Always be alert of potential danger. Your helmet and engine noise can impair your hearing. Visability is also reduced in conditions of snowfall, blowing snow and night driving. Never assume what another snowmobiler will do. Do all that you can to ensure your safety and that of other riders. Expect the unexpected!
Watch out for:
- Thin ice and open water
- Grooming equipment
- Oncoming snowmobiles
- Unforeseen obstacles beneath snow
- Unexpected corners, intersections and stops
- Road and railway crossings '
- Logging/Forestry operations
- Snow banks and drifting snow
- Trees and branches on the trail
- Bridges and approaches
- Wildlife and domestic animals
- Other trail users (skiers, hikers)
Don't Drink and Ride
Snowmobiling requires alertness, caution and attention. Your reaction time and ability to control your sled can be drastically affected after consuming even small amounts of alcohol. Alcohol can affect perception, reaction time, and response to unexpected situations. Alcohol is involved in over 70% of snowmobiling fatalities.
Alcohol increases your susceptibility to cold and hypothermia. Snowmobilers often have access to remote locations miles away from help. If a situation should occur where help is needed, your chances of survival and treatment of injury can be greatly affected. Don't let alcohol be a contributing factor to your fate.
Operating your sled under the influence of alcohol is punishable under the Criminal Code of Canada. The Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Act now mirrors the Highway Traffic Act. If convicted of driving a snowmobile while impaired, you will lose all driving privileges (car, truck, motorcycle, off-road vehicles and snowmobiles). Therefore if you drink and ride both your driver's licence and insurability are at risk.
A disproportionate number of snowmobiling incidents, including nine out of ten fatalities, occur after dark.
Forward visibility is reduced by darkness and it is much more difficult to spot and identify potential hazards in time. Overdriving headlights can also be a serious problem, so slow down when snowmobiling after dark. Becoming disoriented or lost is much more likely at night. Ride with individuals familiar with the area.
Always wear outer clothing with reflective trim on the arms, back and helmet. Never ride alone at night. Always dress in your full snowmobiling outfit even if your intended destination is just next door.
Be certain that all lights are operational and keep in mind that hand signals become increasingly more difficult to see as darkness sets in.
Drowning is one of the leading causes of snowmobile fatalities. Wherever possible, avoid riding on frozen lakes and rivers because ice conditions are never guaranteed. Ice conditions can change in a period of several hours. If you must cross ice, ask first, then stay on the packed or marked trail. Don't stop until you reach shore. If you hit slush, don't let off the throttle. If you are following someone who hits slush, veer off to make your own path. If you must travel over lakes and rivers then consider using a buoyant snowmobile suit which will assist you to reach the closest ice surface. Also consider carrying a set of picks which will help you grip the edge of the ice more easily. As a rule of thumb, "If you don't know, don't go."
If you do break through the ice, don't panic. 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.
This is the lowering of the body's core temperature. It can happen in water or on land. Hypothermia does not require extreme cold and accelerates with wind and wetness. Dressing warmly in water resistant layers helps, but if immersed, quickly replace wet clothes, keep moving to generate body heat, and find immediate shelter and warmth.
This occurs when direct and reflecting sun glare are too bright for the eyes. Riding without good quality, UV protected sunglasses, goggles or visor can cause permanent damage.
Frostbite results from freezing temperatures and poor circulation. Most common on extremities and exposed skin, it can be identified by unnaturally white and numb skin surrounded by harsh red colouring. Cover up and layer well, making sure that socks fit loosely within your boots. And remember mitts with liners are warmer than gloves.
Wind chill is lower temperature caused by wind and/or the forward momentum of a fast moving sled. Wind chill exposes you to severe cold which in turn can cause hypothermia. Wind-proof outer garments, extra layers and a balaclava will offer some protection, but keep your face shield down to prevent wind burn and to protect your skin and eyes.
With high tech winter wear and proper layering, winter comfort is easy. Start with polypropylene and thermal under layers that releases moisture while retaining heat. Add other heat retentive layers depending on the temperature. Also consider the fact that your forward motion will add to the wind chill factor. Avoid cottons and sweat shirts which retain moisture, making you cold and clammy which may lead to hypothermia.
Good snowmobile wear contains materials that retain heat, release moisture and resist both water and wind. Even better, try to find suits that are water and wind proof. Consider wearing a buoyant snowmobile suit if you plan on traveling across ice as it will assist in keeping you afloat but most of all help to protect you against hypothermia. Snowmobile suits should have reflective trim for increased visibility during night riding. Carry extra clothing, socks and mitts for layering. A helmet and face shield combat cold and hazards, while waterproof, insulated boots and leather snowmobile mitts provide warmth and protection.
Snowmobile Repair Kit
You can easily snowmobile beyond immediate help so basic repair kits are essential.
The kit should contain:
- spare belt
- spare spark plugs
- manufacturer's tool kit
- extra wrenches
- nuts & bolts sized for your sled
- tow rope
- pry bar
- duct tape
- A cellular phone can be a terrific asset if trouble arises, but bear in mind that cell phones have limited service range.