This article originally appeared in the Colorado Snowmobile Association newspaper, Snowmobile Scoop.

Thinking About Safety, Lessons Learned, and 2015 CSA Convention in Rifle

by Stan Gale, Safety Director

This year’s ride in Rifle was well attended and a lot of fun for everyone. A big thank you to the organizers, the hosting clubs, and community volunteers who worked very hard to provide a successful event with plenty of fine food! Riding a snowmobile safely in our dynamic Colorado environment takes knowing the Boy Scout motto- BE PREPARED- always. 

Understanding the snowpack is essential for riding off trail in Colorado. By doing so a rider will be able to generally gauge the local avalanche conditions and avoid being stuck, particularly early season when the snowpack is shallow and bottomless, because the snow hasn’t settled enough yet to provide a firm and supportive base layer. Snow pit analysis to assess the layered snow conditions below the surface is wise. 

Always check your drive belt early season before you ride. Although it can be a pain in the neck to do, it can save a repair on the trail. It is much easier to do in warm conditions before the snow flies than in the cold and snow! Rather than try to get another season of use out of it, I suggest replacing it at least every other year and before it dries out, cracks, and easily breaks in the cold. Never ride alone, because many hands are always helpful and sometimes necessary to change the belt. It’s not something most of us are practiced on.

Another important reason to never ride alone is because snowmobiles can be finicky. During this year’s group ride, a machine unexpectedly would not run properly after the belt was changed so I towed out the snowmobile. Don’t forget to have not only a tow rope, but also a small pack to stay warm with the essentials if you need to spend the night out! If you have never towed a machine or had yours towed, this is something to familiarize yourself with.

Lastly, riding with others is useful and often necessary to have extra help when digging out and lifting a stuck machine. Plenty of hands, moral support, and strong backs make easy this task which can be difficult or impossible by oneself. 

The snow is deep, and the best part of the season is here. Have fun out there. Pay attention to the warm temperatures which will eventually rot out the snow bridges across creeks, become unsupportive of machines off trail, and expect the wet snow avalanche/slide season. 

By continuing to pay attention and think about the big picture, you will be better at understanding and appreciating the small intuitive details which make for safe and trouble free riding. Happy Trails!