Consider 5 Things Before Riding a Snowmobile

Snowmobiling is one of the best ways to get up close and personal with snow-covered backcountry. Whether you’re an experienced rider or heading out for your first adventure, following basic snowmobile safety is essential to enjoying the ride. Know your snowmobile, travel with an emergency kit, and practice common courtesy on the trails. Careless behavior—like hugging the inside of curves or passing on blind hills—is not only discourteous, it puts you and your fellow riders at risk.

This is a great time for snowmobilers to brush up on safety tips and strategies, as Snowmobile Safety Awareness Week is Jan. 15-21. Follow these five snowmobiling safety tips to remain free from harm this season:

Ride with a buddy.

Sure, it may be tempting to hit the trail by yourself and ride off into the sunset, but doing so alone is dangerous and just plain foolish. Whether your snowmobile suffers a mechanical failure or you end up at the bottom of an avalanche, riding alone puts you at higher risk for worst-case scenarios. Buddy up!

Follow the three-second rule.

One of the most common causes of crashes is following too close to the sled in front of you. If the lead rider abruptly applies the brakes, you’ll need adequate distance to safely react and stop. Always maintain at least three seconds of distance between you and the front driver. To measure this, pick a stationary object, like a tree, and begin counting the seconds after the front driver passes. If you reach the tree before three seconds have passed, slow down to give more room.

Don’t override your headlights.

Snowmobile headlights illuminate 200 feet in front of your snowmobile, but it’s easy to go too fast at night and override your ability to respond to changing trail conditions. For example, say you’re enjoying a nighttime ride on your snowmobile, and there is a tree blocking your trail exactly 200 feet in front of you. A normal reaction time is around 1.5 seconds.

  • If you are traveling at 40 mph and see the tree as soon as your headlights illuminate it, you’ll travel another 88 feet in the 1.5 seconds it takes you to react and apply the brakes. You’ll then travel another 70 feet to come to a complete stop. So at 40 mph, you’ll travel 158 feet before stopping.
  • If you’re traveling at 50 mph, however, you’ll travel 110 feet before you apply the brake and another 80 feet before stopping—putting you dangerously close to the tree, even with optimal conditions.
  • At 65 mph, you’ll travel 143 feet before you even apply the brakes, and then need at least another 100 feet to stop, even though you’ll only have 57 feet left before you collide with the tree.

Any speed faster than 40 mph at night puts you at risk for overriding your headlights—and crashing your snowmobile.

Drinking and riding don’t mix.

Alcohol affects vision, balance, coordination and reaction time, four key skills necessary for safe snowmobile control. Sadly, the majority of preventable snowmobile accidents are linked directly to alcohol consumption. Even a few drinks can numb reaction time, which is essential to safely stopping your ride and avoiding dangers on the trail. So hold off on enjoying that glass of spiked cider until you get back to the lodge!

Avoid an avalanche.

According to the Snowmobile Safety Awareness Program, 90 percent of all avalanches involving snowmobiles are not random occurrences. In fact, many are triggered by the dangerous practice of “highmarking,” where one snowmobile rides up the side of a steep slope. Remember, any slope steeper than 25 degrees can cause an avalanche. Be especially alert for new snowpack and wind loading, and always wear a transmission beacon as part of your safety gear.

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