Snowmobiling - Tread Lightly
Tr e a d L i g h t l y !
G u i d e To
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
WHAT IS TREAD LIGHTLY!? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
PREPARATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
CLOTHING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6
SAFETY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
TRAIL ETIQUETTE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10
SNOWMOBILING AND THE ENVIRONMENT . . . . . .12
NEGOTIATING TERRAIN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13
RIDING TIPS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14
NIGHT RIDING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15
SURVIVAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
AVALANCHES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
SNOWMOBILE EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST . . . . . . . . .18
For many of us, enjoying the outdoors has become a major form of
recreation. There’s nothing more cherished than “getting away
from it all.” Winter pursuits such as winter camping, ice fishing,
photography, organized snowmobile club activities, and trail and
tour riding have all grown in popularity because of the increased
popularity of snowmobiling, and the ever-improving reliability of
Snowmobiles grant us access to remote areas such as hidden woods
and distant mountains, and they permit us to explore and enjoy. But
we also have a responsibility to our outdoor home, to keep it neat
and orderly, just as we would our homes and yards.
Throughout the Tread Lightly! Guide to Responsible
Snowmobiling, you will learn to prepare for responsible enjoyment
of winter’s splendor and the excitement of snowmobiling. This
guide will help make your riding as enjoyable as possible, and will
ensure that it has a positive influence on nature and those around
Now, off to the wonderful world of responsible snowmobiling, the
Tread Lightly! way.
WHAT IS TREAD LIGHTLY!?
Tread Lightly! began in the mid-1980s as a U.S. Forest Service
program. Its goal was public education that would encourage
protecting public and private lands through practicing low-impact
principles applicable to all forms of recreational activities.
In 1990, Tread Lightly! became a non-profit corporation, Tread
Lightly!, Inc. It unites a broad spectrum of federal and state
governmental agencies, recreational manufacturers, parts suppliers,
enthusiasts magazines, user groups, and concerned individuals who
share a common goal to care for our public and private lands.
Tread Lightly! achieves its goals to educate the outdoor recreation
enthusiast in several ways. First, it develops and distributes
educational materials to outdoor enthusiasts. Second, it works with
the media to get the message out to everyone who enjoys the
outdoors. Third, it works with the manufacturers and suppliers to
the various outdoor recreation markets and public-service agencies
to assure that advertising and promotional programs take an
enlightened stance on responsible land use.
The primary mission of Tread Lightly! is to encourage
recreationalists to be responsible as they enjoy their recreational
vehicles such as snowmobiles, or other forms of backcountry
travel. Being environmentally responsible is not difficult. All it
requires is common sense, basic decency, and the commitment to
follow some basic principles summed up in the Tread Lightly!
Travel and recreate with minimum impact.
Respect the environment and the rights of others.
Educate yourself, plan and prepare before you go.
A llow for future use of the outdoors, leave it better than
you found it.
Discover the rewards of responsible recreation.
STEP BY STEP
Before you head out on your next snowmobiling adventure, a little
preparation can make your life easier, safer, and at the same time
protect the environment. Planning for the unexpected as well as the
expected can help maximize your time and fun outdoors and
minimize your problems. Plan your trip well in advance—30 days
isn’t too early.
To enjoy snowmobiling to the fullest, be prepared for the
unexpected. Even when riding in remote areas such as woods and
mountains, you can enjoy hours of trouble-free riding with some
smart preparation. Specific items you should pack for your personal
safety are mentioned throughout this booklet, and the Snowmobile
Checklist consists of items to keep your snowmobile running right.
• Always pack travel maps. Carry local trail maps and area
highway maps to get the best idea of your location and proximity
to towns, roads, and trails. Better yet, invest in a global
positioning system transceiver.
• Ride only on designated snowmobile trails or in areas where
you’re certain snowmobiling is permitted. On state or federally
managed lands, check with rangers or land managers to clarify
which lands are open for riding. Watch for signage at trail heads
to verify that snowmobiles are permitted on the trails you’re
entering. On private lands, check with landowners for
permission to use their land.
• Check weather forecasts as part of your planning. Dress
accordingly and be prepared to cut your ride short if particularly
harsh weather is expected. Notify friends of your plans and
estimated arrival time.
• Regardless of where you ride, be sure your snowmobile is
properly registered with your home state or province. Learn
whether you need special local trail permits or registration
where you plan to ride. Some counties, states, or parks require
• Top off your gas and oil before departing, and take adequate fuel
for your trip. On extended trips, take advantage of fuel stops
where you find them rather than risking being stranded.
• Make sure you’re completely familiar with the operation and
controls of your snowmobile and use riding time to get as
comfortable as possible with the machine’s power and handling
characteristics. Read the Owner’s Manual, make sure to perform
regular maintenance, and get familiar with basic mechanics such
as changing belts and plugs.
• The best teacher is experience. If you’re a new snowmobiler,
ride in open areas where you can get comfortable with the
machine and how to operate and control it. Experienced riders
can offer tips on how best to ride in various situations, including
trail riding, powder riding, hill climbing and maneuvering icy
• Today’s snowmobiles are extremely reliable and durable, but
they still need regular maintenance. Grease all fittings as
suggested in the Owner’s Manual, check the brake fluid level
before each trip, inspect your belt for wear, and learn how to
“read” spark plugs. Replace worn belts or plugs and have a
snowmobile dealer do maintenance work to keep your sled
running its best.
Snowmobile riders can find themselves in some harsh weather
conditions. Today’s snowmobile clothing is excellent at providing
warmth and preventing wind and moisture from chilling a rider.
Don’t cut corners when purchasing your riding gear because it’s
your best protection against the elements. Be sure to select
garments that won’t absorb moisture, which robs you of body heat.
• Wear a helmet when snowmobiling. It is your head’s best
protection in case of an accident. It’s also the best protection
from wind and cold. Full-face helmets provide the greatest
• Make sure your helmet fits properly. A helmet should fit very
snugly without pinching or hurting. You should be able to slide a
finger up between your head and the helmet padding, but with
the chin strap buckled, you should not be able to pull the helmet
forward off your head.
• Don’t try to save money when buying a helmet. You get what
you pay for, and there’s nothing more valuable than protection
for your head. Save money on other purchases, but spend what it
takes for a top-quality helmet that fits properly.
• Gloves must be flexible so you can operate your snowmobile’s
controls, and they must provide warmth and keep moisture and
wind from your skin. Leather gloves are highly protective, but
gloves made of fabrics with waterproof treatments are also
effective. Consider layering: wear a lightweight synthetic glove
as a liner and remove it if your hands become warm or wet.
• Mittens usually don’t offer as much hand dexterity as gloves, but
they’re the best at trapping warm air. Choose mittens that are
flexible and not oversized. You must be able to operate your
throttle and brake without hesitation. Consider wearing a
lightweight, non-absorbent glove liner inside your mittens.
• Dress in layers so you
can remove clothing if
you get warm or wet and
put it on again when
needed. The clothing
closest to your skin
should be non-absorbent
so it wicks moisture
away from your skin to
prevent chills. The next
layer or two should be
comfortable and loose
enough to trap warm air. The outer layer—your bibs, jacket, and
gloves or mittens—must be the most protective: windproof, as
waterproof as possible, and durable enough to withstand
branches along the trail.
• Keeping your feet warm and dry is essential, so choose boots
that are waterproof and have a warm lining or insulation,
preferably a removable liner you can dry at day’s end. Rubber is
most effective at keeping soles sealed and waterproof. For
uppers, thick leather or waterproofed fabrics are good at keeping
water from reaching the insulation or liner.
• Some riders, especially those who ride in areas laced with rivers,
streams, and lakes, wear flotation suits. These suits provide
protective shells and warm insulation as well as internal
flotation devices that keep a rider afloat if he or she ends up in
water. Look for suits whose flotation materials are approved by
regulatory agencies. Remember: This extra protection does not
diminish the need for caution near bodies of water.
• Some riders use goggles rather than face shields, especially
riders with snocross-style helmets. Make sure the goggles fit
comfortably and provide excellent peripheral vision. Keep them
clean and fog-free, and have a spare pair of goggles along in
case the first pair ices over. Tinted lenses are effective on bright
days, but can diminish vision slightly at night.
Learn the limits of your ability and drive at safe speeds. Since
stopping takes longer on slick surfaces such as snow and ice, be
doubly aware of your surroundings and of other snowmobilers so
you can react and respond in time to avoid accidents.
• Ride with a partner. Not only is there fun in numbers, but riding
with at least one companion is essential to your safety.
Remember that you’re going off-road, sometimes into remote
country a great distance from roads and towns. The buddy
system is vital to avoiding tragedy in case of emergencies such
as a mechanical break-down or an accident. Your snowmobile
can take you farther than you can walk back.
• A cellular telephone is a smart, potentially lifesaving link to help
in case of an emergency. Before your day’s ride, write down
local emergency telephone numbers and bring them with you.
• Don’t drink and ride. Even one drink impairs your response time
and judgment, two vital traits for snowmobiling.
• Modern snowmobiles have excellent brakes, but you’re riding on
inherently slippery surfaces—snow and ice—so you can’t expect
to stop as quickly as you do in a vehicle. You are tailgating if you
can’t stop a safe distance from the sled in front of you. Leave
yourself plenty of room to stop, and watch for the brake lights of
riders ahead of you. At night, don’t ride so fast you can’t stop
within the area illuminated by your headlights.
• Trails are for riding—not racing! Leave the competition to
the race tracks. If you absolutely must go fast, enter a sanctioned snowmobile drag race or radar run. Observe speed
limits: Whether they’re posted on every trail or not, it’s your
responsibility to obey the local speed limits.
• When not on a groomed or marked trail, be aware of unmarked
hazards or obstacles hidden beneath the snow, i.e. fences, rocks,
gates and ditches.
• Play it safe as the daylight changes. Terrain, snow contours and
some signage can be difficult to see at dusk, so reduce your
speed, play it safe, and take a break or stop for the night.
• Don’t ride to the point of exhaustion—mental or physical. Ride
to have fun, and end the day’s ride before you’re too tired to ride
• Ride defensively. Make safety the highest priority when
deciding whether to proceed or to give way when encountering
other riders and at road crossings. Don’t assume that other riders
or motorists always see you or will respond properly.
• Watch out for groomers on the trails, especially at night. They’re
big and typically moving at slow speeds on the trails, so make sure
you can stop if you round a corner and encounter one. Inquire at
trail stops about whether any groomers are on the next stretch of
trails you’ll ride. Always assume that a groomer is on the trail.
• Watch out for oncoming traffic. Make sure your group’s leader
is a safety-first rider who signals to the group when oncoming
sleds are spotted. Both groups of riders should slow while
passing one another and every rider should hug the trail’s
outside edge to make way for passing sleds.
TRAIL ETIQUETTE—RULES AND COMMON COURTESY
Be a courteous rider. Yield the right of way when it helps traffic
flow safer and smoother. Courtesy on the trails helps keep the trails
open year after year.
• Keep to the right on the trails—even when you don’t see any
oncoming traffic. You optimize your reaction time if you’re
already on the right side of the trail when you spot oncoming sleds
or other users.
• It is especially essential to stay to the right in corners. Each rider
must stay to the right to avoid collisions with passing
snowmobiles. Reduce speeds as required to stay to the right
• Pass on the left, but only pass another rider if that rider is aware
you’re coming by and has waved you on. Make sure you have
complete visibility of the trail ahead so you know it’s safe to pull
out to the left to pass. Slower groups of riders should slow and
hug the right edge of the trail to let faster riders pass.
• Before starting a day’s ride, agree as a group on hand signals to
use on the trails. Included should be signals for: “stop ahead,”
“oncoming riders approaching,” “slow—hazard or sharp
curve ahead,” and “road crossing clear, proceed with caution.”
• Ride single file. Trails are typically groomed wide enough for
only two sleds, and you must leave room to your left for
oncoming snowmobiles to pass.
• When stopping along the trail, pull your sleds as far off the trail
as possible in a very visible stretch of the trail. Don’t stop near
corners, and consider how many riders are in your group so the
last riders aren’t parked near a corner. Park single file and watch
for oncoming snowmobiles.
• Ride only where permitted. Obey “no trespassing” signs even if
you see tracks in the posted areas. Being a responsible
snowmobiler can help all riders retain their access to choice
• Unless a marked trail clearly routes you around a locked gate,
obey all gate closures as you would in a vehicle. If you have
permission to go through a gate, leave it as you found it, either
open or closed.
• Show consideration for others, including snowmobilers, land
owners, skiers, hikers, horseback riders, motorists, and wildlife.
Enjoy your riding and the beautiful scenery. That means riding
courteously, riding safely, riding on marked trails, and not littering.
• Leave only track marks and take only memories. Help keep
areas clean by taking out all litter. Leave it better than you found
• If you build a fire, pick a location where the ashes and fire debris
won’t leave an impact. Fire pans are preferable as a fire ring will
not be visible after the snow melts.
• Respect private land. Ask permission and stay on the trail.
• Obey all trail signs, including speed limit signs, stop signs, and
hazard warnings. Warning signs can refer to bridges, sharp
curves, steep hills, large bumps, or road or trail crossings.
• Park in designated areas at trail heads. Don’t park in restricted areas or in a way that blocks traffic or other tow vehicles.
If necessary, unload the sleds from the trailer, then park the
SNOWMOBILING AND THE ENVIRONMENT
One joy of snowmobiling is the chance to experience nature in
winter. It’s every rider’s responsibility to keep nature as unspoiled
as possible by respecting the woods and wildlife. Protecting the
environment preserves it for future generations of snowmobilers
• Ride only where permitted and not in off-trail areas where you
may harm wildlife or vegetation. Remember, designated
wilderness areas are closed to all forms of mechanical use,
including snowmobiles. There may be some exceptions in
Alaskan Wilderness areas. Check your local rules.
• Be aware of wildlife you encounter during your ride. Don’t
approach or hinder as they move about.
• Some animals, especially large, heavy ones such as buffalo and
moose, use groomed, packed trails as handy walkways. If you
see them on the trail, remain a safe distance away and they will
eventually move off the trail and let you pass.
• Animals are commonly operating at lower energy levels in
winter, when food may be harder to find. Don’t scare or chase
them away, which will force them to expend precious energy.
• Be respectful of animal habitat where they feed in winter, or seek
shelter. Stick to the trails and enjoy viewing the wildlife from a
• Excessive noise is bothersome to some people and to wildlife.
Retain your snowmobile’s stock exhaust. Snowmobile exhaust is
the single most important issue causing user conflict.
• To minimize harmful emissions, keep your engine in tune so it
burns fuel most efficiently. Use only recommended and certified
fuels, lubricants, and additives.
• Snowmobiling on groomed trails causes no lasting harm to the
soil beneath the snow, but riding in marginal snow conditions
and on exposed soil can cause damage to plants and the soil.
Ride only where there is adequate snow cover, where young trees
and plants are not visible.
• When climbing a hill, approach the summit with caution in case
there are other snowmobilers, a steep downhill, a sharp turn, or
other potential hazards beyond your line of sight.
• Don’t ride off cornices (snowy overhangs).
• Avoid riding on frozen waterways as much as possible. If you
must ride on lakes, streams, or rivers, approach them with
• When riding on frozen lakes or other waterways ride at reduced
speeds to optimize your view of potential hazards.
• Always cross roadways at a 90-degree angle to the road to
hasten the crossing.
• Reduce your speed on the trail when approaching a corner.
Squeeze the brake lightly at least once to evaluate how slippery
the snow is and to slow your sled in advance of the turn. Keep
to the right side of the trail on every corner. Don’t slide the sled
through the corner, or accelerate hard out of the corner, or you
will damage the trail.
• The old saying is that when a snowmobile takes on a tree, trees
don’t lose. Be aware of trees, stumps, and even branches near
the trails. Avoid them by riding under control at reasonable
• Respect fence boundaries and landowners’ rights even when the
fences are snow-covered.
• Keep your feet on the sled when going downhill or riding on
• Don’t lock up your brake when going downhill. Rather, pump
the brake repeatedly, releasing it just as the track locks up and is
about to slide, then applying it again to further slow the sled.
• Lean into turns slightly with your upper body to enhance the
sled’s maneuverability and to avoid tipping the machine up on
one ski (the one on the inside in a turn).
• Touring snowmobiles have extended seats designed to
accommodate up to two riders. Don’t ride two-up on a
snowmobile designed for only one rider, as this can result in a
hazardous loss of control and maneuverability. Make sure the
passenger riding on the back of a two-up seat leans slightly into
turns with the driver. Take advantage of having two sets of eyes
on board and make sure the passenger is watching for hazards
and other snowmobiles.
• If you or another newcomer needs instruction or riding tips,
contact your local snowmobile dealer or the local snowmobile
club. Clubs usually have members who are certified safety
instructors, and they’ll be adept at teaching you the basics on
riding techniques and safe snowmobiling.
Night riding can be delightful. However, be extra alert when riding
at night, and take precautions. Pack emergency gear and notify
others of the routes you’ll take and when you expect to return.
• Your vision is limited to only what your snowmobile’s headlight
illuminates, so reduce your overall speed and take your time
when riding at night. Be especially observant for other
snowmobiles, road crossings, hazards such as hills and sharp
curves, and keep an eye out for nocturnal wildlife.
• Snowmobilers can cross paths with animals. Riding at reduced
speeds and not over-riding your headlights will help you see
these animals in time to take evasive action or stop.
• Today’s snowmobiles have excellent headlights, and their
effectiveness increases if all riders have reflective materials on
their clothing and helmets. Some clothing comes with reflective
panels or patches. Consider adding reflective tape to jackets,
helmets, and gloves or mittens, so you will be more visible to
• Be sure to ride with a partner when riding at night. Inopportune
breakdowns or fuel shortages can turn into serious emergencies
if you’re stranded alone in a remote area. Ride with others, tell
friends back home where and how long you’ll be riding, and
carry a cellular telephone.
• Avoid riding unfamiliar trails at night.
• Consider packing the following emergency equipment: area
maps (trails and highways) and a global positioning system
(GPS) unit; waterproof matches or a lighter, and candles to melt
snow for water; flares, a flashlight, a whistle, and a signaling
mirror to attract attention and help; a first-aid kit and space
blanket; a tow strap, duct tape and rope, knife or multi-purpose
tool, and shovel; snow shoes, extra gloves, and warm hats;
bottled water and high-energy food; and an avalanche
transceiver and cellular telephone.
• If a rider develops hypothermia, warm the person up as quickly
as possible by rubbing them vigorously and getting them into dry
clothes. Give them warm liquids, but be certain not to give them
• If you do suffer a breakdown, stay with your sled and stay on the
trail. Deciding to walk out cross-country may be the last decision
you ever make.
• The best ways to avoid avalanches are to be informed and avoid
high-risk riding areas.
• Take a class on avalanche safety and consult local officials for
update on conditions. Inquire about the likelihood of avalanches
before riding in an area that’s new to you.
• Avoid riding in potential avalanche areas during or immediately
after winter storms, when the chances for slides are increased.
• Know how to make a snow cave for protection. Practice making
one during a trailside lunch break and carry any necessary tools,
such as a collapsible shovel.
• Consult with local officials and snowmobile clubs members so
you know how to arrange for a helicopter rescue in case of
• Wear an avalanche beeper.
• Pack a cellular phone and emergency phone numbers, and pack
a GPS device if possible.
SNOWMOBILE EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST
An ounce of prevention is the best way to ensure your snowmobile
performs reliably: Make sure it’s in tune and has undergone a
thorough maintenance check before you ride. Pack some parts that
can be easily installed in case they fail. Get familiar with your
snowmobile so you can perform at least basic trail maintenance to
avoid getting stranded.
• Pack a tool kit. It need not be large or extensive, but it should
include screwdrivers, the most common sizes of wrenches for
your machine, pliers, wire cutter, and a spark plug wrench. A
multi-purpose tool covers several of these tools by itself.
• Pack a spare drive belt and a few spare spark plugs. These parts
are easy to replace if they fail, so make sure you have them on
every ride. Duct tape and strong wire can come in handy.
Practice changing your drive belt so you can do it easily out on
Tread Lightly!, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting the great
outdoors through education. Your help through membership contributions enables Tread
Lightly! to continue its educational mission. Become a member today. Individual
Memberships can be obtained for a tax-deductible fee of $20, renewable annually. Tread
Lightly! offers Individual, Retailer/Outfitter, Dealer and Club memberships. Each category
varies in benefits and contribution levels. Upon joining as an individual member, you will
receive various membership items including a window decal, a product catalog, a copy of
Tread Lightly! Trails, our quarterly newsletter, and tips applicable to your area of interest.
For more information on other membership categories contact Tread Lightly!
Individual Membership - $20 Annual Contribution
Please rank your top 3 areas of interest in numeric order:
___Cross Country Skiing
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Please allow 4 to 6 weeks for the delivery of your Tread Lightly! membership package.
Send your application with payment to:
298 24th Street, Suite 325
Ogden, Utah 84401
Fax to: 801-621-8633 Call us at: 1-800-966-9900
See us at: www.treadlightly.org E-mail us at: [email protected]
MORE INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE FROM THE FOLLOWING
Bridge To Your Future. Tread Lightly! Inc., 298 24th Street, Suite 325, Ogden,
Building Common Ground- Four Volume Set: Bringing a Group Together;
Communicating With a Group; Negotiating & Creative Problem Solving;
Planning for Change 1994, National 4-H Council, 7100 Connecticut Avenue,
Chevy Chase, MD 20815
International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, 1640 Haslett Road,
Suite 170, Haslett, MI 48840, Phone: 517/339-7788 www.snowmobile.org
Recreational Trail Design and Construction. 1994, Minnesota Extension
Service Distribution Center, Room 20 Coffey Hall, 1420 Eckles Avenue, St.
Paul, MN 55108
To Build a Trail...Enhancing America's Pathways. Videotape, 1994, National 4H Council, 7100 Connecticut Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Tread Lightly! Guide to Responsible ATV Riding. Tread Lightly! Inc., 298 24th
Street, Suite 325, Odgen, UT 84401
Tread Lightly! Guide to Responsible Four Wheeling. Tread Lightly! Inc., 298
24th Street, Suite 325, Odgen, UT 84401
Tread Lightly! Guide to Responsible Mountain Biking. Tread Lightly! Inc., 298
24th Street, Suite 325, Odgen, UT 84401
Tread Lightly! Guide to Responsible Trail Biking. Tread Lightly! Inc., 298 24th
Street, Suite 325, Odgen, UT 84401
Tread Lightly! Junior High Curriculum. Tread Lightly! Inc., 298 24th Street,
Suite 325, Odgen, UT 84401
Tread Lightly! Science Manual. Tread Lightly! Inc., 298 24th Street, Suite 325,
Odgen, UT 84401
Thank you for promoting environmental ethics
by purchasing and using this booklet.
Travel and recreate
with minimum impact.
Respect the environment
and the rights of others.
Educate yourself, plan and
prepare before you go.
A llow for future use of the
outdoors, leave it better
than you found it.
Discover the rewards of
Funded by Arctic Cat Inc., Bombardier Motor Corp. of America,
Polaris Industries, Inc., Yamaha Motor Corp., and Ehlert Publishing Group, Inc.
Printed on recycled paper.
© 1998 Tread Lightly!, Inc.