Now that there is snowmobiling in some parts of the state, there are things to keep in mind before you make that first trip.

One of the most important things you should do is to let people know where you are going by filling out an itinerary form (available at www.mesnow.com/pdfs). This can give peace of mind to loved ones and assist search and rescue personnel if there is an emergency.

“If something does happen, like an accident or if a sled breaks down — particularly on a back trail where there isn’t a lot of traffic to help you — the sooner a search starts, the better,” said Game Warden Troy Dauphinee, whose district covers the Forks area, a popular destination for snowmobilers. “If someone fills out an itinerary form or at least tells someone where they are going, we know where to start looking if they are reported overdue.”

A breakdown on the trail can turn into a dangerous and potentially deadly situation. All snowmobilers should be prepared for a breakdown or be able to offer assistance in case they encounter a fellow snowmobiler in trouble.

Snowmobilers should have with them on the trail:

A first aid kit

A basic snowmobile repair kit

A survival kit (rope, waterproof matches, flashlight, flares, space blanket, jackknife, high energy snacks such as chocolate bars, peanuts)

A waterproof map of the area and a compass/GPS system

Extra gas

Spare parts

A cell phone

“If someone has coverage on a cell phone and they dial 911, typically we are able to get a fix on their position. There are a lot of spots where a signal won’t get out, but snowmobilers should bring a cell phone anyway,” Dauphinee said. “Make sure you have current trail maps, and a GPS doesn’t hurt either, although they can freeze up.

“It is important to talk with local people about trail conditions and hazards in the area as well. You should bring along spare parts, like spark plugs or a belt and extra gas, because a lot of times it can be a long distance between gas stations or repair shops. Carrying a tow strap is a good idea because you can help someone out on the trail,” Dauphinee said.

In addition, snowmobilers should always wear a helmet and dress appropriately, preferably in layers.

Also, never ride alone, and check out the weather forecast before going on a trip.

Most importantly, snowmobilers should use common sense by staying alert, driving defensively, operating at prudent speeds, knowing and obeying the laws and avoiding alcohol.

“Some of the major mistakes people make is going too fast and drinking alcohol — both cause a lot of accidents,” said Dauphinee. “Also, early in the season, snowmobilers need to be careful around bodies of water. It takes a long time for the ice to freeze solidly and even in the middle of winter there can be bad spots where there are inlets and spring holes.”

SNOWMOBILE SAFETY COURSES

Another way to be prepared for the season is by taking a snowmobile safety course.

Safety courses, although not required, are available through the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and local snowmobile clubs.

An eight-hour certificate course designed primarily for the beginning snowmobilers covers areas such as machine nomenclature, proper and safe handling of the machine, wilderness survival, ethics and snowmobile laws.

Cathy Genthner is a registered Maine Guide and licensed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to guide snowmobile trips. She is the owner of River Bluff Camps in Medford, located off ITS-83. She can be reached at:

[email protected]