Hititing the trails safely

Before you pull the cord and push your thumb down on the accelerator, do you know all the rules?

There are many rules that those who ride the trails during the snowmobile season need to be aware of, including the fact that there is an official start to the season.

“You cannot ride on the trails until Dec. 15,” said Terry Bessette, a snowmobile safety instructor from Whitehall. “People just think that once it snows, you can get on your snowmobile and go riding, but that’s not the case. The hunter’s are still in-season until then. It snowed the weekend before Dec.15 and you could not go out on any trails because the season had not started.”

Bessette said that there are a number of snowmobile safety courses offered throughout the region, and that he is one of four local instructors.

“The course pretty much goes into the history of snowmobiling and the safety aspects of it,” said Bessette. “We try to teach people how to ride, safety lessons such as hand signals, what to do when stuck, hypothermia… there’s a lot that we cover.”

Bessette said that the safety course is mandatory for riders between the ages of 10 and 18 who want to ride on trails or property not owned by their parents.

“There’s a lot of people under the impression that if their kid has a driver’s license they can ride the trails, but that is not the case,” said Bessette. “They have to have a certificate from a safety course and they have to have it with them. If they are between the ages of 10 and 14, they also have to be accompanied, they can’t just ride on their own.”

Bessette said that the class can also serve as a refresher course for older riders who may not know new rules that have been enacted or want to brush up on their knowledge.

“I have been doing this for a long time, and there are a lot of things in this course that people do not realize,” he said. “The adults learn a lot, as well. We teach things like how much pressure a snowmobile has on the ground and there are a lot of adults who do not know that there are now speed limits of 55 m.p.h. on the trails.”

Along with knowing the speed limits, Bessette said that the course also offers lessons in common sense.

“We teach the safety aspect and enforce using just plain common sense,” he said. “You have to have a sense for the conditions and a lot of common sense when it comes to your surroundings.”

Bessette added that there are many children and adults who are interested in the historical aspect of snowmobiling, and that the course touches on the evolution of the recreational, and sometimes professional, sport.

“We show what the first snowmobiles were like and the progression of the sport and the sleds throughout the years,” he said.

Overall, the snowmobile safety course takes eight hours to complete. Bessette said that he likes to conduct the course in two four-hour sessions.

“It’s hard enough to keep a kids attention for a four-hour block,” he joked. “There’s no way I would want to try doing it for eight hours straight.”

For more information on snowmobiling course, contact Bessette at 499-0261.

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