From it's humble beginnings to the hugely popular sport it is today, snowmobiling has seen a lot of changes. Each year more and more people join the ranks of snowmobile enthusiasts. While this is great news for the many industries involved, not to mention the riders who get to enjoy all that snowmobiling has to offer, there are also some risks that come with the growth. Environmental concerns and safety, specifically, require attention from riders and industry professionals alike.

As more people hit the trails, it becomes more important than ever to be aware of what's going on around you. Snowmobiles are often criticized harshly by environmentalists for pretty much everything. Emissions, erosion, and noise are the easy targets here, so riders need to be extra vigilant that they don't provide any additional ammunition. Part of snowmobiling is being responsible for what you do.

To control your emissions, you need to keep your machine in good shape. Not only will regular maintenance keep it more eco-friendly, but it will also make it last a lot longer. Manufacturers have made great strides when it comes to reducing emissions, and likewise with noise levels. Too much noise can disturb wildlife and annoy people who may live or camp near the trails. Be conscientious of them and don't ride when it's late or too close to their homes. Finally, if a trail is worn down and the ground beneath the snow is being torn up, don't keep riding over it. Stay on marked trails to protect the plants and animals who call those areas home.

The second danger inherent in the growth of the sport is safety. Crowded trails can be dangerous, and collisions are continually on the rise. Pay attention to what is going on around you, and be aware of other riders in the area. It may be a good idea to use a flag if you are riding in a hilly area, to give some advanced warning of your approach from the other side of the hill.

In nearly every case, speed is a contributing factor in snowmobile accidents. Maintain a safe speed at all times. That probably means going slower than you'd like when other riders are around. Another major problem is riding after dark. The risk of a fatal accident is dramatically increased after nightfall, for obvious reasons. Be extra vigilant, and avoid night riding altogether if you can help it.

Probably the most important thing of all is, by all means, don't drink and drive! If the safety risks aren't enough to stop you, you should also be aware that you can get a DUI when driving pretty much anything, and snowmobiles are no exception. Alcohol related accidents are in many ways the most tragic, simply because they are so preventable. There really is no excuse.

So as you hit the trails, just remember there are other people out there too. Perhaps many other people. Plan accordingly to keep yourself and others safe.