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Dashing Through the Snow on a Snowmobile

Image: Man riding a red snowmobile.

On a ski trip but not a skier? Or maybe you like to ski, but you want to try something different on this year’s ski trip—snowmobiling. If you’ve never driven a snowmobile, there are things you need to know before you head out.

First Things First
If you’ve never driven a motorcycle, would you know what steps you’d take after putting on your helmet and getting on the bike? Would you know how to start it, how to accelerate and how to stop? Those are all pretty important things to know, and it’s no different with a snowmobile. After all, not all vehicles perform the same way a car does—and snowmobiles don’t even have tires, making it even trickier to steer! If you rent a snowmobile, the rental company will probably tell you all these things. They may even start it for you, but you should know how in case you need to turn it off and back on yourself. Starting a snowmobile is not like starting a car. In fact, it’s a little bit like starting a lawnmower.

  1. First, make sure it’s in neutral and on flat ground.
  2. Turn the key to "on" and close the choke.
  3. Push the electric start button or pull the start cord. It may not start the first time, so try again. Then if it doesn’t start, turn the throttle a quarter turn.
  4. Once it starts, slowly open the choke and work the throttle until it has a stable idle.
  5. Let it idle for 5-10 minutes before driving.

As we said before, a snowmobile isn’t a car. When driving it, you want to shift your body weight in the direction of any curves. If you slide off the trail, throttle your way back on track. If you don’t hit the throttle pretty hard, you could sink the machine into the deeper snow you slid into.

If you slide unexpectedly, shift your weight into the opposite direction of the slide. Using your body weight when driving a snowmobile can be very helpful. It helps to have strong upper body strength to steer, especially in dicey conditions like deeper snow. This is why it’s best to stick to the trails.

Riding on Hills
Riding uphill is another tricky situation on a snowmobile. The website Gone Outdoors gives these instructions: Riding on an incline increases the risk of rolling the snowmobile. Shift your weight to the rear section of seat on the uphill. Ride with one knee on the seat and one foot on the side rail for the best control. Lean your body forward to place pressure forward on the handles. Place your feet on the forward sections of the side rails and lean back when going downhill. Shift your weight to the uphill side when riding on a side-hill. Rest your knee and shin on the side rail for comfort and lean hard into the hill.

Wet snow, ice and dirt make it more difficult to steer a snowmobile, so powdery snow is your best bet. However, snowmobiles can kick up that “dry” snow making it difficult for those behind you to see. If another snowmobile is in front of you, it can make it difficult for you to see as well. You can ride on wet snow and ice, but additional precautions need to be taken:

  • Remember that it will be more difficult to steer in wet snow and ice.
  • Wear waterproof clothing and gear, as riding in wet snow can increase your risk of hypothermia.
  • Slow down and use extra caution when riding on wet snow or ice.
  • If you are riding across a lake or pond, make sure the ice is thick enough to support the weight of the snowmobile with people on it.

Speaking of passengers, you should only carry a passenger if the snowmobile has an extra seat for one. In addition, children should not sit in front of the passenger because they could get crushed if there’s an accident. Finally, passengers change the vehicle’s center of gravity and steering might be different.

Safety Tips
Here are some basic “rules of the road” and safety tips for riding a snowmobile:

  • Make sure the snowmobile is in good mechanical condition before driving it.
  • Take a snowmobile safety training course.
  • Check the forecast as conditions can change quickly.
  • Wear warm, waterproof clothing and outerwear.
  • Wear safety goggles and a helmet.
  • Don’t exceed the snowmobile’s weight limit.
  • Know the appropriate hand signals to use to alert other drivers of your intentions.
  • Don’t go alone, or if you do, let someone know where you’re riding.
  • Keep a first aid and safety kit on board. What would you need if you crashed and you were alone? Flares, extra blankets, food? Take it.
  • Do not pull anything or anyone behind the snowmobile.
  • Stay on trails.
  • Avoid frozen rivers as it is impossible to determine the thickness of the ice.
  • Watch your speed.
  • Stay alert.
  • As with anything you drive, don’t drink and drive.

Once you get the hang of it and know how to stay safe, these tips should make a day of riding a snowmobile an enjoyable experience you’ll want to do again and again.

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