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The Safe Riders Guide to Snowmobiling

Fresh powder, the great outdoors and icy wind racing against cold-reddened cheeks-snowmobiling can be thrilling and adventurous for those who take the sport seriously and responsibly.

For First-Timers

If you're new to the sport and are going out for your first trek, it is recommended that you make sure to go with veteran snowmobilers on your first trips. Never go alone, even if you are extremely experienced. If possible, take a first-timer's course. Most cities near to snow resources offer snowmobile courses. A course will teach you operation techniques, communication hand signals and what to watch out for when riding.

Before You Go

It's always a good idea to check local ice conditions. Most parks have a hotline or a website where you can check the daily conditions-if it's icy, don't go. If you're not going to a park, check with a local weather service to try to find out the conditions.

Be sure to let someone who is staying behind know when you're supposed to be back. Set a time to call that person so they know that you are on schedule or have made it back safely. This can save your life if you get lost or injured on the trail and no one in your party is able to go for help. Your home contact can call a search-and-rescue agency to find you before you're out in the elements too long.

What To Take With You 

  • First-aid kit-most drug stores carry inexpensive ones. Ski shops and outdoor-specialty stores carry small versions that are easy to pack in your backpack or saddle bag
  • Compass-make sure you know how to use it
  • Map of the area and the trails where you'll be
  • Tools, including a knife, wrench and screwdriver
  • Flares
  • Waterproof matches
  • Cellular phone or radio
  • Emergency rations
  • Space blanket
  • Disposable hand warmers which can produce 120-135 heat for up to eight hours

What To Wear

Dress warmly in layers of waterproof clothing. You need to be able to move effectively, but be wary of scarves or other items with loose ends that might catch in the machinery. Many states also require that you wear a helmet-we recommend you wear one at all times. Goggles and/or a face shield will also help protect your eyes and face from debris that gets kicked up from your snowmobile or your companions' vehicles.

Where To Go

Statistics show that only 10-15 percent of snowmobile accidents occur on well-maintained and groomed trails. That leaves more than 80 percent of accidents occurring on paths not maintained for snowmobiles. Trails meant for snowmobiling are checked for tree stumps hiding under the snow, cables and branches that may interfere with the progress of the snowmobile and cause an accident. Also, search and rescue agencies have a much easier time finding riders who have broken down or had accidents on designated trails. Once you venture out of the trail system it becomes a much more difficult rescue operation.

To find out where the snowmobile trails are in your area, contact your local parks department. Get to know the terrain before you ride someplace new-ask others who have used the trails before to inform you of anything you should know. This is also a good way to find out the best trails for the type of riding you're interested in.

If you'll be snowmobiling outside of your home state, be sure to check if permits are required. Many states require that out-of-state riders purchase a permit. Certain laws also vary state to state, such as whether you can ride on roads, alongside roads, and in roadside ditches.
Be wary of crossing frozen water of any sort. In particular, streams and rivers can have water flowing beneath the ice, which will make the ice unstable. Don't take any chances. If a frozen lake or river is not on the designated path for snowmobiles, don't try to cross.

Snowmobiling And Alcohol

As with operating most machinery, don't drink and drive. It's particularly important while operating a snowmobile because alcohol has been shown to drop the body's temperature at an accelerated rate, which can increase your chances of hypothermia. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, alcohol has been shown to be a contributing factor in most snowmobile fatalities. You can also receive a DUI citation for driving a snowmobile, just like with driving an auto. Don't risk your life and the lives of those around you.

Snowmobiling With Children

Check your state's laws-many stipulate that a child younger than 14 may not operate a snowmobile without an adult aboard. When riding with young adults or children, be sure to watch them carefully. Due to their smaller size they can get cold faster than adults. Also, ensure they have been taught the hand signals and that they stay with the group at all times. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, because children under the age of 18 tend to engage in more risky activity and are more likely to be riding a vehicle that is too big or powerful for them to handle, they are far more likely to be involved in injury-accidents than adults.

Snowmobiling is rapidly rising as a popular sport in the United States and Canada. It's a fun and exhilarating way to enjoy the snowy outdoors, so keep it safe and fun for everyone by following the local laws, driving carefully and staying on the designated trails.

Disclaimer: The information in this article was obtained from various sources. This content is offered for educational purposes only and does not represent contractual agreements, nor is it intended to replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. The definitions, terms and coverage in a given policy may be different than those suggested here and such policy will be governed by the language contained therein. No warranty or appropriateness for a specific purpose is expressed or implied.

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