Off-trail riding continues to become more popular, and for a good reason, it is fun as hell! Where the problem comes in is ridding off-trail on someone else’s property. Clubs have an incredibly tough time with this as homeowners pull trails every year, creating lots of extra work with reroutes and, in some cases cutting off whole trail systems. There has been an effort to bring awareness to the problem, but the problem persists. The take the pledge in challenge done by the OEMs is a good start, but they need to go much further in helping educate riders where is and where is not an okay place to ride off-trail.
Here at Fast-Trac, we take part in all types of snowmobiling, including off-trail, and have found that it requires a lot of research and resources for it to be done correctly. Making these resources mainstream, utilizing technology now offered by the OEMs, and some proactive work by clubs and map makers can help curb most problems.
Here are five ways to help reduce 95% of the off-trail ridding problems:
1. The best resources for off-trail riders are DNR forest maps. Most do not know about them and how good of a resource they are to keep off-trail fun legal. Blending these DNR maps onto apps and club maps would make the public land clear and bring these tools mainstream!
2. OEMs must go farther on their apps and GPS gauges to outline public lands where play is permitted and where it is not. The vast majority of trespassing is not from riders looking to harm; it’s from lost people who do not have the right GPS tools. With these high-end GPS gauges, these sleds can now be loaded with maps showing legal off-trail areas on their dash. These dashes could even go as far as to notify you if you are approaching private land! The capability is there; we need to tell the OEMs they must invest in keeping the sport in a good spot.
3. Update trail maps to be more like a ski resort than a road map. By making the trail map more usable to off-trail riders, you’ll get more compliance as they will have the confidence to know where to go instead of guessing. These maps will make clear the go and no-go areas. Some clubs are doing this already. Iron County in WI has a great trail map that clarifies the legal and illegal sites to ride and should serve as a gold standard to follow. https://mercercc.com/2016/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Iron-County-Snowmobile-Trail-Map.pdf
4. Embrace off-trail riding in clubs and encourage membership
It’s no secret that there is tension between many off-trail and trail riders. It’s for a good reason; illegal off-trail riding is responsible for many trail closures. The truth is that off-trail riding is here to stay, and the sooner we become a community of snowmobilers instead of off-trail vs. on-trail, the better. Riders in a community are less likely to do anything that would jeopardize ridding for their friends. Leaders can also teach newer riders the right places to legally enjoy off-trail riding.
5. Stricter penalties
The last thing we want is more government intervention, but if we continue to lose trails to riders who do not respect property, we must ramp up the consequences. The most extreme would be vehicle impoundment. If a rider risks losing access to their machine for a month, they will think twice about jumping off the trail without research. This one should be avoidable if we can do the first four solutions.
Off-trail ridding is not going away. Deep snow capability keeps improving, and manufacturers will not start selling smaller lugs and shorter tracks to solve the trespassing problem. The problem is here to stay. We can continue to complain and lose trails or start doing things differently. More pressure must be put on the DNR and OEMs to make off-trail riding more straightforward without hours of research. Club and county maps need to be made clear of where play areas are. We need to take the guessing if a site is public or private out of the situation and clarify what ridable terrain is. If we continue on the path, we are on, more significant consequences for violators will come down the pipe. We are better than that, and it’s time we start acting as a community of riders to protect our sport on and off the trail!