How Much Snow Is Enough for Snowmobiling?


Winter doesn’t last forever. That makes you appreciate snowmobiling all the more because you can only enjoy this activity during certain times of the year. Yet what do you do if the usual snowmobiling season leads to a dry couple of months with very little to no snow? Can you still use your sled? How much snow do you need for snowmobiling?

It’s recommended you have four to six inches of snow on the ground for snowmobiling. Anything less than that and you could potentially damage parts of your snowmobile, which makes riding a risk.

Ahead, we’ll discuss more about why snow is always a crucial part of the equation when snowmobiling, when you might want to skip riding, and what can happen if you decide to ride your sled on hard surfaces anyway. You’re not going to want to miss it. 

How Much Snow Do You Need for Snowmobiling?

Winter has officially started in your neck of the woods, but so far, you’ve just had cold temps but not a single snow flurry. Then, finally, after what seems like an eternity of waiting, it happens. Your local weatherperson calls for snow, and on the weekend to boot.

You excitedly pull up your phone’s weather app and confirm that yes, snow is indeed coming. When you wake up that next day, you’re greeted to several inches of the powdery white stuff on the ground. You don’t think you’ve ever been so happy to see snow.

There looks to be enough snow on the ground, but you haven’t pulled out a ruler and plunked it in the snow pile yet to check. Is an inch or two of snow sufficient for riding your sled?

Not exactly. At the very least, you want four inches of snow accumulation on the ground. This is enough snow that the riding trails should be covered. Then you’re not likely to hit bare concrete or asphalt when using your sled.

If you have six inches of snow on the ground, that’s optimal. Do keep in mind though that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. If you’re in a blizzard or post-blizzard and there’s close to a foot of snow on the ground, the conditions are likely too rough for you to ride your sled. You’re much better off letting some of that snow melt a bit or at least settle before you dig out your snowmobile for a ride. 

Should You Ride Your Sled If There’s Not Enough Snow?

Okay, so let’s say that so far, it’s been a very dry winter for you. Like we said in the intro, winter doesn’t last forever. The season is already halfway over, and with the temperatures slowly yet gradually beginning to rise, you worry the whole winter will end without you getting to use your snowmobile once.

So yes, if you get even one snow event where the snow sticks to the ground and lasts for more than a day, you’re inclined to hit the trails. We can certainly understand where this sense of urgency comes from, but stop and think for a moment. Riding your sled in fewer than four inches of snow might not be the best choice for the snowmobile long-term.

Here’s why you don’t want to ride your sled in insufficient snow. 

Parts Damage

The first and most prevalent issue you have to worry about is wrecking the undercarriage of your snowmobile by riding in conditions the vehicle is not designed for. We’re talking about traveling on exposed dirt roads or hard, unforgiving concrete. 

Your snowmobile has skis underneath. Each one includes a metal bar that meets in the center of the sled. These bars have a diameter of about half an inch, so they’re not very large, but they do serve an incredibly important purpose. The ski bars let you steer in snow, even if that snow is packed tight and hard. 

Snow, even at its hardest, is still not as hard as asphalt or concrete. The metal ski bars can get into hard-packed snow so you can steer, but they can’t dig into concrete in the same way. 

If you have to traverse hard surfaces for a few minutes on your snowmobile, that shouldn’t cause any immediate harm. However, deciding you’re going to spend the day riding on hard surfaces on your snowmobile will help the metal ski bars wear down and eventually away. 

Oh, and you won’t be able to steer well either, which is going to make operating your snowmobile very difficult.

Now, you may be wondering, didn’t we just talk about snowmobile drag racing in a recent post, and isn’t that form of racing done on concrete? Yes, but we also mentioned that specialized sleds are used for this activity. These sleds have tungsten carbide inserts designed to make contact with asphalt or concrete. The inserts will protect the metal ski bars so they last longer and allow you to steer.

You can get tungsten carbide inserts installed on your snowmobile if you want to ride on hard surfaces regularly, but it won’t come cheap. 

Your sled’s track can also be impacted by using a snowmobile without enough snow. The track includes nylon runners that use snow as a source of lubrication to keep the track rolling along. Without the snow to act as lubrication, the nylon runners make direct contact with the concrete. Before too long, they get very hot, sometimes even hot enough to melt.

Even if that doesn’t happen, a few instances of you riding your snowmobile on concrete will likely destroy the nylon runners, leaving the tracks exposed. 

Overheating

Even if you don’t have to worry about your snowmobile’s metal ski bars or track wearing away by riding in insufficient snow, that doesn’t mean you’re out of the figurative woods. Another problem that can affect your sled is overheating.

We’ve discussed snowmobile cooling on this blog. One of the more popular means of cooling sleds is via a coolant system. You pour the liquid coolant in and the closed circuit allows the fluid to travel so the engine doesn’t get too hot and stops working. 

Heat exchangers in the snowmobile will remain cool thanks to snow, which your snowmobile will naturally collect within the track. 

Without that snow, the coolant alone might not be enough to keep your engine at a temperature that prevents overheating. Now, at any time, your sled can come to a dead stop in the middle of a residential street or any other asphalt surface you’re riding on. You’ll be stranded and need to pay to get your snowmobile towed to the local repairperson. This can be costly and a major inconvenience. 

What Other Conditions Are Not Conducive to Safe Snowmobiling?

You didn’t realize how risky it is to ride your snowmobile without enough snow on the ground, and especially if there’s no snow. Besides insufficient snow, you also want to watch out for the following conditions, as they’re not necessarily safe for riding either.

Dirt Trails

A well-used dirt trail might seem like a natural path to go, as many snowmobilers before you have done the same, right? That may be true, but the deep grooves of these dirt tracks can mingle with the snow to affect your steering. 

If a dirt/snow trail is the only way you can go, then it should be okay to ride on for a few minutes. If you’re careful, your sled should survive. That said, you definitely want to inspect the vehicle after your day of riding to ensure it’s not damaged, especially underneath.

Ice

This is something we mention all the time, but it’s worth reiterating again. As solid as ice can seem, when you add several hundred pounds of snowmobile plus at least 100 pounds of your own weight, you cannot trust that the ice won’t break. 

Avoid riding over large patches of ice, such as frozen-over rivers or lakes. If you spot some icy patches on a trail you’re on, go slow and, if you can, navigate away from the ice.

Wet Snow

Any snow is not necessarily better than no snow. When the snow comes down wet and heavy, you might not be able to navigate your sled as well as you can in less slushy snow. Also, if the wet snow is still falling, you can get cold fast, so you’ll definitely want to wear the proper snowmobiling gear. 

Powdery Snow

Powdery snow is more favorable than wet snow, but it still poses some problems. This snow can scatter if disturbed, restricting your visibility. Snow dust clouds can also pop up from other riders in your wake, getting in your face and again making it hard to see. 

You can either ride a little slower in powdery snow or space you and your party out so you don’t create snow dust clouds that affect anyone. 

Final Thoughts

When planning a day on the snowmobiling trails, make sure you have at least four inches of snow on the ground, with six inches ideal. Riding on concrete can rip up parts of your sled and increase the chances of your snowmobile overheating. That makes riding on hard surfaces not worthwhile.

Although it can strain your patience at times, it’s always best to wait for the perfect snowfall and then hop on your snowmobile. You’ll be glad you did!

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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