Most people celebrate the end of winter since the change in seasons indicates longer, warmer days ahead, but not you. You always dread the time when the last of the snow melts. That’s when you have to retire your snowmobile until next winter. Or do you? Can you use your snowmobile on sand?
Snowmobiles work on sand and many other non-snowy surfaces. You need stronger idler wheels for traction, new air filters, and a radiator with a fan. These parts prevent the engine from overheating. Vehicular damage can still occur though, as can injuries from snowmobile misuse.
You probably have yet more questions about snowmobiling on sand, and we’re here to answer them all. Ahead, we’ll discuss in much more detail the modifications necessary to prep your sled for summertime riding. We’ll also cover the risks of using your sled on snow-free surfaces.
How to Ride a Snowmobile on Sand
Taking your snowmobile to the beach might seem as weird as splashing around in the ocean wearing a winter coat, but it is doable. You can also ride through the desert or any other sandy area on your sled. Its off-roading capabilities are great, as we’ll illustrate further in the next section.
However, since your snowmobile is intended for use on snow, it’s not formulated for sand riding right off the bat. You’ll need to make some modifications to your sled first. Failing to do this will cause the engine to overheat and possibly break down. You don’t want to start the snowmobiling offseason with a broken engine!
If your sled is currently covered under a warranty, you may feel iffy about tinkering with its inner workings. That’s a rightful concern to have. Making any modifications to your snowmobile would more than likely void your warranty. Use your best judgment before proceeding.
Should you want to modify your sled for sand riding, here’s how you do it.
Add a Bogie Suspension System to Your Snowmobile
The current suspension system in your snowmobile keeps the drive belt suspended in one of two ways: retraction or extension. Side rails move the drive belt in either position, and suspension arms are connected to both side rails. The side rails also feature compression springs and shock absorbers, not to mention a progressive spring assembly that should limit side rail contact.
Bogie suspension relies more on multi-leaf springs instead of progressive and compression springs. These multi-leaf springs wouldn’t come much in handy when riding on snow, but on dry land, they’re lifesavers.
With a bogie suspension system, the system oscillates in a wide radius to determine what the ground surface is like and then quickly adjust. Many snowmobilers who use their sleds for riding on sand say a bogie suspension system makes the whole process incredibly smooth, especially when crossing over dunes.
Upgrade your Snowmobile’s Air Filters
Your snowmobile already uses a specialized air filter with folds for greater air filtration across the surface area. The air filter also increases the air volume within the engine chamber so combustion can occur more seamlessly. This promotes optimal engine performance. Your filter keeps out debris and particles as well.
Snow is just solid water, so the only particles in it would be dirt, very small pebbles, and maybe some broken-up tree branches. Yet sand is nothing but particles. Using the same air filter you rely on during the active snowmobiling season probably won’t suffice for summertime riding.
You need the heaviest-duty air filters around, ones that let in absolutely no particles. Otherwise, sand can damage the engine. It’s also ideal if the airflow of the air filter is better than average. Remember, snowmobile engines are designed for riding in cold conditions. Now you’re taking your sled and using it in the summer heat. The more airflow the engine can get, the lower the risk of it overheating.
Strengthen the Idler Wheels
Snowmobiles feature idler wheels, a type of wheel that allows rotation to occur from shaft to shaft so you don’t have to attach the two shafts. For riding on hard terrain, a new set of these wheels is essential.
Again, the reason why comes down to the basic function of snowmobiles. Your sled doesn’t just ride on snow, it relies on snow to lubricate the inner components. Without any snow on the ground, those parts are going to get dry as a bone and begin grinding on each other, wearing down fast. They’ll also heat up.
Upgraded idler wheels within your snowmobile can improve its summertime suspension and boost traction by widening your tracks. The average idler wheel should have a diameter of 5.5 inches.
Add a Radiator and a Fan to the Snowmobile
One of the most important modifications you can make to your snowmobile for summertime use is to install a radiator.
The radiator will act as your snowmobile’s cooling mechanism now that your heat exchangers are all but pointless without snow. Make sure your radiator system has a fan as well to keep the flow of cool air moving.
You only need one radiator per snowmobile. Set it up under your sled’s hood near the headlights. The exception is if your radiator is bigger. In that case, you want it near the back of the sled’s tunnel.
What Other Non-Snow Surfaces Can You Use Your Snowmobile On?
Once you get your sled all set up per the modifications above, is sand the only non-snow terrain you can ride on? Certainly not! Here are the other options you can also take advantage of now that your sled is ready for spring and summertime use.
Not only do sledders ride on grass, but they compete on grassy fields as well. We’re not kidding! Here’s a video from YouTube showing you exactly what we mean. Since you’ve modified your sled for all-terrain riding, you shouldn’t have to worry so much about it overheating, nor should grass clippings be able to get into the engine.
When sledding on grass, we always recommend driving carefully. At high speeds, grass can be slippery, especially if the grass is wet. You also want to make sure that you find a spot where you can legally ride your snowmobile. Your own backyard might be one such place, but a public park? Definitely not.
Even still, think twice before choosing your yard for a fun snowmobile grass ride. The tracks of your sled could wreck your lawn!
Your sled has likely gone across the pavement for at least a little while during an active snowmobiling season to get to and from parking lots. Yet we’re talking about intentionally riding on the pavement for longer periods. Can your snowmobile do it? You betcha.
However, you have to tread carefully. This is true of sledding on grass too, but especially on pavement, you must ensure your carbides and other retractable parts are tucked in. If they aren’t, these parts will scrape against the ground and probably snap right off.
You also must watch your turns and other maneuvers when sledding on concrete, as moving in certain ways could expose the external parts of your sled to the rough asphalt, again causing damage. Avoid turning as much as possible, and when you must, go slow and plan to turn with lots of time to execute the rotation.
Snowmobiles and water don’t mix, but that doesn’t stop some people. A hobby called water skipping has become popular among a subset of sledders. What is water skipping? Well, you’re not taking your snowmobile into the water, as you’d sink immediately. Instead, as the name tells you, the goal is to skip your sled like a stone or do some sick wheelies on the surface of the water.
This may sound impossible, but it’s not, as this video shows. You’d need a lightweight snowmobile to pull off the stunt. You’d also have to be masterful at sledding so you can get across the whole lake without sinking.
To remind you, drowning is a huge risk when snowmobiling. Although sledders drown more in the winter because of the shock of the cold water, in the summer when the water is warmer, you still might not survive. If your sled pins you down, your helmet fills with water, or your sledding gear is too heavy once saturated with water, drowning can easily occur.
Does Snowmobiling on Other Terrain Carry Any Risks?
As fun as it can be to snowmobile all year long, you must be aware of the dangers you may face by doing so.
We mentioned this before, but it’s worth bringing it up again now. If your snowmobile is new and still has an active warranty, once you add a radiator or upgrade the idler wheel, that warranty is likely no more. Warranty protection doesn’t last forever anyway, but while it’s active, you might as well take advantage of the protections the warranty offers.
Once you’re without a warranty, if your snowmobile stops working or incurs any damage going forward, you can’t get free replacement parts. You’d have to order the parts, pay for them, and then either install them yourself or pay for someone else to do it.
If your warranty ended a long time ago or you bought a used snowmobile, then this warranty issue won’t be such a big concern. Yet for new sled owners, it’s definitely something to think about for a while.
Waterlogged Internal Components
You can be a water skipping expert on your snowmobile, but the fact is, your sled is still going in the water when skipping, even if it’s just a little bit. That’s one of the things you’re supposed to avoid at all costs when sledding. Even crossing small bodies of icy water is discouraged.
Skipping your sled in the water one too many times can waterlog internal parts and external ones too. The worst-case scenario is the engine gets flooded with water. A dead engine means your sled will go no further, so now it’s just a hulking piece of metal in the middle of a lake that’s sinking like a stone while you’re on it. If that sounds terrifying, that’s because it is.
Accelerated Wear and Tear to External Parts
We’ll say it one more time: snowmobiles are meant for riding on snow. They’re not built for sand, grass, or pavement riding even if they can handle it. Scraping against these hard surfaces can wear down snowmobile parts quickly, far faster than if you only used your sled for snowmobiling. Even internal components can become worn due to the extra strain needed to sustain your snowmobile without snow.
Besides a flooded engine, the other worst-case scenario is your engine overheating. Yes, you installed a radiator and fan for this very reason, but sometimes these parts don’t cool the engine enough to keep it running all day while you’re out in the summer heat riding on pavement or sand.
If you’re not championship caliber at water skipping, what do you think is going to happen? That’s right, you and your sled will sink right into the water. Snowmobiles weigh about 500 pounds on average, so you cannot keep yours from sinking to the bottom of the lake.
Injury and Death
We also can’t stress enough the risk of injury and death when snowmobiling on terrain outside of snow. You can skid on grass, misjudge the height of a dune and take a tumble, or, as we said, sink your sled in the water. The risk of death from some of these injuries, and especially drowning, should be a sobering thought.
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Snowmobiles, with some finagling, can work on sand, asphalt, grass, and even water. Using your sled in such a way likely voids the warranty, could wear down the parts, and be more injurious than riding your sled the good, old-fashioned way: on snow.
Now that you’re aware of the risks, you can decide for yourself whether snowmobiling on other surfaces is something you want to do. Be safe!