Snowmobiling through a winter wonderland is exhilarating for those who want to get away and feel the rush of a roaring 2-stroke engine. The sport can be dangerous, however, if you don’t have the proper training, gear and preparation. The following are snowmobile safety tips and must-have equipment to see you through an invigorating outdoor adventure.
It should go without saying that riders should always wear helmets and full protective clothing. Your outside layer should have reflective elements, as well, especially if you’re riding at night.
Beyond apparel concerns, several states require or strongly recommend extra gear in case of emergency. Bring along parts that commonly fail, such as spark plugs and a drive belt, as well as the manufacturer’s toolkit. You should also have a standard first-aid kit on hand, regardless of where you’re traveling.
Site-Specific Safety Considerations
Additionally, the equipment you bring should reflect site-specific considerations. If you’re riding in avalanche-prone areas, for instance, know the signs of an impending disaster, including rising temperatures, cracking snow and strong winds. Your basic safety kit for these rides should include a blanket, compass, avalanche beacon, transceiver, shovel, probe and GPS unit, as well as extra food. Everyone involved should be properly trained on how to use all safety equipment.
Another common situation is driving across frozen bodies of water. Only do this on ice that has been marked as safe for snowmobiles. The condition of ice is notoriously unpredictable. Go slowly to avoid colliding with other riders or solid objects in your path, and consider wearing a flotation suit. Your safety equipment should include ice picks worn inside your jacket — these will help you pull yourself out of the water should the need arise.
Rules and Regulations
Most states where snowmobiling is feasible have laws regarding basic safety standards. In most cases, those laws focus on seeing and being seen. Light-colored, reflective clothing and equipment with proper headlights and taillights are a must. You need to see what’s in your path, and you shouldn’t travel faster than your lights allow you to see when it’s dark. Likewise, people and animals in your path need to see you coming. If you’re traveling in a group, other members must know when you’re slowing down, so everyone’s brakes need to be well maintained.
Sweat the Small Stuff
It’s the little considerations that make a big difference in a bind. It’s not mandated, but when you head out on a ride, bring a spare key, your driver’s license and insurance card, extra cash and a fully charged mobile phone (but remember that service might be spotty).
It’s best to snowmobile with a buddy, and you should always let someone know where you plan on riding and what time you plan on returning. That way, a search party can be set up quickly if there’s trouble, and no one has to worry needlessly about when you’ll be back.
Getting into the great outdoors on a snowmobile can be a great way to spend quality time with your family, get a little sunshine and exercise, and enjoy the beauty of winter. Snowmobile safety should be taken seriously, however. With proper preparation and training, you can mitigate the risks and indulge in a day (or night) of fun and freezing frolicking. Just remember to be safe out there.
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Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.