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New York State officials are urging snowmobilers to ride responsibly and keep safety and COVID-19 guidelines in mind when they hit the trails this winter. Photo courtesy of the New York State Snowmobile Association ​

Plan to snowmobile this winter? Here’s how to stay safe

NEW YORK STATE — Even with COVID-19 restrictions making outings difficult, New Yorkers are still managing to enjoy some socially distant wintertime sports, from skating and skiing to snowmobiling. Anticipating an increase in snowmobile trail use, New York State officials are urging riders to be responsible and exercise both safety and COVID-19 precautions this winter.

“We encourage snowmobile enthusiasts to take advantage of the beautiful trails in our great state, but we want to make certain the first priority is safety,” said New York State Police Acting Superintendent Kevin Bruen in a press release issued by New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Office (NYSPRHPO) in December. “By making responsible and safe choices, New Yorkers can do their part to keep our trails safe and enjoyable for all.”

The season is legally set to begin after the end of the big game hunting season and when snowmobile clubs officially open their trail systems. The opening of the trail systems, he said, depends on land owner permissions, a sufficient trail base and adequate snow coverage, while the end of the big game season, which varies between the state’s southern and northern zones, typically occurs around the third week in December.

That being said, the New York State Snowmobile Association (NYSSA) recently issued a reminder to riders that local trails aren’t considered open until local snowmobiling clubs have inspected and officially declared them open. NYSSA has reminded riders to look for club postings on trail conditions and to exercise caution at the beginning of the snowmobiling season since snow can hide potential hazards, such as mud holes, fallen trees and tree limbs, rocks and unfrozen water holes.

Some safety tips include to always wear helmets when operating  snowmobiles, to remain on the trails and not to operate snowmobiles if impaired. Adding COVID-19 guidance into the mix, riders are required to wear face masks, practice social distancing and follow COVID-19 safety protocols both at the trailheads and during breaks. Other recommendations for safe riding, as issued by NYSPRHPO, include riding responsibly and within one’s abilities; operating the snowmobile at a speed that’s designated as safe and prudent for the given conditions; making sure to ride with a friend or at least one other person; staying on marked trails; and wearing the proper snowmobile equipment, such as gloves, boots, jackets and bibs.

Any snowmobiles being operated in New York State must be registered with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) before they can hit the trails; information regarding snowmobile registration can be found online at www.dmv.ny.gov/registration/how-register-snowmobile. Riders must carry registration and proof of insurance when riding; those with a snowmobile safety certificate must have the certificate on them when riding as wellx. A portion of each snowmobile registration goes toward the Snowmobile Trail Development and Maintenance Fund to support more than 10,000 miles of public snowmobile trails in New York State, snowmobile safety education programs and enforcement of state snowmobile laws.

To keep snowmobilers educated on safety protocols, the state is continuing to offer safety courses during the COVID-19 pandemic with limited class sizes under its health department regulations. 

A listing of available courses can be found online at www.parks.ny.gov/recreation/snowmobiles/safety-courses.aspx. Once a course is successfully completed, riders will receive a New York State Snowmobile Safety Certificate. Youth between the ages of 10 and 18 are required to have this certificate in order to operate a snowmobile, though all riders can benefit from taking the course.

For more information about snowmobile requirements and snowmobile safety, contact the NYSPRHPO at 518-474-0446 or go to www.parks.ny.gov/recreation/snowmobiles.


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