Experts give advice to snowmobilers for safety

With recent snowfall and the forecast calling for more, area snowmobilers are getting set to dash across the wide-open areas of Northwest Colorado.

Snowmobiling is quickly becoming one of the most popular winter recreational activities in Colorado. Although rules and regulations within parks and property may seem overwhelming, they were made to keep the trails safe for all snowmobiliers.

Department of Natural Resource (DNR) agencies throughout the United States have outlined basic rules in keeping safe while riding through the snow on a two-ski, one-track machine. These safety tips include not drinking and riding; always wearing a safety helmet; watching for thin ice and open water; keeping to the right on trails; checking controls and maintaining a machine; obeying all laws and regulations and using common sense; staying off the roadway, shoulder and in-slope of state and county highways; operating the snowmobile in the same direction as highway traffic when riding one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise; and staying off the median of four-lane highways.

According to the DNR, it is also considerate to use common courtesy while dashing through the snow. Outlining snowmobile courtesy includes giving the groomer on groomed trails plenty of room; the worst thing people can do is to follow the groomer. Also, give freshly-groomed snow time to set. In perfect conditions with colder temperatures, it may only take an hour or so. The longer the snow is allowed to set, the longer the trails will hold up to increasing traffic and respect private property. "Stay on trails. If you abuse it, you will lose it," according to the DNR.

The DNR also has a "Basic Snowmobile Safety Code" for all riders. The DNR suggests all snowmobilers be familiar with the code and the manual for the specific model snowmobile being ridden. Riders should make sure all proper adjustments and lubrications, and follow safety suggestions. If any repairs or adjustments are needed, get them done before traveling anywhere on a snowmobile.

Colorado State Parks recommends safety training for everyone who operates a snowmobile. State Parks offers a free course with six hours of classroom instruction and an additional hour of performance testing on a snowmobile. Riders do not have to own a machine to take the course.

Anyone between the ages of 10 and 16 who wants to operate a snowmobile on public lands must be certified or supervised by someone who is. Adults are encouraged to take snowmobile safety training. According to the DNR, more than 800 adult employees of Colorado ski areas are certified each year.

Certificates in snowmobile safety are awarded upon successful completion of a Department of Public Occupational Recreation-approved training course. Courses are available throughout Colorado from local snowmobile clubs, the Colorado Snowmobile Association and Colorado State Parks.

Snowmobile Safety Certification Classes are offered in Craig. For more information, call 824-9473.

Colorado snowmobilers pay a $15.25 annual registration fee which supports the State Snowmobile Program supervised by Colorado State Parks. According to Joe Tonso of the Colorado Snowmobile Association, registration fees in 1998 raised $206,000. Registration fees are used to pay for trail grooming, enforcement, equipment purchases, safety education and training, program administration and an avalanche warning program. Other purchases with additional funds include trail marking poles, safety manuals, training programs for youth and restrooms along trails.

For information or to receive a copy of areas in Colorado that have groomed snowmobile trails, call the Colorado Snowmobile Association SNOWLINE at (800) 235-4480.

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