Snowmobiling Preparedness - How to prevent serious injury or death
Snowmobiling is an exhilarating activity. You sit down on a powerful machine, start it up with the quick turn of a key and in no time you are travelling through some beautiful winter areas. Some of you may have extensive experience others may be just starting out. Whether you are experienced or a novice in snowmobiling, there are a number of things you may not have considered to make your next trip a safe and pleasant one. There are some serious risks involved in this activity, and often an error in judgement or loss of attention could result in grave consequences.
In the next few paragraphs I will list some of the hazards, risks and areas of danger, and how to limit your chances of having a serious accident or injury.
- Be thoroughly experienced with the operation of your machine, ensure it has been maintained and is running properly.
- Dress appropriately for the weather and always wear an approved helmet.
- If you are a novice take your time as you gain experience operating your snowmobile. Take a course if available.
- If you are experienced be careful not to exceed your skills and abilities. Most machines will outperform the rider creating a greater risk of accidents.
-Travel Safe - Always pick your route or area, bring survival gear, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, always plan for unforeseen circumstances.
- Travel with a buddy or group for safety.
- High speed travel is exhilarating and exciting, but going faster than you can stop or see obstacles in limited visibility will increase your chances of crashes.
- Colliding with obstacles - Risk of colliding with trees, rocks, riding over cliffs and gullies.
This rider was killed after striking this tree at high speed
You can collide with other snowmobiles if not careful
Going off a cliff can be exciting but very dangerous if not very experienced
- Avalanches: travelling through avalanche areas ensure you are properly trained in avalanche awareness (take an avalanche course). Have beacons, probes and shovels to do self-rescue. You may be miles away from civilization and self-rescue with your group may be the only option. Time is critical if buried in an avalanche.
- Breakdowns: – have a plan if your machine breaks down. Spare parts, tow rope, extra gas.
- Frozen lakes present a unique problem as the ice may freeze and melt from one day to the next. So one day it may be safe the next it may not. Always check local forecasts for freezing temperature trends, check the ice, and make sure it is safe for your machine before whizzing across it at high speed. Always have hand ice picks in your pockets for self-rescue in case you break through the ice. Have one machine go across the ice at a time and follow the same tracks as the leader. Have a rescue rope ready in case the lead machine breaks through the ice.
Commercial Ice Picks for self rescue
-Drinking and riding – Even one alcoholic beverage will reduce your reaction time and response to hazards. Drinking above the legal limit can also cause you to have your driver’s licence suspended if caught by police. Save the alcoholic drinks for after the ride and enjoy the experience.
- Always plan for the worst situation. If you are prepared for the worst if it happens you will be more likely to get out alive and in good health.
The following list is recommended for travelling in remote areas
- 10 Essentials – Same as for hiking the 10 essentials apply to snowmobiles. A detailed list can be found in my book “Trail Ready – How to pack and prepare for hiking emergencies”). Some of the items include: Water, Food, Shelter etc. The advantage is you don’t have to carry it, but simply strap it to your machine.
-Tow rope – Carry a tow rope to tow another snowmobile out if it breaks down.
- Spare fuel container – you may only have to carry one per group depending on how far your travel.
- Spare parts and tools for emergency repairs – A few spare parts or items to repair a ski or track can get you out without being stranded.
- EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) – GPS enabled emergency beacon to signal for help in case you have no cell coverage, are injured or require help. This is not the same as an avalanche transceiver so do not confuse them. A SPOT is another version of this but is capable of sending custom messages via satellite to users of your choice. Whatever you choose, carry one. A snowmobile can be hundreds of km from civilization in a very short time. Only one EPIRB is required per group as long as you stay together.
- Avalanche transceiver (beacon) – This is specifically used if caught in an avalanche, they are short range and each person must carry one. They are used in conjunction with, avalanche probes, shovels and taking an approved avalanche course before heading out. Also checking the local avalanche centre web site for avalanche risks in the area you are travelling is a must.
Remember if you plan ahead, are prepared for the worst scenario if something happens, you will get back to tell the story.