Check 3 GPS Ready Score
Y / N 1. Do you have any snowmobiling experience?
Y / N 2. Do you wear a helmet?
Y / N 3. Do you dress for the extreme weather conditions?
Y / N 4. Do you know the symptoms of frostbite?
Y / N 5. Are you riding with someone else?
Y / N 6. Are you familiar with the area in which you plan to ride (barbed wire fences, terrain, and remoteness of the site)?
Y / N 7. Do you ride on frozen lakes or rivers (beware of cracks and open water)?
Y / N 8. If you will be riding at night, do you take the necessary precautions?
Y / N 9. Do you let someone know where you will be and how long you will be gone each time you ride?
Y / N 10. Do you abstain from alcohol consumption while operating a snowmobile?
If you answered “yes” to all the questions above, you should be good to go!
Top Hazards and How to Mitigate Them
1. Inadequate safety equipment/personal protective equipment (PPE)
Mitigate: Dress in layers, so that you can adjust to changing weather conditions. A windproof outer layer is especially important, as are warm gloves or mitts, boots and a well-fitted, safety-certified helmet with visor and snug chin strap. Wear glasses or goggles that offer protection from the sun. If you plan to ride in the backcountry, be sure to carry avalanche safety equipment, including transceiver (beacon), probe and shovel.
2. Unseen hazards at night/improper or inadequate lighting
Mitigate: Always reduce your speed and keep some point of reference when riding at night. You can easily overdrive your snowmobile’s headlight, since it only illuminates about 200 feet in front of you; if you’re driving faster than 45 mph at night, you’re likely to pass through the lit area before you can safely react. Make sure that your headlight, taillight and brake light are all working before you go, and clear them of ice and snow buildup as needed during your ride. Since it is often difficult to estimate distances and direction of travel while riding on lakes and large open fields at night, identify a point of reference.
3. Crossing roads
Mitigate: Be careful when crossing roads of any kind. Always come to a complete stop at both posted and unposted road crossings. Make sure no traffic is approaching from any direction, take a standing position so that you can see and be seen by other vehicles, and then cross at a right angle to traffic.
4. Riding on private property and angering owner
Mitigate: Stay on marked trails through private property and respect the fact that private property owners have given permission for snowmobile trails through their property. When riding off-trail, understand that private property, including corporate lands, powerlines, pipelines, and railroad right-of-ways, are generally closed to snowmobiling without permission from the landowner and often do not have to be “posted” as closed. Regulations on sled registration and use vary by state and province. Check with natural resource and law enforcement agencies as well as local snowmobile dealers or clubs to make sure your ride will be legal and hassle-free. Staying on official club trails is always the best idea. These trails are maintained not only for rideability, but also for safety.
5. Crossing lakes and rivers
Mitigate: The safest snowmobiling rule is never to cross lakes or rivers. There are reasons why drowning is a leading cause of snowmobiling fatalities. Ice is always dangerous due to changing conditions and inconsistencies in its thickness, particularly when there is running water beneath it. Never venture onto lakes or rivers unless you are absolutely certain of a safe route across the frozen surface, and don’t rely on another snowmobiler’s judgment. Besides the danger of plunging through the ice, collisions on lakes also pose a significant threat. Not only does the machine have far less traction for starting, turning and stopping on ice vs. snow, but other riders can come from any direction.
6. Poorly maintained vehicle
Mitigate: You have two good guides available for snowmobile maintenance: the owner’s manual that came with your machine and the dealer. Consult both to make sure your machine is kept in top form. Before each ride, follow the “pre-op” check outlined in your owner’s manual. Your local club or association may also conduct safety and maintenance programs.
7. Riding while under the influence of alcohol
Mitigate: Contrary to the popular myth that alcohol warms up a chilled person, it actually increases the risk of hypothermia. More than that, alcohol increases fatigue and adversely impacts a driver’s decision-making ability, vision, balance, coordination and reaction time. Most states and provinces have laws prohibiting the operation of a snowmobile while under the influence of alcohol.
Avalanche Awareness- By the Numbers
44 Percent of all avalanche fatalities in 2017—18 who were snowmobilers
85 Number of snowmobilers in the U.S. killed by avalanche (2008–2018)
63 Percent of snowmobile avalanche accidents that occur while high marking
90 Percent of deaths by avalanche triggered by the victim or member(s) of the victim’s group
30-45 Degree of slope angle at which 9 out of 10 avalanches occur
93 Percent of avalanche victims who survive if dug out within 15 minutes
30 Percent of avalanche victims who survive if dug out after 30 minutes
80 Miles-per-hour an avalanche can reach in about 5 seconds
93 Top miles-per-hour an avalanche can reach
100,000 Number of avalanches in the U.S. each year
485 Total number of avalanche fatalities in the U.S. since 2000
93 Percent of people who die in avalanches who are male
Safe Riding in Avalanche Country
Largely due to the development of higher-performance machines capable of traversing steeper and more treacherous terrain, snowmobilers have overtaken the top rank in terms of avalanche fatalities in recent decades. At the same time, snowmobilers have lagged behind climbers, skiers and snowboarders in educating themselves about avalanche safety. Here are some basic safety tips for riding in avalanche country.
Ride the slope one at a time
Don’t ride up to help dig out your stuck partner
Recent avalanches are an obvious sign of instability, so avoid these and adjacent slopes
Test many small slopes on your way in
Get off the packed trail as much as you can
Get off your machine and walk around occasionally
Check daily backcountry snow conditions and advisories
Riding from the top down is a safer option than from the bottom up, because you are facing a better direction if anything goes wrong
Signs of unstable snow include cracking or collapsing snow, and drum-like sounds
Avalanche triggers include recent heavy snowfall or rain, recent avalanche, significant warming, wind-blown snow on leeward slopes, and weak layers deep in the snowpack
Avalanche safety gear includes a transceiver/beacon, probe, shovel, assessment tools and airbag packs
(Adapted from the U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center)