Top 10 Rules for Safe Snowmobiling

One of the best ways to explore the winter wilds of Canada, the United States and parts of Europe such as Iceland and Norway  is by snowmobile. After all, these machines can get you into the backcountry quickly, easily and they’re a lot of fun! However, as with every motorized vehicle there are some key rules everyone should follow before embarking, and while on, a journey. And considering the activity takes place during the winter months, it’s especially important to be prepared for the cold: always dress extra warmly as snowmobiles don’t come with heaters and the temperatures can feel even colder when you’re travelling at 40 kilometres per hour. We also highly recommend enlisting the services of snowmobiling guides if you’re new to the sport or the area you want to explore.

For other key rules about snowmobiling we turned to guide Jasson Kuczma, the owner of Elk Mountain Adventures, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  Jasson has been taking customers out for ATV and snowmobile tours for the past 20 years and in that time he’s learned the 10 key rules everyone should follow when snowmobiling in the backcountry. Oh, and if there’s a chance of seeing animals while on your snowmobile journey, be sure to know these seven important rules for wildlife encounters too. Here are Jasson’s rules:

#1. Don’t Drink and Ride

Snowmobiles are motorized vehicles and as such, it is illegal to operate one under the influence of alcohol. Just because there aren’t any police spot checks in the middle of most snowy trails doesn’t mean you can’t be charged after an accident for impaired driving of a snow machine. Be sure to enjoy your “aprés” after your ride is over.

#2. Wear a Helmet

Always use appropriate safety gear such as a helmet and, if you’re in mountain conditions, have a properly working beacon, shovel and probe. Beyond that, make sure everyone in your group knows how to use them. It’s also a good idea to have a cell phone or, if you’re going to be in more remote areas, bring along an emergency communication beacon such as a Spot satellite messenger.

#3. Tell a friend

Before you leave let someone know where you are going and when you intend to return. That includes telling the person both your Plan A and Plan B routes just in case you decide to alter your trip.

#4. Check Fuel and Oil

You’d never go on a road trip in your car without doing these two fundamental checks first – nor should you skip these steps before a snowmobile ride. If you’re planning on going for a long ride, bring along a jerry can filled with fuel and an extra litre of oil.

#5. Know the Weather and Avalanche Forecast

Avalanche forecasting has improved greatly over the past decade and there are now associations and web sites dedicating to predicting what avi hazards are like in mountainous areas. However, no forecast is perfect and so it’s imperative you have some understanding of local conditions as well.

#6. Use a Tether Cord

This is a cord that attaches your wrist to the ignition so that if you ever accidentally fall of the snowmobile the machine will automatically stop. Nothing’s worse than having to chase a runaway machine through knee-deep snow.

#7. Keep a Safe Distance From Others

Most snowmobile accidents involve a collision with a stationary object (such as a tree) or another snowmobile. As with a car, it’s important to learn how to operate a snow machine before going out on a ride. Unlike a car, however, there aren’t seat belts or air bags so be sure to ride cautiously, especially around others.

#8. Respect the Environment and Trail Rules

If you’re on an established snowmobile trail, be sure to follow signage and respect other riders. And no matter where you are, keep the area as pristine as you found it.

#9. Bring an Extra Belt and Spark Plugs

It’s next to impossible to get a tow truck into most snowmobile areas. Therefore bring along spare spark plugs and belts just in case either should fail while you’re in the backcountry.

#10. Pack Emergency Gear

Aside from extra warms clothes and a first aid kit, there are other items you should bring along on your ride, no matter how short it might be. After all, this isn’t like getting stranded on a desert island. In a winter environment staying warm is paramount and so here is a list of other items you should pack on every ride.

  • water-proof matches
  • map in waterproof container and compass
  • hatchet
  • knife
  • rope
  • candles (long-lasting emergency-type)
  • electrical or duct tape
  • emergency flares
  • emergency whistle (pealess and non-metallic)
  • LED flashlight or lamp
  • spare batteries for flashlight or lamp
  • chemical hand and/or foot warmers
  • tarp for temporary shelter
  • spark plugs
  • extra ignition key
  • spare drive belt
  • extra food
  • emergency blanket

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