The leaves are falling and the first snowfall is just around the corner. As winter approaches, that can only mean one thing: It’s snowmobile season in Wisconsin. Whether you use your sled as a workhorse, to get to the deer stand and ice shack, or simply just to hit the trails, it’s time to start thinking about getting your machine ready for the season.

Though snowmobiles are ideal for going off road in the Wisconsin winters, precautions need to be taken to stay safe. During 2018-2019 snowmobile season, 20 riders were killed on the state’s trails and many more were injured. But by following a few easy safety tips, you can make sure you have fun and get home safely every time you go out.

Don’t drink

Out of the 20 riders killed last year in Wisconsin accidents, alcohol was a factor in at least 13 of the accidents. On average, alcohol plays a factor in 70 percent of all snowmobile fatalities in the state.

Alcohol slows reactions, affects balance and impairs judgement, and snowmobilers who are drinking are far more likely to collide with a fixed object, collide with another vehicle or be ejected from their snowmobile.

Gear up

A good helmet complete with a face shield or goggles is the most important piece of snowmobiling gear you can own. As is the case with motorcycling and four wheeling, head injuries while snowmobiling are common and often catastrophic.

Heavy boots and gloves are another necessity. They help stave off frostbite during long rides in low temperatures. Dress in layers with fabrics that wick away sweat and repel moisture. Avoid loose clothing or anything that dangles and could get caught in the tread.

The buddy system

Most snowmobile accidents result in injuries, and almost any injury can quickly become serious when you’re alone in subzero temperatures. Having someone who can go for help after a snowmobile accident could mean the difference between life and death. If you do have to ride alone, let someone know what your plans are and where you’ll be.

Avoid ice

Avoid riding over frozen lakes, rivers and ponds when possible. Changing weather, moving currents and snow cover can all affect the thickness, integrity and uniformity of ice. When you do have to ride on the ice, stick to marked trails or places where you’re certain the ice is thick enough.

Watch your speed

Along with alcohol, speed is a contributing factor in most fatal snowmobile accidents. Wisconsin enforces a speed limit of 55 mph between dusk and dawn and follow any other speed limits posted on trails. Adjust your speed for the conditions and travel at a pace that will allow you ample time to react to any hazards you may encounter.