As we approach the 2020 ATV/UTV riding season, I think it is important to review some basic rules of safety. Many riders don’t venture out in the winter months so riding skills lie dormant for the winter and tend to become dull.
November was the last time I was out on the trail and I have been getting an itch to ride. The days are getting noticeably longer and there are trails at lower altitudes that are opening up.
Because I have not ridden for three months, I want my first ride of the year to be an easy one. I have a new Polaris Ace 570 that I have only put 26 miles on and I need to get better acquainted with its characteristics before tackling any technical trails.
We can learn from what happens to Utah drivers on the highways when the first snow storm hits. It seems that drivers forget how to drive on snow and ice. The many accidents that occur are evidence of that premise.
Utah’s backcountry is wild and rugged. It requires a different mindset to ride safely away from civilization. Here are some factors to consider:
With machines sporting horsepower ratings pushing numbers in the 200s, it takes a strong dose of common sense to harness that much power. Trail conditions and your own level of skill should set the speed limit.
A 36-year-old Logan man and his 6-year-old son were riding with a group on the Shoshone Trail System last November when the quad veered off the trail and went over a 30-foot embankment. The man was killed, but the boy was not injured.
Speed and not being familiar with the trail appear to have been factors in the cause of the accident. The two had gotten ahead of the group, so there were no witnesses as to what happened.
Last July, a Colorado family came to Sand Hollow in Washington County for a vacation and rented two UTVs. Sand Hollow State Park manager Johnathan Hunt stated, “Being unfamiliar with sand, it appears they were going a little faster than they should have. There was a dip in the sand on the other side of the (crest of the) dune, and the ATV went airborne. The ATV flipped over, end to end, several times.” Of the three people riding in the ATV, one was killed.
Utah’s trails can be divided into three basic categories – mountain trails, desert landscapes and sand dunes. Mountain trails can be just as rugged as the trails in the desert, but weather is more of a factor.
I was riding up Chicken Creek east of Levan, Utah. It was a beautiful day in early fall with splashes of sunlight flashing through the trees as we climbed up the canyon road.
At the very highest point on the trail we were riding, we noticed dark clouds gathering. We couldn’t have been further from the trucks or more exposed then we were when the storm struck.
Lightning was striking close by because we couldn’t distinguish bright flashes from the deafening claps of thunder. We headed back, but by the time we got to the mouth of the canyon where little Chicken Creek meanders by the trail, it was a raging flood that was ripping up trees and carving out chunks of the roadway we were trying to negotiate.
Had we tried to find shelter to wait out the storm, we might have been stranded, but we could also have been struck by lightning. Watching the weather is critical when riding mountain trails.
Sand dunes present their own set of challenges. The sand is constantly shifting. The dune you are climbing either has a knife-like edge or is flat on top.
Every year on Easter weekend at least one ambulance and a staff of paramedics are on duty at the sand dunes. With the number of riders and variety of machines that show up that weekend, emergency personnel are kept busy.
A 13-year-old boy from Eagle Mountain was riding the Coral Pink Sand Dunes last April when he topped a tall dune with a sharp edge. He went airborne and the landing was fatal.
Finally, never ride alone in the backcountry. There are too many stories about people breaking down with no way out. When you go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down, and it is not hard to understand why “Safety Second” never caught on.