Sure, you know how to ride your machine, how to accelerate over various types of terrain, and how to stop safely. But do you understand the rules of riding in groups and on trails where other outdoor enthusiasts share the pathways?
There are seven rules that experienced riders may forget to teach new snowmobilers or that old riders themselves may simply forget over time. Beyond the basic personal-safety rules, there are community-oriented rules that serve to make winter sports enjoyable for the maximum number of people.
The Golden Rule applies here, so if you act courteously and respect the rules of the trail when riding with a group, you're off to a great start. The following seven rules will now be part of your training too.
- Always Give Uphill Riders the Right of Way
This is why you've been instructed to slow down before approaching the crests of hills. It takes more momentum to go up than down, so allowing the uphill riders to make their ascent means the hill will clear more quickly.
Riders going uphill may have a difficult time continuing to move forward if they have to stop and yield the right of way to avoid a collision.
- Don't Hog the Hill or the Road
Speaking of blind drop-offs on hills, don't approach drop-offs while side by side with someone else. Allow one rider to approach from the right and assess the situation below. Stay to the right in single file in case the trail narrows.
Avoid riding side by side on wider trails. It may be fun to mess with your buddy or to ride closer without getting sprayed a bit, but you risk not having time to get out of the way of less visible wildlife or outdoor enthusiasts.
- Always Give Right of Way
There isn't some magical hierarchy of trail gallantry that must be memorized when you ride a snowmobile. You give the right of way to everyone who isn’t on a snowmobile.
When you approach people coming toward you on the trail, slow down and give the right of way to all of them, including the following:
- Horses and Riders or Sleigh-Drivers
If you overtake any of the above on narrow trails, allow them to move safely out of your way before proceeding. Always pass slowly when you are able to move forward.
- Pay Attention to Hunting Season Dates
In some public locations that host snowmobile trails, there are days during deer-hunting and other game-hunting seasons when you're not allowed to ride snowmobiles for your own safety. Hunters will be out in droves on those days, shooting stuff that moves. Since many public trails access parts of private land, the private landowners expect those dates to be honored when it comes to their portions of the trails.
In other places, you have only certain days or hours when you may ride your snowmobile during hunting season. While it may be tempting to get on the fresh trails before everyone else gets a shot, you may get more of a bang out of the experience than you want. Find other trails nearby where you can safely ride.
- Stay Away on Ice
If you're on public land, you should maintain a safe distance between yourself and any ice-fishing shanties or skaters. Don't be rude by using ice-skating areas for snowmobiling or by running around making a lot of noise near fishing activity.
Go as slowly and quietly as you can if you must pass on ice within 100 feet of a skater or shanty. The noise of your sled carries very well over frozen water.
- Don't Signal If It Means Losing Control
When a person or group gives your group the right of way, it's common for the first rider in your group to signal how many riders are following behind. This lets the people giving your group the right of way know exactly how many snowmobiles to wait for before proceeding. If you have some members lagging behind, they're still counted and won't face a potential collision.
On narrow trails, it's better to maintain control using both hands to steer. Use your judgment before you attempt to signal. It's also not necessary for every member of your group to signal the number of riders to their rear. At night, your lights should be enough to show those you encounter how many sleds to wait for before proceeding along the trail.
- Let Faster Riders Pass
Your group will work out who is the lead dog (first rider) and the tail dog (last rider) as well as how close your machines should be to each other in a single-file line to avoid pileups and snow-spray discomfort. However, other individuals or groups may want to pass you on busy trails.
There should be an agreed-upon signal used to alert the lead dog so he or she will pull over or slow down to let the others pass. The tail dog should periodically check behind your group to make sure no one is attempting to pass your group.
If you ride on land owned by private clubs or individuals, they may have other rules of etiquette they expect you to follow. For example, landowners may want you to stay away from sensitive wildlife areas or livestock pens. Ask your escort or host whether they have any special rules you should follow. The owners will appreciate your concern and your compliance.
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