A snowmobile is defined as a motorized vehicle designed for winter recreation and used to travel across a variety of snow and ice covered terrain, but did you know there are professional snowmobile racers who compete on open water? These unique race-prepped snowmobiles are specifically tuned for the sport of “watercross” and are operated on closed courses with strict safety and retrieval parameters. Although it’s unsafe to ride a snowmobile near open water, and possibly illegal if not at a sanctioned event, read further to learn more about how the pros compete at these thrilling races.
Racing snowmobiles on water traces its roots to the summer of 1977 when the first official “water skipping” event was held in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. With humble beginnings, daring racers piloted stock snowmobiles 300 feet across a small pond from shoreline to shoreline. As snowmobiles evolved with more horsepower and technology, competitive rules for watercross competitions were developed. The racing advanced from straight line crossings to completing several laps around a buoyed course with speeds and agility rivaling that of a personal watercraft. Today, Grantsburg, Wisconsin remains the yearly location for competitors seeking a world championship International Watercross Association title.
Racers must select the right protective equipment before hitting the water. The most important pieces of safety gear are a properly fitted helmet with eye protection and a brightly colored United States Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device to enhance visibility to other riders. Like most organized racing activities, competitors are required to wear full body coverage safety gear to minimize injuries if contact is made with another machine. Shoes protect their ankles, and gloves, socks, long pants and a long-sleeve jersey cover the rest of the body.
Without rapid forward motion and traction, the snowmobile will sink. Traction is key in skimming water, the same as in deep snow. Most racers today compete with lightweight mountain-specific snowmobiles designed to be ridden in deep powder with long 136- to 146-inch rubber tracks. The long-base mountain tracks employ taller lug heights, which help to scoop more water while revolving. The steering technique used to turn at high speed in deep snow and watercross racing is similar too, which makes a mountain sled an ideal machine for the water.
Ingesting water into a snowmobile’s engine and drive clutch compartment is bad and one of the main causes of a snowmobile sinking during competition. Great lengths are taken to seal up holes and seams in the bodywork with silicone and waterproof tape to prevent engine failures or the drive belt getting wet, slipping and losing track momentum.
Water depths on most racecourses aren’t very deep, but all circuits require the machine to have a marker buoy and tether rope attached to its steering column via a hook and loop fastener assist in retrieval of the snowmobile should it sink during a race. In the event of a sinking, the racer and crew can typically have a snowmobile running again shortly after being submerged.
Dubbed the fastest show on H2O, organized watercross racing is a thrilling spectator event that won’t leave you disappointed or lacking excitement and wild action. Do yourself a favor and attend a race. To learn more about Watercross or to plan a trip to an event, visit the International Watercross Association website or the Grantsburg World Championships.