Off Trail Snowmobile Trespassing: “The Devil Made Me Do It” Off Trail Snowmobile Trespassing: “The Devil Made Me Do It”
The snowmobile industry has had long track mountain sleds for many years, at least 25 years by my best guess if we go by... Off Trail Snowmobile Trespassing: “The Devil Made Me Do It”

The snowmobile industry has had long track mountain sleds for many years, at least 25 years by my best guess if we go by the introduction of the Ski-Doo Summit in 1994. Long track sleds are like a big snowshoe in that they provide greater flotation which is very beneficial when riding in deeper snow.

Everyone that promotes snowmobiles, from the manufacturers to the dealers to the media (myself included) has openly and freely promoted the virtues of such sleds as being superior for use in deeper snow conditions. That is our job, and it is only logical. Different tools work better for different jobs. Pretty basic.

For many years we had our traditional short track trail sleds and the longer track “mountain” sleds as they quickly became to be known. Also offered, but not nearly as visible or popular, were some long track utility sleds, also capable of superior flotation in deeper snow conditions but designed more for the needs of workers and those using a snowmobile for a job at hand, not just recreation.

As each segment of machines matured and evolved, the so-called “mountain” sleds become more advanced, more capable and more specific. What started out as 133.5” and 136” tracked sleds (seriously, the first RMK 800 we had was a 136” track sled, before that we had 133.5” SKS models) slowly stretched out to 141”, 144”, 155”, 163”, and finally 174” track lengths. Front end widths became narrower and narrower. The mountain sleds used to be great all-around deep snow sleds but slowly became highly specialized machines, designed to traverse deeper and steeper terrain. To ride one down a trail for much of any distance was just plain difficult.

With the evolution of deep snow specific mountain sleds, something curious happened. Riders who had been buying the shorter-tracked mountain sleds were now left out in the cold. Their riding conditions were not as extreme, not as deep, so they didn’t need all of the track length or deep snow lug height. They really despised the super narrow front ends, great for sidehilling but terrible for all-around stability. They were perfectly fine with the slightly longer tracks and slightly taller lug tracks, something that would work well across a wider range of conditions.

This emerging void in the market created a new opportunity for the sled manufacturers. There was a gap in the sled offerings to be filled by demand. This is how the “crossover” sled market was born. I clearly remember the very first Ski-Doo Renegade model. Ski-Doo jokingly said they were going to call it the “SnowTech Special” as we had been so vocal in the need for such a machine. In fact, the very first Renegade was called a Summit Renegade, not an MX Z Renegade, as Ski-Doo believed it better identified with the mountain riders than it did the trail riders. From those humble beginnings the Renegade quickly became a popular crossover sled, and is today considered a premier trail sled as the crossover market has slowly migrated to longer and narrower models. Funny how history repeats itself.

Today’s crossover sleds are now very close to what a mountain sled used to be years ago. Consider track length, lug height and front end width of a crossover sled and we pretty much have what used to be called a mountain sled. The manufactures simply built what the consumers were willing to purchase.

Notice that nowhere in this did anyone ever suggest that these machines were to be used for illegal riding. Nowhere has anyone EVER suggested that a long track sled be used to enter areas off-limits to snowmobiles. Never has it been suggested that a rider purchase one of these machines to trespass onto private land.

The popularity of longer tracked sleds is growing, which in itself is not a problem, but what is a problem is where riders plan on using them. An alarming number think they can use them pretty much wherever they please. Public, private, who cares. Down the trail, across the trail, off the trail, across this yard, across this field, maybe even across this golf course or cemetery. Wherever there is deep snow, away they go. They have little to no regard for what is legal or illegal, public or private, open or closed.

We see this first-hand in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There is a lot of public land open to ride, but each and every groomed trail section that crosses private land is constantly abused by those who insist on going off trail where it is illegal. Riding in the state or national forest is one thing, but cutting across private land is another. Signs, fences, banners, all are ignored. The riders under the helmet believe they are invincible, albeit totally irresponsible.

Snowmobile Trespassing, stay on trail or stay home

On many groomed trail systems off-trail riding is illegal. Period. With today’s crossover sleds we study maps and find legal riding areas to take them. Anytime a rider leaves the legal trail system they MUST know who owns the land they are entering. If you don’t know, don’t go! Much like a hunter must know where the public land ends and private lands begins, snowmobilers are obligated to know where it is legal to ride and where it is illegal to ride. Not only in their local areas, but everywhere and anywhere that they might take their sled to ride. Different areas have different laws, different areas have different customs. What is legal and acceptable behavior in one state might not be legal or acceptable in another state. It is the obligation of the snowmobiler to know the laws and regulations wherever they plan to ride.

Those who cry they have nowhere to ride should be reminded that buying a snowmobile with a deep lug track was a voluntary purchase. You don’t go buy a high powered rifle to go deer hunting if they only allow slug hunting in your local area. Nor do you use the rifle to go duck hunting. If you want to use that new rifle you’d better find where it is legal to do so.

The notion that it is an obligation of the club volunteers to accommodate riders who want to go off trail and break laws is absurd. If these riders want a different experience and opportunity, they can take their machines to locations where that kind of riding is legal and acceptable, or they can roll up their sleeves and do the work to create such opportunities – just like everyone else has. Not all riding areas will be able to have legal off-trail opportunities. Just like your rifle, you can’t use it everywhere hunting is legal.

Snowmobile off trail riding, trespassing
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Some trail riding areas are starting to recognize this as a “tourism” opportunity and promote their availability of lands open to off trail riding – of course this is only possible in areas that have such opportunities, be it public land or private land with permission. The further north and/or west you go the more likely you are to find this. Many areas in the east are VERY strict about ONLY operating sleds on the designated groomed trail system. Off trail riding is an even bigger problem in these areas that have no legal off-trail access. Locally here in central Minnesota there is no public land, there is no state forest, there is no national forest. If we want to go boon docking we load the sleds on a trailer and go where that kind of riding is legal. And we sure don’t blame somebody else that we can’t do it right here.

The suggestion that the explosion of illegal trespassing and off trail riding is caused by the manufacturers (and the entire snowmobile industry) promoting off trail sleds is misguided. We promote different machines for different applications. We show machines being used in their legal operating environment. To suggest this is justification for illegal operation is insane. The obligation to use and operate your machine legally is the solely burden of the rider! Again, just because a hunter sees pictures or video of somebody elk hunting in Wyoming, do they step outside and try to do the same in their local neighborhood? Of course not! They know when and where they need to go to do the same.

Trails get closed each year because of selfish riders. We just lost another one here in Minnesota at the end of November because someone went down a trail on private land before it was even open for the season. Some snowmobilers ignore signs all day long like they don’t read or understand the language. They know full well they are trespassing. They don’t care. Yet we blame the “industry” for encouraging such behavior? I blame social degeneration. The lack of respect. The loss of morals and personal responsibility. Yes, these habits of society are creeping into our beloved sport of snowmobiling. How sad.

Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. If we break the law, we have no excuse. We cannot blame the devil. We cannot blame our circumstances. We can only blame ourselves. And, until we recognize that the problem resides within us we will never arrive at the solution.

Kevin Beilke – Editor, SnowTech Magazine

  • Will Judson

    January 30, 2020 #1 Author

    It’s the persons fault, not the gun!
    Excellent read and explination!

  • Phil Leone

    January 31, 2020 #2 Author

    I agree with this article right up to this sentence. “The suggestion that the explosion of illegal trespassing and off trail riding is caused by the manufacturers (and the entire snowmobile industry) promoting off trail sleds is misguided.“ There was a time in the 1990s that Polaris didn’t market the RMK in the east. I had a close friend who had owned what was rumored to be the largest dealership East of the Mississippi (Over 400 new sleds per year) and I remember him having to fight with Polaris to get them to send 2 his way for a couple of customers. The generational difference is in the staff in the marketing departments and corporate greed. My experience in NY is that most of the Assaults are just assaulting the groomed trails with their longer and higher profile tracks. The Renegade was named perfectly for sparking this firestorm of illegal riding. The manufacturers marketed to the male ego and now it’s become epitome of, “if you say something enough times it must be true”. I just shake my head when I hear how these long tracks corner and handle just as good as a 121” on a groomed trail. I was riding in Cochrane, ON over Christmas break and when I stopped for lunch all I could hear was a lot of belly aching from the uncoupled suspension crowd because the trails were bumpy due to high traffic. The conditions were caused by no riding to be had anywhere but that small area at the time. As much as riding opportunities have been rare in NY this year I’m kind of smiling at the high profile long track crew and their un-neccessarily long and deep tracks on barely covered groomed trails. The snowmobile manufacturers owe it to the clubs to produce a document regional specific to areas with no known off trail legal riding opportunities that a customer needs to sign before buying any crossover or mountain sled. This document should state that the buyer is aware that their is no public opportunity in their area to ride such a machine and if they do it’s trespassing. Maybe a comprehensive map of the country showing where they can ride them would be enlightening. Anything short of this is counterproductive to our sport and simply profiteering.. The manufacturers need to accept some responsibility and spend some of that profit on education. I would love to see a map where this huge market segment is suppose to be riding!

  • John Desjardins

    February 1, 2020 #3 Author

    I disagree somewhat with Phil. I live in Eastern Ontario and although there is no opportunity to “boondock” near my home, I often trailer north-east about 1 hour, to do so. If I understand Phil’s thought, it would be impossible for me to purchase and service my sled locally. I do agree that manufacturers target some riders, for the wrong reason, but wouldn’t in be the dealership and salesperson’s responsibility to fit the customer with the right sled?

  • Robert Johnson

    February 2, 2020 #4 Author

    If you need the manufacturer to have you sign off on something you should have alreadylearned in snowmobile safety class, then you are probably too ignorant to own a snowmobile.

    Mic drop

  • Dave Babbitt

    February 4, 2020 #5 Author

    As a trail rider, I have always taken pride in the fact that I do not trespass. I stick to the trails and am very grateful for the landowners who graciously allow the trail to pass through their property. However, one day quite a few years ago, I was leading a pack of sledding buddies down the trail near Grayling Michigan. In one section, the trail was carved deep into the snow forming walls almost 3 feet high. On each side of the trail lay acres and acres of virgin, untouched meadows that were calling my name. While I don’t trespass, I stopped to look out at this inviting area and in a weak moment, motioned for all of my friends to join me as I set out carvng amazing lines all through this gorgeous meadow. I could see all of my friends making tracks through the area, often laying our sleds on their sides as we carved tight turns scarring this previously untouched area. THIS was one of those places seemingly featured in all of the snowmobile magazines and a rarity for me to see in our “flatlander” area. Far out in the meadow I could see a lone, small sign protruding barely above the snow. I drove over to it to see what it might say. The sign read “ KEEP OUT, UNEXPLODED SHELL AREA” ( there is a military base near Grayling) Needless to say, I don’t trespass anymore! Lesson learned.

  • Don

    February 4, 2020 #6 Author

    Off trail riding is easy to find and close for most people, at least in Minnesota, just find a lake, we have over 10,000 of them.

  • John Murrain

    February 4, 2020 #7 Author

    The problem is not the long track sleds – I have one – LOL. And it never leaves the trail . The problem is the idiot non caring no respect no common sense riders that will ruin it for us respectable ones

  • KELVIN HULL

    February 5, 2020 #8 Author

    The promotional adds that accompany these sleds is what fills the wants and desires of boon dockers group. OEM’s, magazines, TV commercials, are full of these adds showing sleds in the wide open spaces, private property or not, that is not advertised. Every manufacturer of any item, sled, T.V., dishwasher, knife, relies on ADVERTISING to sell their product, .Their is a level of responsibility for what is happening with trail system to all, owners, operators, manufacturers, advertising and magazines, no one can totally wash their hands of reponsibility.

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