Ready to try snowmobiling? Here are six pieces of advice

Not that I would know anything about this, but probably the No. 1 most important thing to remember in snowmobiling is to take your thumb off the throttle if you’re about to crash. That way — and again, I’m speaking in the purely hypothetical here — you don’t send the vehicle zooming in a murderous path toward Orville and Bonnie Petersen. For example.

And that was just one of the many valuable lessons fellow features writer Melinda Mawdsley and I learned as beginning snowmobilers! On our recent Saturday of fun and frolic with Orville and Bonnie, we also learned:

1. Go with someone who knows what they’re doing. Sure, there are snowmobiles for rent all over western Colorado and it might have been tempting to ask ourselves “How hard could it be?” before renting some. Do not do this. As a newbie, it could be very hard.

Experienced snowmobilers can guide you from square one, from a “this is the throttle, this is the brake” level of basic instruction, as well as calm your frazzled nerves when the snowmobile is tilted sideways and you’re stuck up to your thighs in the deep snow and it’s the third time it’s happened in 10 minutes and just forget it!

2. Be patient. For me at least, it took a little while to feel comfortable on the snowmobile, so there was a ridiculous amount of goosing the throttle and lurching forward in jerking spasms, which was jarring. And embarrassing. But then I remembered: It was our first time. It was (mostly) OK that I panicked at a tiny section of snow drift and came thisclose to asking Orville to get my snowmobile through it for me.

3. Mind your manners. As with most outdoor sports, there are rules of etiquette for the trail — ride on the right, for example, and indicate to oncoming snowmobilers how many people from your party are behind you — and it makes the experience more pleasant for everyone if you heed them.

Plus, snowmobiling is a sort of free-flowing community where people help each other. So, rather than zip past someone whose machine is stuck in the snow, it’s snowmobile courtesy to stop and help them dig out.

4. Know where you’re going. And again, as first-time snowmobilers who were wise enough to go with experts, we were able to rely on Orville and Bonnie to know where we were going. But it helped to have at least a vague sense of where we were, in case something happened.

5. Be prepared, because something often happens. Snowmobile technology has advanced to spectacular, almost futuristic levels, but it’s still a machine that you’re taking into inclement conditions. There may be break downs, there may be stalls and flooded engines and belts snapped. In which case, it helps to know the machine or, failing that, to be prepared for a wait.

Help may be coming, but be supplied with enough food, water, warm clothes and snow gear to endure it.

6. Stay sober and keep your wits about you. These machines can go fast and it’s exhilarating, but in frightened or otherwise altered hands, they can be dangerous. Just be safe, is all.


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