DANIELS SUMMIT, Wasatch County — This year, at least here in Utah, snow isn't a problem for snowmobilers. Learning to cut the throttle, turn the machine around and head back home is a problem.

It's difficult to say enough is enough of a good thing, and snowmobiling has, indeed, been good this season.

The snow didn't come as early as in the 2004-05 season, but it made its usual appearance around Thanksgiving. Since then the storms have been frequent and usually without great depths but with more than enough snow to cover what needs to be covered for good riding.

And, as a result, said Dee Eggett, manager of the snowmobile program at Daniels Summit Lodge southeast of Heber, "the riding opportunities are endless this winter.

"The snow is excellent, and there are miles of trails and play areas open . . . From the lodge you can follow groomed trails all the way up into Wyoming or over to Soldier Summit and find hundreds of play areas along the way."

Despite the great snow year, however, the second in as many years, snowmobile registrations took a dip this year, down from around 35,000 last year to just over 28,000 this year.

In considering some of the Eastern states, however, Utah's numbers pale in comparison. Minnesota, for example, registered 272,600 machines in 2004-05, New York 158,538 and Maine 100,401.

The lower registration number in Utah, said Eggett, surprises him, "since I monitor this (Strawberry) valley closely and the parking areas have been full, especially on weekends. There seems to be just as many people out riding this year as there were last year."

No one can really explain the drop in registered snowmobiles. Suggestions range from busy schedules to the frequency of storms to the fact that more people are choosing to rent rather than own.

Last year, the snowstorms came infrequently but dropped a lot of snow when they did arrive, which made for long periods of riding opportunities. This year, snowstorms have hit Utah much more frequently, which has limited riding opportunities.

Snowmobiling does, however, remain a popular winter activity here in Utah, especially with families.

Ken Rossum, president of the Utah Snowmobile Association, said he has lived in snowmobile country in Washington and Minnesota, "and, definitely, snowmobiling is more of a family activity here in Utah. And it seems that more families than ever are riding these days."

Even though Utah is not known as a big snowmobiling state, some suggest it's a good thing because this leaves more riding areas open to fewer people.

Still, Utah is not without strong support for the riding community by the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation. The state runs 12 groomers routinely over roughly 1,200 miles of designated trails in Utah.

Eggett said the lodge grooms roughly 35 miles of trails "three to four times a week. Riders, especially first-time riders, prefer a smooth trail. It makes for a much more enjoyable experience."

Trails groomed by Daniels Summit interconnect with those groomed by the state in the Strawberry Complex. And, as noted, the trail system reaches south to Soldier Summit and north to an area near Kamas, where it is possible to link up with the Mirror Lake/Mill Hollow Complex, which has a groomed-trail system reaching up into Wyoming.

This season, the DPR expects to put roughly 28,000 miles on the 12 groomers tending the nine complexes — Hardware Ranch near Logan, Wasatch Mountain near Midway, Mirror Lake out of Kamas, Uinta Basin north of Vernal, Scofield/Skyline Drive west of Price, Ephraim/Manti to the east of the two towns, Fish Lake east of Richfield, Cedar Mountain east of Cedar City, and Strawberry.

At an average speed of about six miles per hour, about 50 miles of trails can be smoothed and manicured in a day.

While the number of registered machines may be down, consensus is that the overall number of riders may be up as a result of increased rental opportunities.

One thing that has made renting and riding out of the lodge more popular these days, explained Eggett, is the opportunity for riders, even first-time riders, to enjoy self-guided tours as opposed to organized group rides.

"We give people instructions and a map showing the well-marked trails and let them go off on their own, if they choose. They're able to go wherever they want, when they want," he added.

There are, however, certain guidelines all riders are encouraged to follow, said Rossum.

They are:

• Be certain of the weather and avalanche conditions.

"The snowmobiles of today are so much better than they were, so people are able to go so many more places. What this means is they need to be especially aware of weather and avalanche conditions," he offered.

• People need to go out with a plan. That is, they need to let people know where they will be riding and when they expect to return. And, they should never ride alone.

Rossum said he carries a cell phone, Global Positioning System and two-way radios, "So we're constantly in communication with others in our party."

• Riders should always carry survival equipment to include such things as candy bars, water, change of sox and gloves, matches and fire starter, signaling device and space blanket.

• People should not ride beyond their ability, not only at safe skill level but also with respect to physical conditioning.

• All riders need to practice "zero tolerance." The penalty for drinking and riding is no different from that of drinking and driving and no less dangerous.

A single call to the state's information line — 1-800-OHV-RIDE — can offer specific information on snowmobiling as well as give current avalanche information. The DPR also offers detailed maps of trails and play areas in each of the nine complexes.

Maps of the various snowmobile complexes are available in the bookstore in the Natural Resources building at 1594 W. North Temple for $2 each. New maps are being designed and should be available next winter.

E-mail: grass@desnews.com