Snowmobile Safety Tips
There’s not much that’s as exciting as hitting the slopes on a Ski-Doo, but even experienced riders need to be aware of the rules for safely enjoying mountainous terrain. With proper precautions, risk awareness, and an honest understand of your own limits, days on the mountains can be exhilarating, as well as safe.
New riders, or those who have been away from the sport for a while, should practice riding a mountain snowmobile in a safe, open, flat area before riding mountainous terrain. Low-elevation riders not accustomed to riding a snowmobile designed for deep snow need to be especially careful and prepared for the challenges ahead.
It’s highly recommended that you do not take on mountainous terrain until you are comfortable riding and controlling your snowmobile in deep snow.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of important snowmobile safety tips for you.
A Snowmobile Safety Course Is Essential
New riders always benefit from a snowmobile course, where you’ll learn how to ride safely and responsibly, and learn the rules and regulations the state requires. Colorado Parks and Wildlife offers a free six hour class, plus an additional hour of performance testing on a snowmobile. Participants are awarded a safety certificate upon successful completion of the course. Local snowmobile clubs and the CO. Snowmobile Assn. also offer courses.
Know Your Abilities and What Your Snowmobile Can Do
The excitement of racing down the Colorado slopes can sometimes cloud a rider’s judgement, but keep in mind your machine’s capabilities, as well as your own, and don’t try to push beyond them.
It’s also important to know your riding area, so be sure to get a map. And don’t be afraid to talk to the locals, who are very familiar with the territory.
Be Weather Aware, and Check on Trail Conditions
Get in the habit of checking ahead before you hit the trail. A frozen trail, a very low wind chill, or the chances of a blizzard mean you’ll need to plan your ride for another day. And even on good days, knowing the weather ahead means you can select the proper clothing for the day.
Appropriate Clothes, Protective Gear
Staying warm and dry up on a mountain can make the difference between a great day and one that turns miserable. Dress in layers, preferably polyester blends that wick moister away from your body. Cotton gets wet and freezes, so be sure that even your socks are not cotton. Over those layers goes the snowmobile suit, a jacket and insulated bibs. Add goggles or a face shield if you don’t have a full-face helmet. You’ll also want waterproof gloves, a winter hat, a face mask and winter boots. Always wear a DOT-approved helmet, not only to keep you warm, but to also protect your head from injury.
Pre-ride Checklist and Snowmobile Inspection
It’s extremely helpful to have a pre-ride checklist, especially if you’re a new rider. Know what gear you need to take with you, and learn what needs to be checked in your pre-ride inspection: fuel and oil levels, battery, brakes, drive belt, skis, throttle, handlebars, headlights and taillights. Always pack a spare belt, spark plugs and tools on each snowmobile in case of emergencies. You’ll find this information in your owner’s manual.
Plus, you can always consult your dealer if you have questions about your Ski-doo, and there are also local snowmobile clubs and associations that may offer safety and maintenance programs.
it is important to follow the recommended service schedule to keep your sled maintained and running smoothly.
Don’t Go Solo
Riding with a friend or in a group can add a lot of excitement, and it’s always fun to share the memories afterwards. Plus, it’s safer, especially on trails you have never taken before. If your snowmobile breaks down or if you get into an accident, it’s always good to have someone else nearby.
And do tell a friend or family member your plans and the route for your ride, in case you get stranded. Keep in mind that cell phones don’t always work in remote areas.
Be Prepared for Emergencies
A basic first-aid kit in your snowmobile is a necessity. Build yours to include disinfecting wipes, bandages, hand sanitizer, gauze, adhesive tape and Band-Aids. In addition, an emergency kit with waterproof matches, flashlight, compass, map, blanket, water, snacks and a knife is pretty much essential. And pack a repair kit for emergencies that includes duct tape, tools, a spare belt, a tow rope, spark plugs and a pry bar.
You may often find yourself snowmobiling in remote locations. You need to know what to do if you become stranded. It’s also important to learn how to keep warm in changing terrain and weather conditions, and how to care for injuries that may occur on the trail or in the back country.
Watch for Obstacles, Avoid Frozen Rivers
The trail can change from one minute to the next. Be alert and watch for obstacles in your path. Rocks, downed trees, unexpected barbed wire fences and ditches can all cause accidents. Open water and snow banks can be hazardous. And other snowmobiles, animals, hikers and skiers can appear suddenly, demanding a very rapid response on your part.
Ice is a real danger, as it impossible to gauge its thickness. It may crack or give way under your machine, plunging you into bitterly cold water. Drowning is a leading cause of snowmobile fatalities.
Collisions on lakes account for a significant number of accidents, because riders assume lakes are flat, wide open areas, and free of obstructions. But if you can ride and turn in any direction, so can other riders. And your ability to turn, stop and make adjustments is much harder on ice than on snow.
Common Potential Dangers
Alcohol impairs operation. Speed and careless operation, roads and railroads, ice and avalanches are all potential dangers to snowmobilers. Speeding is always dangerous. The temptation may be there, but driving at a more moderate pace allows to you react to the unexpected on the trail. In fact, many trails have posted speed limits to follow.
Stay on the Trail With Your Snowmobile
Marked trails are safer because they have been groomed and are less likely to have hazards. Going off trail raises your accident potential because you are on unfamiliar, and often very rough, terrain. Numerous public trails run close to private property, but it’s best to just stay on the marked trail, unless you have specific permission from the landowner to ride on his land.
This Sport Isn’t for Kids
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that children under the age of 16 do not operate a snowmobile, as younger kids often lack the skills needed to safely operate the vehicle. Pediatricians also say that children under the age of six should never ride as passengers, as they lack the strength to hold on tight for any length of time.
Don’t Overload Your Snowmobile
Resist the temptation to add yet another passenger or bag of gear. Your manufacturer’s guide sets out the approved number of passengers, as well as the amount of total weight your sled can carry. Exceeding either of these means increasing your chances of accidents and injuries.
And remember that snowmobiles are not designed to pull sleds, skiers or saucers. It is very unsafe to do so.
Avalanches are Unpredictable. And They Can Be Deadly
An avalanche can occur anytime, in any conditions, on any slope. Your owner’s manual has a section on avalanches. For more information, education, training courses and links to international resources, visit Avalanche.org for education and training resources.
Clues you may be riding towards an avalanche area? Look for the warning signs of unstable snow, and avoid riding on or below any slope that seems dangerous. Other signs include recent avalanches, cracks across the top of the snowpack, blowing snow, recent heavy snow, rain or rapid warming. A “whumphing” sound under a snowpack is a surefire hint that the snow is becoming unstable.
Ride safe and have fun! And come in to see our newest Ski-Doos.