Are Snowmobiles Hard to Drive?

For the first time, you’re going to drive a snowmobile. Perhaps you got the sled as a gift or you rented one to ride with your buddies. Either way, your only vehicular experience is driving cars or trucks. Will you have a hard time operating a snowmobile? Is it difficult to drive one?

Like doing anything new for the first time, driving a snowmobile won’t be easy, but it’s not overly difficult either. With no gears to switch between and a stop button you can use anytime when things get dicey, once you know the basic parts of your snowmobile, you’ll quickly get comfortable with operating one.

Allow this article to act as snowmobiling 101, or at least a solid introduction to the topic. Ahead, we’ll discuss the parts of the snowmobile and how to drive a sled. We’ll even share some of our best tips for safe and successful snowmobiling experiences ahead. You’re not going to want to miss it! 

The Parts of a Snowmobile

Before you ever drive a snowmobile, you need to know all the parts of the vehicle. You may or may not use all of them on your first few rides, but still, being aware of which is which will benefit you. 

Here’s a basic snowmobile diagram courtesy of Polaris Snowmobiles. The diagram shows 12 parts of the sled in all, so here’s an explanation of each of those parts.

  1. Tailight: Like in a car or truck, a snowmobile’s taillight is for illuminating what’s behind you. Snowmobiles tend to have one taillight. 
  2. Seat: This is where you sit on your snowmobile. Some sled models feature storage beneath the seat for keeping extra gear, snacks, and drinks. 
  3. Handlebar: This is what you hold to drive the snowmobile, with two handlebars standard. 
  4. Windshield: The windshield of your snowmobile safeguards you from wind, snow, and other weather.
  5. Headlight: The headlight is beneath the windshield and projects light in front of you during dim and snowy conditions.
  6. Hood: The hood of your snowmobile houses the engine within.
  7. Front bumper: Your snowmobile also features a generous bumper to prevent damage to the sled should you collide with someone or something.
  8. Ski: Two skis allow your snowmobile to travel seamlessly in the snow. The skis can wear down with time, as we’ve discussed on this blog.
  9. Trailing arm: The trailing arm is part of the snowmobile’s suspension system. The arm attaches between the pivot point and the axle.
  10. Track: Rear tracks continually rotate for a smooth ride. Today’s tracks are often Kevlar composite.
  11. Seat latches: These latches hold the seat closed if your seat can be used for storage, ensuring the seat doesn’t try to fly open as you approach high speeds.
  12. Snow flap: Also known as a mudflap, the snow flap keeps snow from getting in under the back of your vehicle, getting stuck in the components there.

It’s also worth taking a closer look at your snowmobile dashboard. Here’s another diagram of the dashboard, this time from Safe Riders Safety Awareness. The diagram shows six key parts of your dashboard. Let’s talk more about each of these parts now.

  1. Parking brake lock: The parking brake lock seizes the rear brakes, locking them in place.
  2. Brake lever: The brake lever on your handlebar allows you to make a swift, sudden stop on your snowmobile as necessary.
  3. Handlebar grips: These grips on both handlebars are for your comfort when operating the snowmobile. 
  4. Hand/thumb warmers: This is another feature intended to make your ride last longer, as the warmers keep your hands toasty.
  5. Engine stop switch: One of the most important parts of your dashboard, the red button known as the engine stop switch ceases the snowmobile the moment you press it.
  6. Throttle: To boost the power of your snowmobile’s engine, you’d hit the throttle on the other side of the handlebars.

How to Operate a Snowmobile

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of the snowmobile, you should enroll in an instructional course as well as a safety course to ensure you’re roadworthy. Only then should you start driving your snowmobile.

To get your sled up and rolling, here’s what you need to do. 

Let the Snowmobile Warm up

You don’t start your car on a cold winter’s morning, hop right in, and expect to drive, right? No, of course not. Instead, you let the vehicle warm up for several minutes. The same is recommended for your snowmobile. By idling like this, you give all components of the sled, and the engine especially, a chance to warm up.

When you start the ignition, set the snowmobile to neutral. It’s best if you’re on even ground rather than an incline or descent. Keep the choke closed as the snowmobile idles, then try starting the engine. It may not kick over immediately if it’s still cold. By quarter turning your throttle, the engine should now be ready to go. Make sure you reopen the choke before you take off. 

Position Yourself the Right Way

Driving your snowmobile uses a lot of muscles, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel uncomfortable right off the bat. Sit on your snowmobile in such a way that your feet are on either side of the rails. Put your hands near the throttle but gripping either handle. 

Learn to Turn

When you want to make a turn on your snowmobile, lean your body so the weight distributes to that side of your snowmobile. 

Ascending and Descending Hills

Any time you go up on your snowmobile, you’re at a decent risk of tipping and rolling over. When you hit a hill, push your body weight back so it’s facing the rear of your seat. Angle one leg so your knee is nearer the seat and your foot is right over the side rail. This position allows you to take control in a moment’s notice if necessary. 

Then, as you get up the hill, push your body weight forward instead of backward. You want to move your feet as well, with them more on the upward section of your side rails. 

If you’re on a sidehill, switch your body so your shin and knee are near the side rail. 

Visit our Winter/Snow Page for More Great Content!

Tips for Driving Your Snowmobile

You’ve got the basics down, but we thought we’d wrap up with a few more handy tips to keep in mind as you operate your snowmobile today and hopefully many more instances in the future! 

Don’t Fear the Throttle

As a beginner, your inclination may be to drive slowly. This can seem cautious to you, but it can also be dangerous. 

Like we’ve discussed on this blog before, if you drive slower on your snowmobile than everyone else in your group or class, someone is bound to hit you. That risk increases if you’re riding with a bunch of beginners, as they have little skill and experience with a snowmobile.

Stick to a reasonable speed and don’t be afraid to accelerate via the throttle. You will have to do this at times, as the extra push of engine power could be enough to get you over a hill. In other instances, you have to hit the throttle to get a big burst of power, and in yet other scenarios, you can flutter the throttle to give your sled enough juice to navigate a trail.

If you find yourself veering off-course, which happens as a beginner, throttling hard as you approach the powder will make it easier to get back on track.

It’s scary to go quickly and powerfully when you’re an inexperienced snowmobile driver, but remember that you’re the one in control. Be confident and you’ll get familiar with the throttle soon. 

Make Sure You Have the Right Gear

Wearing improper gear will make your hands and body cold faster. You could go numb, which may make you more prone to crashing. Even if you’re not sure if you’ll like snowmobiling as a hobby, don’t forego the gear. Rent it if you must. Choose snowmobiling gear specifically, not wintertime clothing and boots. These aren’t sufficient.  

Ride in Groups

As a first-timer, you should absolutely not ride your snowmobile alone. You’re too high-risk. You could get lost, overturn your snowmobile and strand yourself, or get into an accident, and there’d be no one around to help you.

Whether you set off with a class or a few friends, always stick with people as you drive your snowmobile. Should you decide to ride with friends, they should be at about the same skill level as you, or they’ll end up riding literal circles around you. 

Don’t Expect Perfection

You may have watched a few YouTube videos of snowmobilers who make it look easy, but driving a snowmobile does have a learning curve. For that reason, you very likely won’t be a master of all things snowmobiling the first time you ride a sled.

Temper your expectations so they’re realistic. If you stick with snowmobiling, you can eventually expand your skills and pull off cool tricks effortlessly. 

Avoid Trying to Show off 

Speaking of tricks, this isn’t the time. If you don’t feel steady on your sled on even ground, then maneuvering your snowmobile for a jump will almost definitely end in disaster. There’s always another chance for the stunts later. 

Listen to Your Instructor 

Your snowmobile instructor has credentials and experience, two things you lack. Even if their decisions may not be clear to you right away, listen to their commands. They know what they’re doing, and they want to impart that knowledge to you. If you’re willing to learn, you’ll soak up more information.  

Final Thoughts

Snowmobiles aren’t hard to drive, but you will have to dedicate yourself to learning the parts of the snowmobile as well as the techniques necessary to excel. This article should act as a great starting point. Best of luck and have fun out there! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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