Snowmobile tours offer a fresh look at backcountry |

Snowmobile tours offer a fresh look at backcountry

A snowmobiler greets the Park Record drone at the Soapstone Parking Area on Mirror Lake Highway, heading east toward the Uintas, on Monday. | David Jackson/Park Record

As Utah ski resorts celebrate the long-awaited return of a hefty snow-packed base, the snowmobile community has its own reasons to celebrate the season, with deep drifts, pristine trails and 130HP. This is the year of the snowmobile for those interested in exploring a new way to see the backcountry sans long lift lines and expensive hot dogs.

Every state in the U.S. has laws pertaining to snowmobiling. Although they vary among states – for instance, Wisconsin prohibits anyone under the age of 12 from operating a snowmobile, while Alaska doesn’t require a permit or even a helmet for snowmobilers – knowing what to expect during a Park City visit ensures a pleasant experience, with no unpleasant surprises.

The Utah Division of Recreation maintains hundreds of miles of groomed trails within the Mirror Lake Snowmobile Complex, Heber Valley and Wasatch State Park, as well as East Canyon State Park in the Wasatch Front. To explore them, a little preparation will go a long way. 

Utah law states that all snowmobile models dating from 1988 and newer must be titled and registered annually through the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles. Registration fees are $22 for Utah residents. Utah requires a non-resident permit costing around $30.( Online registration and permit fees also may apply to both.)

Registered snowmobiles have stickers affixed to the left side of the windshield or pan and are easily visible. 

For riders, Utah law prohibits anyone under the age of 8 from operating a snowmobile. Riders ages 16 and older must have a valid driver’s license. And beginning in 2023, the Utah Division of Outdoor Recreation will require all off-highway vehicle operators to complete an Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) education course. Those under 18 can acquire a youth OHV education certificate to operate an OHV, on public trails. 

However, a recent press release issued by the Utah Division of Outdoor Recreation states that snowmobiles are exempt, “as are participants of guided tours, implements of husbandry, sanctioned OHV events and 4x4s registered as normal road vehicles with full-sized license plates.”

For the casual snowmobiler or someone new to the area or the sport, there are plenty of qualified touring and machine rental companies that maintain thousands of acres of private, pristine and groomed trails and offer expert guides. 

“All of our tours are guided,” Jordan Richins of North Forty Escapes said. And they provide in-depth safety training before the tour starts.

“We’re very proactive,” Richins said. “Safety is the number one concern on all of our minds. And we have extensive measures to make sure that happens.”

With any snowmobile touring company, listening to the guide is essential to prevent injury or accidents. But it also enhances the quality of the tour. Snowmobiling on private land offers guests access to various terrain and unique scenic views that often complement the scenery from a day on the ski slopes.

Father and son Michael Holbrook (in the yellow jacket) and Damon Holbrook snowmobile at the Soapstone Parking area on Mirror Lake Highway on Monday. They came well prepared with avalanche beacons, shovels and airbags. | David Jackson/Park Record

Richins recommends that riders wear ski attire and sturdy waterproof boots. But guests can leave the ski helmets at home. “Ski helmets are not DOT-approved for OHV use, so we provide our own helmets,” he said. They can also provide winter attire like gloves and boots.

An added benefit for guided tours, particularly during heavy snowfall, is the threat of avalanches. Richins and his team know the risks and ensure guests avoid hazardous areas. “We don’t take guests anywhere where there could be potential avalanche danger.”

Even local residents can benefit from guided snowmobile tours. “If you’re looking to get into the sport of snowmobiling, I would recommend people take some guided tours and go somewhere a few times in a supervised environment, so they know how the machines work before they decide to buy,” Richins said. “This gives them a little more insight on how physical it is, what safety precautions they need to take and if it’s something they really want to do.” 

Weather permitting, Richins and North Forty Escapes hope to continue offering two-hour tours through mid-April.

Snowmobiles are exempted from this course requirement, but to operate other off-highway vehicles, click here for more information on the OHV Operator education course.

OHV education course info

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