Snowmobiling West Yellowstone Montana. Ken Takata photo.
Snowmobiling is a fun and family-oriented activity.
A vast amount of National Forest land is open for winter travel. In some areas those traveling by skis, snowshoes, dog sled teams and snowmobiles must share the same routes and areas. Common sense and courtesy will provide a safe and pleasant experience for everyone.
Be respectful of the Trail Groomers
The groomers run between dusk and dawn. Because the trail grooming is a State of Montana program (which owns and insures many of the machines), there are requirements set forth that the drivers must abide by. These rules and regulations are put in place for the safety of all parties involved. What to know when you encounter a groomer on the trails:
- The drivers are not allowed to move over. They are required to stop and let traffic pass, therefore you (the user) must go around the groomer.
- The drivers are not allowed to pull public vehicles out of the snow – if you drive on the groomed trails and get stuck, you must call local authorities to be towed.
- If, by some chance, you have an accident or come in contact with the groomer or the attached equipment, you must remain at the scene while the driver calls in to dispatch and fills out a report.
Represent the sport well
- Be a savvy sports enthusiast. Recognize that people judge all snowmobile owners by your actions.
- Use your influence with other snowmobile owners to promote good conduct.
- Promote proper snowmobile education and training.
Care for the environment
- Do not litter trails or camping areas. Do not pollute lakes or streams.
- Snowmobile only when there is sufficient snow so you will not damage the land.
- Do not damage living trees, shrubs, or other natural features.
- Do not harass wildlife. Avoid areas posted for the protection or feeding of wildlife.
Be considerate of others
- Respect other people’s property and rights.
- Do not interfere with hikers, skiers, snowshoers, ice fishermen, or other winter sports enthusiasts. Operate at minimum speeds near other recreationists and do not accelerate until well beyond those on foot. Stop and yield the trail to dogsleds. Skiers and snowshoers should yield the track to oncoming and overtaking snowmobilers, unless the track is wide enough for safe passage.
- Lend a helping hand when you see someone in need.
- Make yourself and your vehicle available to assist search and rescue parties.
All winter recreationists should be aware that they have an impact on wintering wild animals, most notably that disturbing or displacing them causes them to burn more energy. Minimize your impact on wintering animals by following these guidelines:
- Avoid winter range whenever possible.
- Do not linger in the presence of animals, move along in a steady, deliberate fashion.
- It is unlawful to chase, harass, herd, or rally wild animals.
- Keep your machine in well-tuned condition to minimize noise and pollution.
- Avoid areas designated as “closed” for wildlife protection.
Snowmobiling is a fun and exciting sport the whole family can enjoy. However, winter offers certain challenges that require snowmobilers to take precautions.
- Ride smart, be prepared, and stay in control.
- Check ice and weather conditions before riding. Dress appropriately.
- Practice Zero Tolerance with respect to impaired riding.
- Never travel alone. Let others know where you are going.
Perform a pre-ride inspection
The performance of a pre-ride inspection is paramount to a safe, stress-free ride. Most equipment failures can be avoided by periodic maintenance and inspection. [Learn more]
Safety on ice: know the rules
The safest snowmobiling rule is never to cross lakes or rivers. Besides the danger of plunging through the ice, you have far less traction for starting, turning, and stopping on ice than on snow.
Collisions on lakes account for a significant number of accidents. Don’t hold the attitude that lakes are flat, wide open areas, free of obstructions. Remember, if you can ride and turn in any direction, without boundaries, so can other riders. Therefore, the threat of a collision can come from any direction.
If you do snowmobile on the ice, make absolutely sure the ice is safely frozen. Don’t trust the judgment of other snowmobilers. You are responsible for your own safety. Drowning is a leading cause of snowmobile fatalities. Know what to do if you go through the ice. [Learn more]
Be Avalanche Aware
Learn to recognize avalanche areas and avoid them. Carry avalanche rescue equipment including a transceiver, probe pole and shovel, and know how to use them. Review the local avalanche advisory when available.
It is your responsibility to know and follow established rules and regulations. The following is a summary of those rules, but you should also review additional information available from your county treasurer’s office, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, U.S. Forest Service offices and ranger stations, and other state and county government sources. (Montana Snowmobiling Handbook)
General Snowmobiling Laws
MCA 23-2-6 defines the rules for operating a snowmobile in Montana.
- Operation at night – When operating during the hours between dusk and dawn a snowmobile must use a lighted headlight and taillight.
- Accidents – The owner or operator of a snowmobile that is involved in any accident, collision, or upset in which personal injury or fatality occurs to any person shall report the accident to the nearest law enforcement agency immediately.
- Firearms – A person may not discharge a firearm from or upon a snowmobile.
Laws for Road Riding
MCA 23-2-631 states that snowmobiles may operate on maintained streets, roads, or highways only if:
- the roadway is drifted or covered by snow to such an extent that travel is impossible by other motor vehicles;
- the local government allows snowmobiles to travel on plowed roads with wheeled vehicles;
- the snowmobile operator possesses a motor vehicle driver’s license or a snowmobile safety certificate and travels under the visual supervision of an adult.
Resident Trail Pass – NEW As of October 1, 2015 residents are required purchase a trail pass to ride on any of the 4000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Trail Passes are valid for three seasons and are $18. Trail Passes apply to all “mechanized equipment” including; snowmobiles, motorized snow bikes, and fat tire pedal bikes.
- 2015 Resident Trail Pass FAQs ( 375 KB)
We ask that anyone using groomed snowmobile trails for recreation-please contribute and purchase the Trail Pass. The revenues go directly to grooming the trails.
The Montana Snowmobile Program provides grant funding to support snowmobile trail grooming and education so enthusiasts can ride safely in Montana. Montana State Parks administers the snowmobile program and its 4,000 miles of trails.
Nonresidents who plan to ride their snowmobiles and motorized snow bikes in Montana must purchase a Snowmobile Nonresident Temporary Use Permit for $25 per machine
Source: Montana State Parks
Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park’s backcountry is ILLEGAL
The use of snowmobiles in the backcountry, on trails and off road in Yellowstone is, and has always been, prohibited. Violators face a fine of up to $5,000 per operator and up to six months in jail as well as forfeiture of their snowmobiles. They can also be responsible to pay restitution for damages to natural resources.
- The boundary of Yellowstone is patrolled by both snowmobile and aircraft, and the regulations are strictly enforced.
- It is YOUR responsibility to know where the park boundary is.
- Yellowstone boundary markers and signs are not always visible. Don’t rely on signage only or tracks made by other groups.
For more information and maps:
- Yellowstone National Park: 307-344-7381, www.nps.gov/yell
- West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce: 406-646-7701
- Gallatin National Forest/Hebgen Basin District: 406-823-6961