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New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services

Ideas for a Cleaner Environment
Published monthly by the NH Department of Environmental Services Watershed Assistance Program, Concord, NH (603) 271-7889

February, 2007

Cleaner Snowmobiling in New Hampshire

If you are a snowmobiler in New Hampshire, you probably spent the first part of this winter anxiously waiting for enough snow for you to get out and have some fun. When enough snow does fall in New Hampshire, there are over 6,800 miles of posted and maintained snowmobile trails that have been developed by New Hampshire snowmobile clubs and associations. Given adequate snowfall and responsible operators, most impacts to the environment from snowmobiles will disappear when the season changes and the snow melts. There are several steps that snowmobile operators can take to assure minimal impacts to New Hampshire’s environment especially with limited snowfall and warmer winter temperatures.

First, stay on marked snowmobile trails and get the latest information on trail conditions. In addition to safety, scenic destinations, and an integrated network of trails, snowmobile clubs and associations’ maintained snowmobile trails are designed to follow guidelines that minimize trail impact on wetlands and stream crossings. Traveling on unmarked trails and crossing unfrozen ponds, lakes, streams and wetlands can be dangerous, inconsiderate to landowners, and hazardous to water quality and delicate wildlife. Riding in unfrozen wetland areas can even be a violation of the law. Additional caution should be taken as the warmer spring weather exposes soils and vegetation previously protected by snowpack or ice.

Second, keep your snowmobile tuned up. Engine emissions from snowmobiles include carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulate material, and a variety of gases classified as "air toxics." The incomplete combustion of lubrication oil causes the visible haze you may have seen from some exhaust. Older snowmobiles emit as much as 30 percent of their fuel unburned, raising water quality concerns since unburned fuel, lubrication oil, and other compounds are deposited on the top layer of snow and may eventually reach surface or ground water. Snowpack samples near heavily traveled snowmobile trails have been correlated with elevated levels of ammonium, sulfate, benzene, and other toxic compounds. Emissions from snowmobiles can be minimized by keeping the engines tuned properly. Proper clutch adjustment also reduces fuel use and emission of pollutants. Third, refuel snowmobiles and ice augers onshore; do not take gasoline storage tanks onto ice-covered ponds or lakes. Be careful and don’t overfill when filling up your snowmobile with gasoline or oil. A small spill can contaminate groundwater, drinking water wells, and surface water.

Fourth, EPA regulations now require manufacturers to meet increasingly stringent emission standards in their newer models. You can make the greatest reduction in your snowmobile’s environmental impact by transitioning from an older, inefficient two-stroke engine to a fuel-efficient two-stroke direct fuel injection model or the newer, four-stroke technology. Emissions of hydrocarbons and particulate matter are significantly lower in both machines and the four-stroke engines are cleaner, quieter, and three times more fuel efficient.

From riding only on designated trails with great snow cover to purchasing a new cleaner four-stroke machine, snowmobilers can go a long way toward preserving an attractive natural environment for all that come to enjoy it. The New Hampshire Snowmobile Association Inc. has more information on trail conditions and snowmobile clubs in New Hampshire at or (603) 273-0220. Or visit the NH Trails Bureau Web site at for more information on snowmobiling in New Hampshire.

NH Department of Environmental Services | 29 Hazen Drive | PO Box 95 | Concord, NH 03302-0095
(603) 271-3503 | TDD Access: Relay NH 1-800-735-2964 | Hours: M-F, 8am-4pm

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