Good Snowmobile Safety Precautions to Heed

These simple tips can help you enjoy your next snowmobile trip.

Drive Defensively

Helmets and engine noise can prevent you from hearing what’s up ahead and visibility can be impaired by snowfall or night driving.  Be vigilant and assume nothing about oncoming drivers.

Drink after You Ride

Thin ice, open water, oncoming snowmobiles, unforeseen obstacles, snow grooming equipment, unexpected corners, intersections and stops, road and railway crossings, logging/forestry operations, snow banks and drifting snow, and wildlife or domestic animals, are some of the many things that you need to be alert and looking out for.  Drinking diminishes reaction time, perception and reflexes – all of which create a hazard for you and others.   Though self-evident, it’s important to make these points as alcohol has been linked to most fatal snowmobile accidents (over 70% of all fatal accidents in Minnesota).

Ice Riding

The leading cause of snowmobile fatalities is drowning.  Avoid riding on frozen lakes and rivers, whenever possible.  Whenever you do cross ice, stay on marked or packed trails and don’t stop until you reach the other shore.   If you do hit slush, keep on the throttle.  Veer off to make your own path, if you are following someone else who hits slush.

If you break through ice, 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.

Dress for the Occasion

To prevent hypothermia, dress warmly in water-resistant layers, and if immersed immediately replace wet clothes, keep moving, and immediately find someplace dry and warm.  To protect your eyes from snow blindness, always wear good-quality, UV-protected sunglasses, goggles, or a visor, when day tripping.  Prepare for the unexpected and wear layers, cover up thoroughly, make sure your socks fit loosely inside your boots, and wear mitts with liners (rather than liner-less gloves).  High tech winter wear (e.g., polypropylene and thermal under layers) and proper layering, will make your time on the snow safe and comfortable.  And if you want some of the best heated gloves available, try the ones from Snow Deer – you’ll be glad you did. Add more heat retentive layers according to the temperature.  Cottons and sweatshirts which naturally retain moisture are inadvisable, rather opt for water and wind proof suits (and carry extra clothing, in case you get wet or colder).  Pick a helmet that is safety-certified, fits properly and is in good condition.

Take a Friend and File a Plan

Things happen and often you will be well out of earshot of anyone for miles.  Never snowmobile alone and always file a “snow plan” detailing your machine, planned route, and make sure your family and/or friends have it.

Keep a Safety Kit

Very rapidly you can find yourself well out of rescue range.  Keep a few self-rescue necessities with you, whenever you go snowmobiling.  Don’t think just because you’ve got your cell phone you’re covered; cell reception can and does go out at the most inopportune times.

Keep Your Vehicle Maintained

Make sure to get regular checkups for your vehicle and use your manual to do a pre-op, before each ride.

Follow the Rules and Be a Safe Driver

Rules can change with different snow-belt areas and some states have age restrictions; so it’s advisable to check with local resource and law enforcement agencies ahead of time on the rules of the road.  Always come to a complete stop and make sure the path is clear at any crossing.  Take every precaution to make the trip a safe one and use the appropriate hand signals (along with your lights) when making turns  – remember the person coming at you, may have impaired vision, due to the reasons mentioned above.

Wesley Thor, a native of Minnesotan, enjoys backpacking around the world and engaging in various outdoors activities. Sources collected for this article can be found at http://millelacs.com/maps/mn-snowmobile-trails/.

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