, go to cpw.state.co.us.

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