Photo courtesy of metaphoricalplatypus via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
If you ask Colorado residents how they would define the seasons here in the Front Range, many would tell you there are only two: four-wheeling season and snowmobiling season. And, interestingly, many Coloradans would rather be on their sleds than waiting in the lift lines at the state’s many ski resorts.
Snowmobiles provide excellent motorized access to Colorado’s backcountry, much as ATVs do in summer. According to Colorado Tourism, our state is home to a whopping 3,000-plus miles of snowmobile trails.
Riders are passionate, and they love to gather in groups at every opportunity for snowy mountain adventures. The Colorado Snowmobile Association has an online map that shows a state dotted with snowmobile clubs. And they’re not just in resort-heavy, west-of-the-Divide places like Crested Butte or Steamboat Springs. They’re up and down the Front Range, in places like Lakewood and Longmont.
So let’s say you want to give this a try. You’ve found a club in your area, and you’d like to attend a few meetings to connect with other enthusiasts and learn more about the sport. What do you do next?
Look Into Renting
If you’ve never tried snowmobiling before, or if it’s been 30 years since Grandpa took you for a spin around the lake, you might want to consider renting a sled so you can get a feel for the sport. Then, rent a few more so you can try out different models before you make the big purchase.
A simple Google search will pull up a variety of Colorado operators who rent snowmobiles — many also offer snowmobile tours for those who prefer the group atmosphere or who are seeking to gain additional experience before planning any outings on their own. You also can check out Colorado Tourism and the Colorado Vacation Directory for their lists of operators, tours and vacation adventures.
Take an Operator Safety Class
OK, now let’s say you’re a member of a club, and you’ve found a place to rent a sled that will give you access to an area you’re excited to explore. Don’t grab the snowmobile suit, helmet and keys just yet; take an operator safety class before you hit the trails.
According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the free Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation (DPOR)-approved training course comprises six hours of classroom instruction and an hour of performance testing, and you’ll earn a certificate in snowmobile safety. This is mandatory for operators between the ages of 10 and 16 who wish to operate snowmobiles on public land, but it’s recommended for everyone.
Familiarize Yourself With the Rules
You’ll also want to make sure you’re familiar with all the regulations related to snowmobile operation in the State of Colorado. Colorado Parks & Wildlife has an information booklet available online that is a good primer. A few tips to remember:
- Every snowmobile must be registered
- Every snowmobile must show its validation decal
- According to CP&W, anyone between the ages of 10 and 16 who wishes to operate a snowmobile on public lands must be certified or supervised by someone who is. Although there are no special requirements for operators over the age of 16, the state strongly recommends taking a safety course and earning a snowmobile safety certification. A drivers license is not required in Colorado.
- The CP&W rules and regulations also remind riders that they must have a muffler in good working order, and brakes that are “adequate to control the movement of, to stop, and to hold” the sled in any conditions.
- They also note that you can only operate your machine between sunset and sunrise if you have at least one headlamp and one red tail lamp of recommended, minimum candlepower.
- Be able to recognize snowmobile trail signs and what they mean by familiarizing yourself with a guide like this, from the International Association of Snowmobile Administrators.
Always Remember: Safety First
CP&W provides a “Basic Snowmobile Safety Code,” that can be a helpful reference when you’re new to the sport. Another outstanding reference is the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, which also provides a variety of resources. And, through that website you can order a “Safe Riders!” kit and learn the Sledder’s Pledge.
The trails await!