As we start into a new riding season, I hope folks will take a moment to think about their responsibility to our motor sport. As more and more people take to the snow with larger and more powerful machines, it becomes important for all of us to work from within to keep our sport safe and responsible. Just look at where snow machines are being regulated right off the trails. They have radar enforced speed limits; they have police on the trails arresting for DUI; they have environmental groups shutting us down for noise and emissions everywhere they can. The way we avoid falling into this trap in Alaska is to not repeat the same mistakes they make down south. Here are some "rules of the road" that I can think of, and hope that folks will take to heart this winter. Please add your own ideas to this list.
- Don't ride if you've been drinking or using drugs. If you feel you must chemically alter your level of consciousness, stay home for the rest of the evening. Refuse to ride in the same group if there are people drinking. Just leave and go home or go ride with sober people. Positive peer pressure works too.
- Keep off the ice until it is proven to be solid. Avoid rivers and streams, especially if you don't know the area. When crossing a body of water, keep moving and never stop or park on ice that isn't proven solid.
- Don't ride or high mark in avalanche chutes. Watch your terrain and snow conditions. If you see recent slide zones, don't ride in that area. Everyone in mountainous backcountry should wear a beacon and have a probe and shovel on their person. You should start the season by practicing with your beacons to ensure everyone in the group knows how to do a proper search. Take a formal class if possible.
- Keep to a safe and reasonable speed on maintained trails. Treat the big groomed trails as highways. Keep to the right and don't ride faster than your reaction time. Save the speed runs for the lakes and wide open areas where you have the visibility to race safely.
- When cresting a hill or rounding a blind corner, slow down and move as far to the right as you can.
- Save the "spin outs" for off the trail. By "goosing" the throttle and spinning your track on the trail, you are making a pile of snow (especially with paddle tracks). That pile gets bigger and the hole behind it gets deeper with every passing machine until you have a trail of moguls that is no fun for anyone. When you get the urge to feel the power your sled can make, simply pull off the side of the trail and rip it up to your heart's content in fresh snow.
- Say "thank you" to your local groomer operators. See if you can volunteer to learn how to operate the equipment and groom some of the trails yourself. There are not enough folks willing to donate time to trail maintenance. If you use it, you should help with the upkeep.
- If you have to stop for a break on the trail, pull off as far to the right as you can on a straight stretch. Don't stop on a corner or hill. Conversely, if you see someone stopped on the trail with the hood up and working on something, stop and check to see if they need any assistance. If you see someone stuck, stop and help. The favor may be returned someday.
- If you encounter folks from other winter sports such as dog mushers, skiers, etc. out on the trail, be polite and courteous. Pull over and slow down to pass or stop and allow them to pass. It will take 30 of us showing courtesy to these folks to make up for every single one of you who doesn't. These folks are the ones who testify with "first hand accounts" of reckless motor sports users at the hearing to ban your toys. In the eyes of a musher, zipping by at only 20mph while waving and yelling "hi" is reckless behavior.
- Do not harass wildlife with your vehicle. Moose have a hard enough time getting through the winter on limited energy supplies. If you encounter a moose out on the trail, stop and allow it to clear the trail. Do not chase it off the trail or even slowly keep driving along behind one that is running down the trail. You can force a young moose to expend its entire day's energy store in a few minutes of a panic run down a trail. And you only have to see one moose starving to death and collapse from lack of energy at the end of a long winter to realize how much damage we can do to these animals.
- And my final thought for the moment, don't outride your abilities. Just because you saw a guy do a 200-foot superman off a mountain top in "2 Stroke Cold Smoke #47" doesn't mean that you should try it. The guys who can do that kind of riding are athletes with lots of practice (and wrecks). The average Joe should stick close to the trail systems and keep it small and fun. Build your skills from the ground up.
Any other "rules of the trail" that folks want to add?
Know where you are riding and don't trespass or enter a closed area. If you can afford a sled, you can afford a GPS and a map. As you said previously, it only takes one bad apple to ruin the reputation of hundreds.
Be respectful of peoples homes. When riding a trail near someones home keep the speed low and the RPMs/noise low. Most people don't want to hear a noisy snow machine in the middle of the night even if is it a established trail that you are on.
If you have to cross a road or drive way do so carefully. Cars and snowmachines don't mix.
For these two in particular! I am a horseman and ride a lot in the winter, and, of course, snowmachine trails are a great surface.
Originally Posted by JOAT
You have no idea how many times I've had snowgos blow by me, maybe slowing down a tad, wave cheerfully and blast away, never noticing my horse is doing mid-air U-turns, which, while athletic, are just not fun.
I can hear you coming before you see me, obviously, so I will always get off the trail, stop my horse, turn and face you. In return, PLEASE at least slow down when you see me. If it's in a good spot, stop, turn off your machine and let us go by you.
Last winter I had a good, well trained, reasonably tolerant older horse. Unfortunately, he's no longer with me, so have a little extra pity this winter as I'm riding a green broke, very large horse with excellent self-preservation instincts ("I'm outta here, you can go, or not") and I expect to have my hands full.
It is not your job to train my horse, I know that. But a little courtesy goes a LONG ways.
As for the moose, hear, hear! I act the same way. I give way on a packed trail, always, to moose. 1) they're big and 2) my fat domestic horse gets to go back in the pasture and have food hand delivered, so she can sweat through chest deep snow for a few yards while the moose travels the nice packed trail.
And if the moose is at all twitchy, tense, or spooky, you know what? I can always ride another day down that trail. So we turn around and go away.
I HATE to see moose run around by snowgos. It's hard on them for no reason at all and not what the sport's about, right?
To add just a bit to avalanches and other users...
If you're new to riding the mountains learn how to read snow!! The Alaska Mountain Safety Research Center and the Alaska Avalanche School www.alaskaavalance.com are excellent sources of information on how to read and test for avalanche prone snow conditions. AMSRC co-founder Jill Fredston co-wrote Snow Sense: A Guide to Evaluating Snow Avalanche Hazard, a short book that is a must read for ALL winter time mountain enthusiasts.
Bottom Line: The best way to avoid an avalance is to learn to read dangerous snow!
Yielding to non-motorized traffic: When riding alone or in the lead of a group please limit your speed on twisty sections and when you do encounter "animal propulsion" please pull over as JOAT suggested and turn off your machine(s) until the dogs or horses are past you.
Also, when riding in a group make sure everyone is on the same page i.e. take a moment to reaffirm the ride plan--taking into consideration individual ability and familiarity with the area. Make sure everyone in the group knows what the various hand signals mean and what the plan is should someone become separated from the group.
Make sure your machine is mechanically sound (belts, carbs, clutches etc) and carry your survival gear!!!
Boy I am glad I don't ride on trails or around all of you people down south.
Must be a active problem down there.
Hope everyone has a safe season.
This is not based on active problems we are having... it is preventative steps so that we don't develop problems. Why wait until we have problems? By that time, the regulators will show up to start taking away our fun.
Thread bump. Good info to remember as we roll into a fresh new riding season!
Great thread for safety and outdoor ethics...
and so true. We all shape public perceptions by our actions in the outdoors, one perception at a time.