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Snowmobiling This Winter? What You Need to Know

Submitted by Craig Kelley on January 17, 2012 – 4:51 pm

The winter season is upon us. And with it comes the weather — more specifically, the snow (at least for most of us!). Besides the hot chocolate, one of the greatest things about winter is the opportunity to engage in some seasonal outdoor activities, namely things like skiing (see page 20 for more) and snowmobiling.

Whether you rank as an expert or novice, be sure you know the proper rules for snowmobiling safety.

Obey posted speed limits and road/trail signs. Always drive within your ability and the capabilities of your snowmobile. Reduce your speed when necessitated by weather conditions and visibility, and always beware of fences, guide wires and other objects that are more difficult to spot at night or when visibility is reduced by snowy conditions or wind-blown snow.

Carry GPS-tracked satellite or smartphones so that you can be located if you get lost, injured or stuck in a remote area. Always let someone know of your planned ride route for the day, including your destination(s), your planned route(s), an accurate description of your snowmobile (make, model
and color) and your expected time to return back to your starting point.

Never snowmobile alone. Always have one or more other riders.

Always be prepared for the unexpected. Make sure that you have water, food, shovels, blankets and extra dry socks, gloves and stocking cap each time you ride.

Wear the appropriate clothing. Dressing for snowmobling is one of the most important things to know.

Exercise caution at any trail, road and railroad crossings that you encounter during your ride.

Never ride impaired. Alcoholic beverages, illegal drugs, narcotic prescription drugs and even over-the-counter medications can slow your reaction time and affect your ability to make good decisions on your snowmobile. In many jurisdictions, being convicted of impaired riding on a snowmobile carries the same substantial penalties as the impaired driving of a motor vehicle on the roadways, and you will lose your driving privileges for all types of vehicles (including motor vehicles, commercial vehicles and motorcycles) and could face probation or even prison.

Use the appropriate, accepted hand signals when driving with others before stopping, slowing down or turning.

Exercise caution on blind corners and hill crests, and always remain on the right-hand side of the trail whenever possible.

Never ride on private property without permission of the landowner to avoid possible trespassing charges.

Carry a snowmobile/winter survival kit that includes: full first-aid kit; area trail map and compass for your locale; lighter (or matches) in a waterproof container; knife; flashlight; whistle; high-energy food, such as nuts or granola bars; a mechanical kit that includes a spare spark plug and drive belt; tow rope; extra ignition key; screwdriver, wrenches and hammer; plus your snowmobile’s owner manual.

Check the weather before heading out. With today’s technology, it is much easier to know the weather forecast before you ride, even in remote locations.

Wear a helmet. You should always wear a helmet that meets the SNELL/D.O.T standards approved for motorcycle helmets. Everyone who rides on a sled or similar device being towed by a snowmobile should also wear an approved helmet.

Snowmobiling is one of the most fun and exhilarating things to do in the winter weather. However,  following the proper guidelines is key. If you do so, you will have a great time, want to do it again and want to bring a new group of friends to share a great day in the seat.

— Craig Kelley is an attorney with Inserra & Kelley in Omaha, Nebraska.