Snowmobile Season: Safety and Responsibility
Even though it’s beginning to look a lot like winter, snowmobiling in the Bighorn National Forest doesn’t begin until Nov. 16.
Either way, according to the Forest Service, there should be six inches of snow on the ground. Forest Service regulations prohibit over-snow travel in areas with less than six inches of snow. Fall and spring are vulnerable times for roads and trails and damage to vegetation and soils can take decades to recover.
According to Bighorn National Forest authorities, the snow depth protects your machine as well as the natural features of the land. People caught snowmobiling off-road and damaging soil or exposed vegetation can be fined.
Also, not all areas of the national forest are open to snowmobiles. The Cloud Peak Wilderness, downhill ski areas, cross-country ski trails, the Medicine Wheel Snowmobile Restriction Area, and wildlife area closures are off limits to snowmobiles.
Wyoming law requires that all snowmobiles must have either a current Wyoming resident or nonresident user fee decal prominently displayed on the outside of each snowmobile. These decals are available at many locations throughout the state.
The Forest Service offers some safety guidelines to ensure an enjoyable winter experience in the outdoors:
- Be prepared for the worst by carrying extra food and water, warm, dry clothing, and making sure your vehicle is equipped for winter travel.
- Check the weather forecast and road conditions.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Don’t ride, ski, or snowshoe alone.
- Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
- Most areas of the forest are outside cell phone coverage, so don’t rely on a cell phone for communication.
- Carry a SPOT device.
- Snowmobilers, snowshoers, and skiers should carry an avalanche beacon, a shovel, and a probing pole.
- Carry a GPS unit and a map.
- Snowmobilers should carry tools and an extra clutch belt.
- If visibility is poor, don’t go. If visibility deteriorates, stay put until conditions improve, or proceed with extra caution.
For more information about forest conditions, contact the Powder River Ranger District in Buffalo at (307) 684-7806, the Medicine Wheel Ranger District in Greybull at (307) 765-4435, or the Tongue Ranger District in Sheridan at (307) 674-2600.
One safety tip that is often overlooked comes from Operation Lifesaver Canada: Be extra vigilant at railroad crossings. They created a 360 video to illustrate their point (not for the faint of heart).