12 Ways to Stay Safe on a Snowmobile
This is it: the day of your first snowmobile adventure has arrived. You anticipate there will be many more days like this in the future, that is, if you can navigate through today. How can you stay safe on your snowmobile?
We recommend the following safety tips before and when operating a snowmobile:
- Take a safety class
- Check your snowmobile’s condition before you ride
- Wear gear appropriate for cold weather
- Have the right kits for repairs and emergencies
- Stick to daytime rides only
- Avoid icy rivers and streams
- Know the weather before you go
- Bring another friend or two with you
- Stay within the speed limit
- Take breaks as needed
- Follow the beaten path
- Remain vigilant and alert at all times
Ahead, we’ll discuss the above tips in more detail so you can always ride safe. You may wish to print this article or save it on your phone so you can access it ahead of your first few snowmobile rides.
Let’s get started.
12 Safety Tips to Follow When Riding a Snowmobile
Take a Safety Class
Vehicular road accidents kill more people than snowmobile accidents do, but people die from snowmobile accidents all the time. For example, as of March 2020, in Wisconsin, 19 people have already perished from incidents involving snowmobiles.
It never hurts to learn as much about snowmobile safety as you can, and to that end, a safety course is highly recommended. Speaking of Wisconsin, they have their own Official Wisconsin Snowmobile Safety Course that you can enroll in online for free. Vermont has the same thing but catered to that state’s snowmobiling rules.
You can also try SnowmobileCourse.com, a resource in conjunction with the American Camp Association and the American Council of Snowmobile Associations. The current safety courses available for states in the US include Wisconsin, Utah, North Dakota, New York, New Mexico, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Idaho.
If you’re in Canada, you can enroll for a class on SnowmobileCourse.com for the City of Whitehorse, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Manitoba.
Snowmobile courses are sometimes state-mandated, so you might as well take one!
Inspect Your Snowmobile Ahead of Your Trip
Your snowmobile comprises many parts, a lot of which we’ve discussed on this blog recently. Components like the coolant tank to the suspension, the drive belts, or even the engine can all fail. You don’t want to be on your snowmobile when this happens, because when a sled part goes bad like this, the vehicle tends to stop dead.
Do yourself a favor and, before you venture out for the day, open up the hood and take a look at everything in your snowmobile. Are fluid levels topped off, including the oil? Is the engine in running order? Do you see any dirt, sticks, and other debris blocking up important components? Are the front lights and taillights on and working? Can you steer with ease or do you feel like the sled is fighting against you?
By following a good maintenance schedule, you can get to know all the parts of your sled, including those we didn’t touch on already, like the handlebars, throttle, battery, and brakes. You can also prolong the life of these parts, keeping them clean, lubricated, topped off, or whatever the part needs to work.
Wear Cold-Weather Gear
We’ve said this before on here, but it’s worth mentioning again. Please don’t dig out your winter clothes that you wear to shovel snow and then go snowmobiling in them. You’ll be freezing your tailfeathers off within 15 minutes.
It’s a little expensive to start from scratch with your gear, but once you get out on the snow for a few hours and you barely feel the cold, you’ll be glad you shopped for the right stuff. Here’s what we recommend:
- Synthetic, silk, wool, fleece, polypropylene, or nylon socks that at least reach your calf. Have a spare pair on you if your first pair of socks get wet or cold.
- Gloves that are not only waterproof, but windproof as well. The biting, whipping winter winds are that much worse when you’re speeding along on a snowmobile. You don’t want your hands going numb, as this puts you at risk of a crash. The best snowmobiling gloves are fleece or wool. Skip mittens, as you may not feel as in-control of your sled as you need to be.
- You can pass on a facemask, but it sure does make acclimating to the cold easier. If you do opt for a facemask, make sure you buy a fully synthetic one.
- Goggles are another good accessory for keeping snow out of your eyes. If you have a helmet–which we would recommend for beginners–then you don’t need goggles.
- Your outer layers, which include a coat and ski pants, must be waterproof. Snow melts, after all, and then becomes cold water that you don’t want lingering on your clothing. The outer layer should ideally be windproof as well.
- Beneath your outer layer, you need a base layer of synthetic or polyester clothing, such as long-johns or a one-piece top and bottom.
Bring a Repair Kit and an Emergency Kit
You may hope nothing ever goes wrong on your snowmobile, but you must still always prepare for the worst. To that end, we’d suggest you have some kits handy.
The first is a repair kit that you can use if facing a sudden mechanical or electrical problem on your snowmobile. Here’s what you need in the repair kit:
- Zip ties for holding components together temporarily until you can get to a mechanic
- Spare belt for replacing drive belts
- Baling wire for quick, temporary repairs
- Siphon hose for feeding gas or coolant into the snowmobile
- Vise grips for accessing your sled
- Emergency rope to save your recoil starter in a pinch
- Tow rope for towing a dead snowmobile back to your car
- Duct tape or electrical tape for hasty, short-term fixes
- Screwdrivers, including Philips and slotted screwdrivers
- Socket wrench set
- Spark plug tool to change out bad spark plugs
- Replacement spark plugs
Your emergency kit should include possibly life-saving items for yourself and your party. Here’s what you might add:
- Several snacks, especially foods with lengthy expiration dates
- Emergency blanket for warmth if you’re stranded for a while
- Shovel for digging out someone from an avalanche
- Paper towels
- Smartphone portable charger so your phone battery isn’t dead and you can call for help
- Lighter so you can start a fire if need be
- Flashlight with fresh batteries
- Handwarmers so your hands don’t freeze
Avoid Snowmobiling at Night
It’s hard enough to get your bearings sometimes when snowmobiling in the middle of the afternoon, especially if you’re new to the hobby. Don’t make things more difficult for yourself by heading out once the sun is low in the sky or even after dark.
Besides the difficulty associated with riding in the dark, there are several other reasons to stick to daylight hours only. For one, some state trails have set hours, such as 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you’re found riding your sled after hours, you could be slapped with a hefty fine or some other sentence depending on state law.
Even if you’re allowed to ride a trail 24 hours a day, doing so is still ill-advised. When you’re in the dark, you can’t tell your left from your right. That makes it incredibly easy to get lost. What’s worse is that winter temperatures can drop very precipitously at night, sometimes into the single digits, and maybe even the negatives.
With your survival kit, you might be able to get through the night, but this is still not an ordeal you ever want to face if you can avoid it, which you can.
Don’t Chance Icy Bodies of Water
You come up on a loop in the trail with a frozen lake in between. You’d like to cross the lake on your snowmobile so you can save time. The lake isn’t that large, after all, and besides, it’s frozen solid. It can’t possibly pose any risk to you, right?
That’s a very poor mindset to have when snowmobiling. If you see any frozen body of water, you always want to go out of your way to avoid it. It’s not easy to determine if the water is frozen solid or only a little icy until you’re riding over the ice and it gives way.
Even if the ice is by chance stable, your snowmobile weighs around 500 pounds at least. The weight of an average adult is 137 pounds, so now you’re talking close to 650 pounds traversing across a lake. That much weight will almost certainly crack the ice.
Your snowmobile is not meant for aquatic activities. If the sled were to break the ice, you’d be plunged into the freezing cold waters. The shock of the water can make it difficult to swim, as can the weight of your soaked winter clothes. This puts you at an elevated risk of drowning, which is an unfortunately common death among snowmobilers.
Check the Weather Forecast Before You Go
The perfect day for snowmobiling is one in which you have a clear sky, plenty of sun, and smooth, abundant snow. Yet weather forecasts change all the time, so even though you thought you selected the best day ever to hit the trails, when you wake up that morning, the weather is not what you had read it would be.
It’s always a bummer to have to change your snowmobiling plans, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Riding in low visibility, such as during an active snowstorm, can get you disoriented and lost quickly. Also, you’re more likely to encounter an avalanche, which happens most frequently during and after snowstorms on 30-to-45-degree slopes.
Bring a Buddy
You took your safety course, inspected your snowmobile, bought all new gear, and you packed up a few emergency kits. You’re ready to set off on your own.
Not so fast.
As a beginner, you’re still not used to how your snowmobile operates. You also might not find it easy to follow the trails on your own. It’s best if you have at least one other friend with you as you acclimate to your snowmobile and your path. This friend can ride alongside you and guide you through the trail.
This friend should be more experienced so one of you can help the other out if needed. They should also be willing to be patient with you, not speeding up, trying to do tricks, or pulling off any other maneuvers that could inspire you to do the same.
If you’re more comfortable riding in a small group, then invite another few friends with you. The more, the merrier, after all. Just make sure things don’t get too competitive so you don’t crash and burn on your first day of snowmobiling.
Don’t Surpass the Speed Limit
Some states post speed limit signs along a snowmobile trail. As you could probably guess, these signs are not here for decoration. Instead, they’re indications of how quickly you should go on your sled.
Like when driving a car or truck, it’s okay if your speed limit is a few miles per hour faster than what’s posted, but you don’t want to be zipping down the trail, as you could hit your fellow sledders, animals, trees, and anything else around you.
Don’t be afraid to hit the throttle a little bit on your snowmobile though. Staying well under the speed limit might make you feel comfortable, but if another snowmobiler rear-ends you because you were moving at a snail’s pace, your day of fun will end quickly.
Take Breaks When You Need Them
Riding a snowmobile works a lot of muscles throughout your body. If you’re feeling sore or fatigued after 20 or 30 minutes, that’s completely normal. Your snowmobiling stamina will increase the more you do it, but for now, take a break whenever you start to feel tired. Your group should pull over and do the same.
During this breather, we recommend you stay fueled and hydrated so you can keep your energy levels up for the rest of the day. Relaxing for a few minutes also gives your snowmobile’s engine a chance to cool down, which can prevent overheating.
Stay on the Beaten Path
Your snowmobiling pal knows a pretty killer shortcut off the path through the trees right there. Before you readily follow, maybe recommend that you all stay on the trail. Even if your friend says they’ve done this shortcut before, you never know what will await you. That tree that used to be the halfway marker could have fallen. The path you normally take could be backed up with snow. A bear may be hiding a few miles off.
Designated trails are well-maintained, keeping them safe. You won’t have any surprises like you could when venturing elsewhere.
If even that doesn’t convince you to stay on the trail, then this will. If you get lost, injured, or worse and you’re somewhere deep in the forest, it’s going to be very hard for anyone to find you. At least if you’re on the trail, a rescue effort can be performed quickly.
Remain Vigilant and Alert
When you sit on a snowmobile and turn the vehicle on, you’re assuming responsibility for what could happen. It wouldn’t be your fault if someone hits into you, but if you carelessly crash, the onus is on you.
You must remain alert, paying attention to your surroundings in front of, to the sides of, and behind you. Never consume any substances that can impact your alertness, including alcohol or non-prescribed drugs. Even some medications from your doctor may not be recommended, so you might want to see your doctor before you head out on your snowmobile for the first time.
Oh, and in case the worst does happen, it doesn’t hurt to have snowmobile insurance. We wrote about this recently, but many home and auto insurance providers have snowmobile insurance plans you can tie into your preexisting insurance that aren’t too costly.
When on your snowmobile, safety should be your utmost concern. That’s not just for yourself, but for anyone else around you. Following the tips and advice in this guide will make you a safer snowmobiler, so read up. Best of luck out there!
Are you insured? It’s a question often asked of car and truck drivers, but what about your snowmobile? You’ve never even thought twice about sled insurance until a friend of yours mentioned how they got a great deal on their insurance. How much would you pay for snowmobile insurance?
You like to think of yourself as a conscientious snowmobiler. Even though your state may not require it, you always wear a helmet. You also try to moderate your speed, especially when riding near others. Yet you’ve heard harrowing tales of snowmobile accidents, injuries, and even a death or two. If that has you wondering, check out how dangerous snowmobiles really are.