By Derek M. Otto

Though not as popular as it was during its peak in the 1970s when as many as 400,000 snowmobiles were sold annually, snowmobiling is still popular today.   With the shorter winter seasons and the oddly warm winter in 2015-2016, snowmobiling to some looks like a major wasted investment.  Actually with the winter of 2016 showing signs that we may be in for a long winter, you may want to think about snowmobiling as a winter activity.   It’s also something you can do for just a day.   

How to get started?  The best advice I have found is to rent a snowmobile (sled) for a day or a couple of hours. It’s a great way to see if you like snowmobiling.  In western New York, a great place to rent snowmobiles is Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Services (  A snowmobile can be rented for two hours for $135—  not bad if you’re just determining if you like it or not.

The web site suggests that going to a snowmobile show is another place to start.  It’s a great place to meet local dealers, see what models are available and check out accessories like clothing, helmets and boots.  The web site suggests that talking to a dealer is another way to get started.  Though it’s not mentioned, you may want to try three or four dealers to find the best deal.

Look for the local snowmobile clubs.  Snowmobile clubs not only offer camaraderie, but also deals on insurance and groomed trails.  New York State takes $55 off the $100 snowmobile registration if you belong to a snowmobile club.  Many of the clubs in our area charge a membership fee of around $30, so you are still saving money by joining.   

Most clubs have their own trails that they groom and get permission of the landowners to use their property.  In the Springville area there are several clubs: Colden Trail Riders, Eden Trailblazers Snowmobile Club Inc., Hamburg Snowmobile Club, Holland Sno-Rascals, Pioneer Sno-Surfers of Sardinia, Southern Tier Sno Drifters, Inc., Western NY Snowmobile Club of Boston, Inc., Ashford Snowmobile Club, Inc., Elibowmwons Snowmobile Club, Enchanted Mountains Border Riders,  Franklinville Snow Sled Club, Inc.  Most of the clubs have web sites with their contact information.  They also post trail conditions.  Just this past week, the Western NY Snowmobile Club of Boston had posted that it closed its trails due to the rain and warm conditions.  Snowmobile clubs provide valuable services and allow beginners to meet experienced riders.

Snowmobile clubs are one way to get started, but if you want to be more independent, you still can. It is suggested that novices take safety courses.  Luckily, New York State is the leader in snowmobile education and rider safety courses.  There are two courses offered nearby. The first is on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Emery Park Stoters Lodge, on Emery Road in East Aurora.  If interested, contact Mary Jane Fitzpatrick at (716) 941-6076 to register. Lunch is provided.   

The second course will be on Sunday Jan. 22, 2017, at The Valley Restaurant, at  8082 Olean Road in Holland. Contact Paul Rowe to pre-register (which is required); lunch is also provided.   The classes are taught by experienced snowmobilers.

Where to ride if you want to go it alone?  Nearest to Springville is Sprague Brook Park in Concord.  Chestnut Ridge Park has a variety of trails for the snowmobiler and, of course, Allegany State Park.

Remember, if you are operating a snowmobile off your property, it is necessary to have it registered with NYS.  Applications and guidelines are online at  Insurance may be required in some situations.    

The WNY Rail to Trail that goes through the village is not open to snowmobiling, as it forbids all motorized vehicles.  Operating snowmobiles on sidewalks is forbidden by local law 150-13 Section B: “No person shall operate, drive or park, cause to be operated driven,  parked or knowingly permit the operation driving or parking of any vehicle in or upon any sidewalk within the corporate limits of the Village of Springville.”  Section A of the law defined vehicles as every device in, upon or by which people and property may be transported… except those powered by human power.  By definition snowmobiles are off-road vehicles and should not be operated on the village streets as well.

After you have found a place to ride, remember to keep it safe.  First and most important is do not consume alcohol prior to or while using the trails. It is against the law and operators violators will prosecuted just as DWI in motor vehicle cases.   Speed is a big factor in snowmobile fatalities. NY Snowmobile offers these safety tips:  “Be prudent and responsible and shall ensure that snowmobiles are operated with appropriate care and control at all times.  Ride in control at a prudent and reasonable speed under the prevailing trail and weather conditions. Stay to the right side of the trail. Know that there may be grooming or other maintenance activities under way at any time of the day or night. Groomers have the right of way. Adhere to the Safe Riders Pledge by the International Snowmobile Manufacturer’s Association.  Be aware that emergency and cell phone service may not be available from all trail locations. Follow all posted signs. Know that snowmobiling on trails in New York State is regarded as a family-oriented activity. Know the unique and particular dangers of ice crossing. Dress appropriately for all conditions and will have appropriate safety and emergency equipment at all times. Respect landowner wishes, obey posted signs, and stay on the trail.”   After reading through the safety guidelines, it is best to get a safety course certificate.

Try it out for a day. Ask a friend who snowmobiles. Rent one for a few hours and see if you want to do it.  There are many snowmobiling clubs in western New York that could offer to take you out for a day.    If you really like it, then you may want to start making some decisions.   The biggest thing to remember: do it safely and enjoy snowmobiling!

Photo by Paul Crawford