For many, nothing quite compares to the exhilaration of riding a snowmobile through the backcountry surrounded by the majestic beauty of Colorado's public lands.
Before you head out on your sled to see your favorite winter wonderland, take some time to consider the key factors necessary for a safe responsible trip, advises Dave Hause, who manages the Snowmobile Fund for Colorado State Parks. Planning can make a difference between a trip you can't wait to tell your friends about a disappointing outing that could end in disaster.
First, learn about the area you'll be traveling. Make sure the current conditions will fit into your plans and your skill level.
No one wants to arrive on a beautiful winter day to find there's not enough snow, or find out the area you planned on riding has been closed to motorized vehicles.
Also, consult a map or another ride with experience in the area you'll be traveling. Never travel with a map and a compass.
An area you know well in summertime looks completely different under six feet of snow, and no one wants to get lost.
Dress appropriately, wearing multi-layer clothing and a helmet and goggles. Plan for the possibility of breaking down, becoming stuck or lost. Make sure you've brought along the supplies necessary for an emergency, like flares, snowshoes or ski, flashing, food, a first aid kit and player of water, Hause said.
Don't snowmobile alone and always make sure you've let someone know where you're going and when you plan on coming back.
This information can be critical if something unexpected should happen on your trip, reducing the time it takes for others to realize there may be a problem and help reaching you.
Make sure the area you're traveling isn't prone to avalance danger and make sure you have some knowledge of backcountry winter travel. Avanlanches have killed 41 people in Colorado in the past five years.
Call the avalanche hotline at (303)-275-5360 to check on snow condition before you head out, or visit their website at www.caic.state.co.us.
If you're new to snowmobling, learn how to operate your machine before you the high country.
Colorado State Parks recommends safety training for everyone who operates a snowmobile.
The free course consists of six hours of classroom instruction and an additional hour of testing on a snowmobile.
Make sure your snowmobile is in good mechanical condition before you leave home.
Once you've reached your destination, few simple tips can make your trip more enjoyable, according to Hause.
Snowmobiles do not need to warm up before you ride. Unlike some vehicles, snowmobile engines are ready to go shortly after starting up. Idling the engine only adds to air pollution.
A typical two-cycle engine found in today snowmobiles can be 100 times as polluting as an automobile. Make sure you don't add the pollution most of us are trying to escape by heading to the backcountry.
Consider the noise your machine makes. While snowmobiles have become increasingly quite, the noise from your machine can be jarring to other public land users seeking the solitude and quit of the mountains. Respect designated areas for cross country skiers and snowshoers, and be courteous to others you meet on the trail.
Observe any wildlife you encounter from a distance. Winter is a critical time for Colorado wildlife. Approaching or harassing them can cause additional stress that can be life threatening.
Stay off plowed roads that are open to automobile traffic. It's illegal and dangerous to ride on public roads that are open to traffic. If you must, be sure you stay as far to the right of the road as possible. Also, be considerate of private property that borders snowmobile routes and never ride on private property unless the owner has given you permission.
When you ride, pay attention to the terrain. Watch out for hidden obstacles such as stumps, fence wire and rocks. Don't ride on snow that's less than three feet deep. The impact on mountain flora during the winter can be extremely damaging. Besides, riding on snow that's too shallow can be hard on your machine.
Remember that all snowmobiles operating on public lands in Colorado must be registered with Colorado State Parks. For more information on the Colorado Snowmobile Program, call (303)-791-1920 or visit the State Parks web site at www.coloradoparks.org.