A Practical Guide to Snowmobiling Safely and Responsibily

According to the American Council of Snowmobile Associations (ACSA), there is an estimated 230,000 miles of signed and maintained snowmobile trails in North America, winding their way through rolling hills, deep wooded forests and majestic mountainsides. Snowmobiling continues to be one of the most exhilarating outdoor adventure sports for both seasoned and new incoming riders. But regardless of your skill level, it is important to adhere to some essential safe snowmobiling practices.

Snowmobile Safety Training

Much like obtaining your automobile driver’s license, most states require individuals under a certain age limit to take a snowmobile safety course. Often, these courses begin with an overview of a snowmobile’s various controls and components, followed by some general maintenance tips. As the course progresses, trail etiquette, hand signals and suggestions for safe, warm riding gear are covered. And to prepare you for emergency situations, winter survival tips are discussed.

Most times, these safety-training courses are filled with youth entrants, but instructors are reporting an increasing number of adults (most times seasoned riders) interested in brushing up on their knowledge. Based on the state or provincial location, there are a variety of ways to obtain training including online courses. Most of them are hosted by local snowmobile clubs and provide a combined mix of classroom and field training. If it becomes challenging to locate available courses through online government sites, it can be helpful to reach out to local snowmobile dealers or clubs for assistance.

Avalanche Training

For anyone snowmobiling in avalanche prone terrain (primarily western states) there are a variety of avalanche training courses available. Below are five of the most common avalanche safety guidelines recommended by many of today’s top snowmobile manufacturers:

  • Get the gear – Make sure that every rider has an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe, and knows how to use them.
  • Get the training – Every rider should take an avalanche training and education course.
  • Get the forecast – Make a riding plan based on the current avalanche and weather forecasts.
  • Get the picture – If you see recent avalanche activity, you can assume unstable snow exists. Riding on or underneath slopes is extremely dangerous.
  • Get out of harm’s way – When highmarking or playing on steep stopes, it is critical to travel one at a time. Do not help stuck riders in your group and never congregate at the bottom of avalanche runout zones. These things only put you and others at risk.

ZERO Tolerance Policy

Don’t drink and ride. According to the ACSA, alcohol is a factor in over 60% of all fatal, and non-fatal snowmobiling accidents. The ACSA promotes the "Zero Tolerance while Snowmobiling Campaign" meant to reinforce and complement existing safety initiatives already in place in many jurisdictions across the country.

Stay on the Trail

The majority of snowmobile trails are designed, constructed and maintained by volunteers within the local snowmobile club who secure permission from private landowners, allowing trails to extend through their property. Be mindful that trespassing is the most frequent complaint landowners have against snowmobilers, and it impacts the ability of snowmobile clubs to get private landowners to allow trails to cross through their property. Knowing where to ride, and staying on the trail, is a common courtesy to those landowners, and displaying good stewardship will continue to keep them open for all to enjoy.

For more in-depth info on these and other snowmobiling safety practices, it is always best to “know before you go." Check all local, state or federal sources on where to ride and the associated registrations and permits needed. A safe ride is an enjoyable ride, and North America’s extensive snowmobile trail systems provide plenty of opportunities for fun. So, be prepared, be safe, be respectful and enjoy the ride!