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Boreal Emergency Preparedness Portal

Tips for a safe snowmobiling trip.

Nov 23, 2018 05:50PM ● By Editor

Snowmobilers using hand signals on the trail.   Photo:  Safe Riders


From snow tracks.com


Be a defensive driver. Always be alert of potential danger. Your helmet and engine noise can impair your hearing. Visibility is also reduced in conditions of snowfall, blowing snow and night driving. Never assume what another snowmobiler will do. Do all that you can to ensure your safety and that of other riders. Expect the unexpected!

Watch out for:

  • Thin ice and open water
  • Grooming equipment
  • Oncoming snowmobiles
  • Unforeseen obstacles beneath snow
  • Unexpected corners, intersections and stops
  • Road and railway crossings
  • Logging/Forestry operations
  • Snow banks and drifting snow
  • Trees and branches on the trail
  • Bridges and approaches
  • Wildlife and domestic animals
  • Other trail users (skiers, hikers)

Don’t Drink and Ride.
Snowmobiling requires alertness, caution, and attention. Your reaction time and ability to control your sled can be drastically affected after consuming even small amounts of alcohol. Alcohol can affect perception, reaction time, and response to unexpected situations.

Alcohol has been shown to be a contributing factor in most fatal snowmobile accidents. Alcohol also causes body temperature to drop at an accelerated rate which increases your susceptibility to cold and hypothermia. Snowmobilers often have access to remote locations miles away from help. If a situation should occur where help is needed, your chances of survival and treatment of injury can be greatly affected. Don’t let alcohol be a contributing factor to your fate.

When night riding visibility is reduced by darkness, it is much more difficult to spot and identify potential hazards in time. Overdriving headlights can also be a serious problem, so slow down when snowmobiling after dark. Ride with individuals familiar with the area. Always wear outer clothing with reflective trim on the arms, back and helmet. Never ride alone at night. Always dress in your full snowmobiling outfit even if your intended destination is just next door.

Be certain that all lights are operational and keep in mind that hand signals become increasingly more difficult to see as darkness sets in.

Ice Riding
Drowning is one of the leading causes of snowmobile fatalities. Wherever possible, avoid riding on frozen lakes and rivers because ice conditions are never guaranteed. Ice conditions can change in a period of several hours. If you must cross ice, stay on the packed or marked trail. Don’t stop until you reach shore. If you hit slush, don’t let off the throttle. If you are following someone who hits slush, veer off to make your own path. If you must travel over lakes and rivers then consider using a buoyant snowmobile suit which will help you reach the closest ice surface. Also consider carrying a set of picks that will help you grip the edge of the ice more easily. As a rule of thumb, “If you don’t know, don’t go.”

If you do break through the ice, don’t panic. Follow these self-rescue tips:

  • Kick vigorously into a horizontal position and swim to the nearest ice edge. Place hands/arms on unbroken ice while kicking hard to propel your body onto the ice, like a seal.
  • Once clear, stay flat and roll away to stronger ice.
  • Stand, keep moving and find shelter fast.

Hypothermia is the lowering of the body’s core temperature. It can happen in water or on land. Hypothermia does not require extreme cold and accelerates with wind and wetness. Dressing warmly in water-resistant layers helps, but if immersed, quickly replace wet clothes, keep moving to generate body heat, and find immediate shelter and warmth.

Snow blindness occurs when direct and reflecting sun glare is too bright for the eyes. Riding without good quality, UV-protected sunglasses, goggles, or visor can cause permanent damage.

Frostbite results from freezing temperatures and poor circulation. Cover up and layer well, making sure that socks fit loosely within your boots. And remember mitts with liners are warmer than gloves.

If you dress properly with high tech winter wear and proper layering, winter comfort is easy. Start with polypropylene and thermal under layers that release moisture while retaining heat. Add other heat retentive layers depending on the temperature. Also consider the fact that your forward motion will add to the wind chill factor. Avoid cottons and sweatshirts that retain moisture. Try to find suits that are water and wind proof. Carry extra clothing, socks, and mitts for layering. A helmet and face shield combat cold and hazards, while waterproof insulated boots and leather snowmobile mitts provide warmth and protection.

You can easily snowmobile beyond immediate help so basic repair kits are essential.

The kit should contain:

  • spare belt
  • spare spark plugs
  • manufacturer’s tool kit
  • extra wrenches nuts & bolts sized for your sled
  • tow rope
  • pry bar
  • duct tape
  • wire jack-knife

A cellular phone can be a terrific asset if trouble arises, but bear in mind that cell phones have limited service range.

Machine Maintenance

Keep your machine in top shape
You have two good guides available for snowmobile maintenance: the owner’s manual that came with it and your dealer. Consult both to make sure your machine is kept in top form for dependable, enjoyable fun.

Your local club or association may also conduct safety and maintenance programs.

Before each ride, follow the “pre-op” check outlined in your owner’s manual.

Follow the rules
Regulations on sled registration and use are different in various parts of the snow-belt. Check with natural resource and law enforcement agencies and snowmobile dealers or clubs in the area you are visiting to make sure your ride results in legal and hassle-free snowmobiling.

Remember, too, that some states and provinces have age restrictions for snowmobile operation, often requiring that children are supervised by adults.

Safe Crossing
Be careful when crossing roads of any kind. Come to a complete stop and make absolutely sure no traffic is approaching from any direction. Then cross at a right angle to traffic.

Dress Appropriately
Wear layers of clothing, so that you can add or remove a layer or two to match changing conditions. A windproof outer layer is especially important, as are warm gloves or mitts, boots and a helmet.

Make sure your helmet is safety-certified, the right size and in good condition. A visor is essential for clear vision and wind protection and the chin strap should be snug.

Wear glasses or goggles that offer protection from the sun.

Take a Friend
Don’t snowmobile alone. Not only is snowmobiling more fun with family and friends, it’s safer too!

File A Plan
Airplane pilots and boaters file flight and float plans, respectively, so that others know where to look if they’re overdue.

“Snow plans” describing your machine and your planned route can be time- and life-savers. Leave only with your family or friends.

Like those who file travel plans, always let your family and friends know you’re back or have arrived at your destination. No one likes needless searches.

A Good Turn
Other snowmobilers and car drivers need to know what you’re up to. Remember the basic hand signals:

  • Left Turn: left arm extended straight out
  • Right Turn: left arm out, forearm raised, with elbow at 90-degree angle
  • Stop: left arm raised straight up
  • Slow: left arm out and angled toward ground

Trails

Take Care of the Trail
SAFE RIDERSsnowmobile to enjoy the outdoors. They treat it with respect

  • They wait for enough snow cover to protect vegetation
  • They avoid running over trees and shrubs.
  • They appreciate, but don’t disturb animals or other outdoor users.

Take The Honorable Trail
Beautiful trail systems and riding areas are available throughout North America. Stay safe and legal within the areas that you are permitted to ride or those for which you’ve obtained permission.

Stay Alert
Focusing on the tail light of the snowmobile ahead of you is the cause of many accidents. If your eyes are fixed on the tail light, you are not likely to notice the slight turn the machine ahead makes to avoid collision or the object that was almost hit.

After snowmobiling for several hours, your reaction time slows. Be aware that even though you may not feel tired, the motion, wind and vibration of the machine may begin to dull your senses.

Beware Of Darkness
Low-light and darkness require special care. Slow down and watch for others. Overcast days require extra caution.

Don’t over drive your headlights. Ask yourself, “Am I driving slow enough to see an object in time to avoid a collision?” 

At night on lakes and large open fields, estimating distances and direction of travel may become difficult. It is important to keep some point of reference when riding at night.

Beware Of Water
The safest snowmobiling rule is never to cross lakes or rivers. Besides the danger of plunging through the ice, you have far less traction for starting, turning and stopping on ice than on snow.

Collisions on lakes account for a significant number of accidents. Don’t hold the attitude that lakes are flat, wide open areas, free of obstructions.

Remember, if you can ride and turn in any direction, without boundaries, so can other riders. The threat of a collision, then, can come from any direction.

However, if you do snowmobile on the ice, make absolutely sure the ice is safely frozen. Don’t trust the judgement of other snowmobilers. You are responsible for your own safe snowmobiling. Drowning is a leading cause of snowmobile fatalities. Consider buying a buoyant snowmobile suit.

If you go through the ice, remember that your snowmobile suit (even a non-buoyant one) and helmet may keep you afloat for several minutes. Slide back onto the ice, using anything sharp to dig in for better pull. Kick your feet to propel you onto the ice, like a seal.

If the ice keeps breaking, continue moving toward shore or the direction from which you came. Don’t remove your gloves or mitts.

Once on the ice, roll away from the hole. Don’t stand until well away from the hole.

Mountain Measures
Even if we don’t live near mountains, many of us want to visit the Cascades, Adirondacks, Rockies or other mountains someday. Mountain snowmobiling is spectacular but can pose extra dangers, such as avalanches. Some avalanche areas may be posted and closed.

Be cautious of avalanche dangers throughout mountain country. Riding in these areas should only be done after receiving proper mountain riding training. Mountain snowmobilers should carry avalanche beacons, shovels, probe poles for locating people buried in snow and a portable radio to summon help.