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BLM>Colorado>Field Offices>Gunnison>Recreation>The Tread Lightly! Guide to Responsible Snowmobiling
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The Tread Lightly! Guide to Responsible Snowmobiling

Tread Lightly Principles:

  • Travel and recreate with minimum impact.
  • Respect the environment and the right of others.
  • Educate yourself, plan and prepare before you go.
  • Allow for future use of the outdoors, leave it better than you found it.
  • Discover the rewards of responsible recreation.


  • Be prepared for the unexpected.
  • Always pack travel maps, compass and better yet global positioning system.
  • Ride only on designated snowmobile trails or in areas where you’re certain snowmobiling is permitted.
  • Check weather forecasts.
  • Register your snowmobile - check for special trail permit or registration requirements.
  • Top off your gas and oil before departing - take plenty of fuel.
  • Make sure you’re completely familiar with the operation and controls of your snowmobile.
  • The best teacher is experience.
  • Before each trip, inspect and maintain you snowmobile.

Photo of snowbile on mountain trail
Photo by Arden Anderson


  • Wear a full-face helmet with face shield.
  • Make sure your helmet fits properly.
  • Don’t try to save money when buying a helmet.
  • Wear gloves that are flexible and warm - consider layering.
  • Dress in layers.
  • Choose boots that are weatherproof with warm linings & insulated.
  • Wear flotation suits if riding on streams, rivers or lakes.
  • Some riders use goggles rather than face shields.


  • Ride with a partner.
  • A cellular phone is smart if there is coverage in the area you are riding in.
  • Don’t drink and ride.
  • Leave plenty of room to stop.
  • Be aware of unmarked hazards or obstacles.
  • Play it safe as the daylight changes.
  • Don’t ride to the point of exhaustion.
  • Ride defensively.
  • Watch out for groomers on the trails.
  • Watch out for oncoming traffic.

Trail Etiquette - Rules and Common Courtesy:

  • Be a courteous rider.
  • Keep to the right on the trails.
  • It is especially essential to stay to the right when cornering.
  • Pass on the left - but only if others are aware of your passing and have waved you on.
  • Agree as a group on hand signals.
  • Ride single file.
  • When stopping along the trail, pull your sleds as far off the trail as possible.
  • Ride only where permitted - be a responsible snowmobiler.
  • Obey all gate closures.
  • Show consideration for others - especially skiers and snowshoers who can't move as fast as you.
  • Help keep areas clean by packing out all your trash.
  • If you build a fire, pick a location that won’t leave a impact.
  • Respect private land - ask permission & stay on the trail.
  • Obey all trail signs.
  • Park in designated areas at trail heads.

Snowmobiling and the Environment:

  • It’s every rider’s responsibility to keep nature as unspoiled as possible by respecting the woods and wildlife.
  • Ride only where permitted and not in off-trail areas where you may harm wildlife or vegetation - check your local rules.
  • Be aware of wildlife you encounter during your ride - don’t approach or hinder as they move about.
  • If you seem animals on the trail, remain a safe distance away - they will move off the trail.
  • 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.
  • Excessive noise is bothersome to some people and to wildlife.
  • Minimize harmful emissions - keep your machine tuned.
  • 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.

Negotiating Terrain:

  • Approach summits with caution
  • Don’t ride off cornices
  • Avoid riding on frozen waterways
  • On lakes and waterways, ride at reduced speeds to optimize your view of potential hazards
  • Always cross roadways at a 90-degree angle
  • Reduce your speed on the trail when approaching a corner - keep to the right side - don’t slide the sled through the corner
  • When a snowmobile takes on a tree, the tree wins - be aware of trees, stumps & branches
  • Respect fence boundaries and landowners’ rights - even when the fences are snow-covered

Riding Tips:

  • Keep your feet on the sled when going downhill or riding on wooded trails.
  • Don’t lock up your brake when going downhill.
  • Lean into turns slightly with your upper body to enhance the sled’s maneuverability.
  • Don’t ride double on a snowmobile designed for only one rider.
  • Make sure the passenger riding on the back of a double 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’re a newcomer, contact a snowmobile dealer or club for instructions or riding tips.

Night Riding:

  • Pack emergency gear and notify others of the routes you’ll take and when you expect to return
  • Your vision is limited to what the snowmobile illuminates so reduce your overall speed and take your time.
  • Be especially observant of 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, don’t over-ride your headlights
  • Consider adding reflective tape to jackets, helmets, gloves or mittens so you will be more visible to other riders
  • Be sure to ride with a partner when riding at night
  • Ride with others, tell friends back home where and how long you’ll be riding and carry a cellular telephone if there is coverage
  • Avoid riding unfamiliar trails at night


  • Consider packing the following emergency equipment: area maps, GPS unit, waterproof matches or lighter, candles to melt snow for water, flares, a flashlight, a whistle, and a signaling mirror, first-aid kit, space blanket, tow strap, duct tape, rope, knife or multi-purpose tool, shovel, snow shoes, extra gloves, warm hat, bottled water and high-energy food, avalanche transceiver and cellular telephone.
  • If a person develops hypothermia, warm them up quickly by rubbing them vigorously and getting them into dry clothes - and giving them warm liquids but not alcoholic beverages
  • In case of a breakdown, stay with your sled and stay on the trail


  • Avoid avalanches by being informed and avoiding high-risk riding areas
  • Take a class on avalanche safety - check with local officials for updated conditions
  • Inquire about the likelihood of avalanches
  • Avoid riding in potential avalanche areas during or immediately after winter storms
  • Know how to make a snow cave for protection & carry necessary tools (shovel)
  • Know how to arrange for a helicopter rescue in case of emergency
  • Wear an avalanche beeper
  • Pack a cellular phone and emergency phone numbers and pack a GPS unit

Snowmobile Equipment Checklist:

  • Do a thorough maintenance check before riding
  • Be familiar with your machine so you can do basic maintenance & repairs
  • Pack a tool kit - screwdriver, wrenches, pliers, wire cutter, spark plug wrench
  • Pack a spare drive belt and a few spare spark plugs
  • Pack duct tape and strong wire

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Created by the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado
Point of Contact:
Arden Anderson
Last modified: January 30, 2006