Take a Friend Snowmobiling Week starts up this weekend and runs until February 18th. If you’re planning on taking a friend out on a first ride, make sure they understand the fundamentals of safe snowmobiling before hitting the trails.
Here’s a handy chart that shows you the hand signals used when snowmobiling (and if you scroll to the bottom, you'll find out how to take 50% of our course too!).
Until March 1st, 2013, you can save 50% on SNOWMOBILEcourse.com by using the VIP code: FRIEND2013 on checkout. Not only will your friend (or you) be ready to ride, you’ll also have your snowmobile safety certification when you pass the course! Find out more and use your VIP code at www.snowmobilecourse.com.
This time last year, as we were getting into the spirit of International Snowmobile Safety Week, we noticed something important was missing. Snow! Across North America, last year was one of the least snowy in recent memory. We even drew up a nifty graphic comparing last year to historical averages.
Thankfully, it looks like things have turned around on the snowfall front and 2013 is shaping up to be a great year for riding.
But with lots of snow, and lots of activity out on the trails (and maybe a little riding rust from last year’s less than ideal season) it’s more important than ever to be mindful of safety. So it’s perfect timing for International Snowmobile Safety Week.
International Snowmobile Safety Week, which starts on January 13th and runs to the 19th, provides a great opportunity to review safety basics. One of the best ways to do that is to take an online snowmobile course. In fact, in a growing number of states and provinces, taking an online safety course is now mandatory.
Check if you need to take a course at www.snowmobilecourse.com. If you do, you can take $5 off your online course by entering the code SNOWFALL when you go to make payment. It’s a little special offer we’re doing for Snowmobile Safety Week.
Have a great week (and winter) of fun and safe riding!
Usually the snowmobile season would be wrapping up around this time. But, on March 19th, the homepage of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers said it all: “The end of the season has arrived.” Indeed, Vermont’s snowmobile season did come to a rapid end after an odd week’s worth of summer weather in mid-March, and little snowfall throughout most of the winter. Vermont isn’t the only state to have been hit with such a tough year for snowmobiling; much of the country experienced a warm winter with very little snow. While trails generally close around this time, this year many closed a month early.
With no snow to enjoy, we turned to the Internet for answers. Not surprisingly this winter season was one of the warmest on record for many states.
[Data from the National Climate Data Center]
Looking at these snowfall numbers, it’s easy to get discouraged. But don’t despair! While this year was a bit of a disappointment, weather experts agree that it may be largely due to a combination of La Niña and a stronger-than-usual Arctic oscillation. If this sounds complicated, you can read one expert’s explanation on NASA’s site here. What we do know is that La Niña should be gone with the wind before next winter.
So enjoy your summer.
Get out the fishing rod and ATV, and you’ll be back on the snow in no time.
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Most snowmobile accidents featured on the news seem to involve a trip across a frozen lake/river gone wrong. With International Snowmobile Safety Week now coming to a close, it's a good time to review some recent statistics about serious snowmobile accidents. We looked at the 2009-2010 Snowmobile Fatal Accident Reports from Wisconsin and Minnesota. This is what we found.
Across the two states, 30% of all snowmobile-related fatalities occurred on a frozen lake or river. We were most surprised to find that of these fatalities only 25% resulted from breaking through the ice. The other 75% resulted from collisions with fixed objects, such as docks, rocks, ice huts or bridges, or other snowmobiles and vehicles.
In both states, alcohol and/or drug use was a common risk factor for snowmobile accidents on waterways. Of all fatal accidents occurring on frozen waterways, 75% involved drugs or alcohol.
However, the most common risk factor for fatal accidents on frozen water was lack of daylight. Over the 2009-2010 season, 83% of fatalities that occurred on frozen lakes or streams occurred at night.
These statistics suggest some clear tips for riding on frozen waterways.
- Don’t drink and ride.
Drinking always impairs judgment. And whether this means not checking ice conditions or driving too fast, lack of judgment and frozen (or not frozen) water can be deadly.
- Slow down (and slow down even more at night).
Especially at night, it’s hard to know what’s out there on the lake. Whether sketchy ice, a bridge column or an ice fishing hut, you won’t see it in time if you override your headlight.
- Check the condition of the ice.
Experts say there’s no way to know for sure if the ice is safe. That means extreme caution is required. Snowmobiles need 5 inches of clear solid ice. Check with a trusted local source (like a bait shop) and check the ice yourself when you get there.
- Don’t ride alone. And make a ride plan.
Riding with a buddy can be a lifesaver in any number of situations. Even if you are travelling with a friend, tell someone else your plan and check in when you arrive safely.
- Know what to do if you go through.
Going through the ice is a bad situation. But it doesn’t have to be fatal. Review what to do before you go out, and if something should happen, stay calm but act quickly. Carry ice picks and use them to pull yourself out on the edge where you broke through, which will be the most solid edge. This is a good video demonstrating the use of ice picks.
It should not come as a big surprise that drinking has been linked to many serious snowmobile accidents over the years. But the annual fatality and accident reports issued by state agencies drive this point home. It being International Snowmobile Safety Week, we thought this would be a good time to look at the numbers and see the difference a few drinks can make.
The following chart uses numbers from the Minnesota Fatal Snowmobile Accident Report, the New York State Snowmobile Accident Report Summary, and the Wisconsin Snowmobile Enforcement & Safety Report, all from 2009-2010.
Across the three states, 34 out of 54, or 63%, of snowmobile fatalities involved alcohol. Conclusion? To greatly reduce your chance of becoming a statistic in one of these reports, stick with hot chocolate at the tavern.
Make Safety a Top Priority
We could go on and on about snowmobile safety, but we’ll focus on a couple of things that will hopefully help you get home safe and sound.
We should all know by now that you shouldn’t mix snowmobiling with drugs or alcohol so we won’t harp on this issue too much. However, one seemingly obvious safety tip that many ignore is that you should avoid riding alone. Even if you only plan on heading out for a quick ride, at relatively high speeds it does not take long to travel a long way from your starting point. Riding with another snowmobiler provides the security needed in case of accident, mechanical problems, poor weather conditions or a medical emergency.
If you do go out alone you’d be wise to carry a fully charged cellular phone. However, since there is not always cell phone coverage on many trails a SPOT satellite GPS messenger can come in handy. This device permits people at home to track your whereabouts and allows you to send SOS messages if you find yourself in an emergency and need rescue. Also, always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
Safety should also be a priority for short trips. Just because you plan on a short ride doesn’t mean no risks are involved. If you plan properly and take the necessary safety measures, the potential for risk can be minimized on any trip.
Snowmobiling is very much a community activity. Snowmobile clubs, which are almost always volunteer driven, are the main reason we have so many fantastic trail systems to ride. If you want these trails to be available for years to come there are some rules that need to be followed. As a snowmobiler you have a responsibility to ride in a manner that is both legal and respectful towards your fellow riders and the environment.
- Keep to the right side of the trail.
- Operate in a safe and courteous manner.
- Give trail groomers the right of way.
- Reduce your speed when there is oncoming traffic.
- Give uphill riders right of way when you are traveling downhill.
- Slow down and give the right of way to any skiers, hikers, persons on snowshoes or dogsleds you might encounter.
- Always report illegal operation out on the trails.
- Slow down when passing a parked snowmobile on the trail.
- Ignore the posted speed limits for an area, as well as all other trail signs.
- Pull over on a turn or curve. If you need to stop along a trail, pull over to the right side of the trail and only do so on straight stretches.
- Leave your engine running if you need to stop for any length.
- Ride on private property without permission.
Taking on the Hills
When it comes to dealing with hills on a snowmobile, it will help to read our previous installment on riding positions (link). Attacking a big climb can be the highlight of your day, but you’ve got to know how to position your body and handle your sled.
When you come up to a big climb you’re best served to adjust to a kneeling position and begin leaning forward. Your chest should be positioned over the handlebars somewhat. A good tip for beginners is to shift your weight to the rear and lean forward before transitioning to the kneeling position. If the hill is particularly steep, you may have to switch from a kneeling to a posting position. This will be a little more physically exerting, but it will place more forward pressure on the track increase traction.
Once you start your ascent you should never let up on the throttle. Stopping or even slowing down may cause you to lose momentum, which can make it very difficult to continue climbing if the hill is high and steep enough. Instead of letting up on the throttle you should apply it even more to maintain your speed during the climb.
If you do lose forward momentum when trying to climb you should not attempt to continue your ascent. Instead you should stop the snowmobile and make a K-turn to return down the hill.
If you need to perform a K-turn you should move to a seated position while continuing to lean forward and apply the brakes. With the brakes still applied, turn the handlebars completely towards the left. Shift the snowmobile into reverse and release the brake lever. Leaning into the hill, gently feather the throttle and carefully proceed in reverse until your snowmobile is perpendicular with the slope of the hill. Once the snowmobile is perpendicular, apply the brakes to bring it to a stop. With the brakes still applied, turn the handlebars towards the right (downhill direction). Release the brake lever and slowly descend the hill.
Once you learn how to climb a hill it only makes sense that you’ll have to learn how to get back down. When you do come to a downward slope you should make sure that no snowmobiles are coming up the hill. If there are other snowmobiles on the hill let them go before proceeding.
Once you begin your descent get yourself in a seated position and shift your weight toward the back of the snowmobile. As you start downhill, feather the throttle to keep the drive belt engaged and let gravity do most of the work. To maintain control apply the brake intermittently and gradually throughout the descent. Be sure not to brake too hard as this could cause you to slide or lose control.
Crossing a Hill
Crossing a hill, or sidehilling, is a favorite of the steep and deep riders of the west. Good riders make this look easy, but there is a lot of skill involved.
When crossing a hill choose a riding position that will allow you to easily and comfortably shift your weight towards the slope of the hill. The kneeling position is a good choice, but make sure you kneel with your downhill leg. Also, always keep your bodyweight leaning towards the uphill direction. If you lean downhill you are going to roll.
Beware of hard-packed snow while crossing a hill as it can cause your snowmobile to slide. Always try to cross on snow that is more loosely packed if possible.
If you lose control of your snowmobile while crossing, climbing or descending a hill and it begins to roll you should jump off immediately on the uphill side. This will ensure the snowmobile doesn’t roll over top of you.
It may seem simple but knowing how to best position your body when riding can make your day on the trails a whole lot more enjoyable. Just because a snowmobile has a seat doesn’t mean you should always be using it. The terrain you’re tackling will often require you to alter your riding position for comfort and visibility.
Most of you will spend quite a bit of time in this position on the snowmobile. It’s the most common riding position and generally the most comfortable. If you happen to be riding with a passenger the seated position likely makes the most sense for everybody.
To ride in this position, simply make sure your feet are placed inside the foot wells located at the front of the running boards. Then with your hands gripping the handlebars, sit with your knees bent, leaning forward slightly.
One of the main issues with riding in a seated position is that it’s difficult to shift your body weight. The solution is the kneeling position. The kneeling position allows you to lean forward and shift weight with easily when traveling uphill or on steeper terrain.
To ride in this position place one of your knees underneath you, resting on the seat with your other foot planted firmly on the running board while leaning slightly forward.
In addition to steep terrain, the kneeling position is recommended for crossing roads or busy trails as it allows for better handling while allowing you to see further ahead.
When it comes to getting the best view of the obstacles ahead, the standing position is ideal. Being afforded greater visibility is an asset when climbing smaller hills or when coming to a crossing.
To ride in this position, simply stand with your feet planted firmly on the running boards and your torso leaning slightly forward.
Posting is a position that essentially uses the mechanics of your body as a shock absorber on bumpy or rough trails. Think of riding your bike over bumpy terrain – you wouldn’t sit because it would be uncomfortable. The same goes for snowmobiling.
Posting involves placing yourself on your snowmobile in a forward leaning semi-squatting position with your feet on the running boards and the posterior part of your body elevated off the seat somewhat.
A fun-filled winter of snowmobiling is great for you, but your machine can take a beating. If you take proper care to maintain your snowmobile it will reward you with years of good service.
If your snowmobile has been sitting around all summer and fall, you can’t simply jump on and ride as soon as the snow falls. While it may seem like everything is in proper working order, a pre-season tune-up before you hit the trails can save you some major headaches down the road.
The best place to start is with your owner’s manual, which should provide detailed instructions and diagrams explaining what will need to be done at the start of each season. When it comes to simple maintenance and tune-ups, your owner’s manual is your best friend.
We’ve compiled a basic list of things you should check out before your riding season gets underway. Be sure to check for wear and ensure everything is lubricated or adjusted as necessary.
|* Spark Plugs|
|* Headlights and tail lights|
|* Steering and throttle|
Regular Maintenance and Proper Care
Of course, proper maintenance doesn’t end after the pre-season tune-up. If you want minimize mechanical problems and have your sled last as long as possible a little regular maintenance during the season is key. Additionally, a well-cared-for snowmobile is more likely to have a lower environmental impact and generally results in better fuel economy.
|* Follow the manufacturer’s fuel and oil recommendations.|
|* Regularly check the spark plugs (as mentioned, it’s always a good idea to change them at the start of each season).|
|* Keep the engine properly tuned and maintain fluid levels.|
|* Avoid making any aftermarket alterations to your exhaust system. Not only can it result in louder noise emissions, it can also void your warranty and make your exhaust illegal.|
|* Follow Owner’s Manual for regular maintenance tips.|
|* Check the skis & carbides.|
|* Check the track.|
|* Check the drive belt for wear.|
A little knowledge goes a long way
Before you even turn a key on your snowmobile you should already be familiar with your machine. Much like a car, specific terms are used to describe the various parts of the snowmobile. Knowing the names of these parts and their functions will be useful in any number of ways.
Everything from talking about the sport to fellow snowmobilers to isolating mechanical problems will be a whole lot easier once you know the proper terminology. It only takes a little work to gain a lot of knowledge in a short amount of time.
We’ve compiled a list of 20 basic terms every snowmobiler would be wise know.
|20 Snowmobile Terms You Should Know|
|Throttle||Squeezing the throttle lever feeds more fuel to the engine which in turn powers the driveshaft and rubber track moving you forward (or backwards on snowmobiles equipped with reverse).|
|Engine Stop Switch||A way to stop the engine quickly. To activate it you must push the switch down.|
|Throttle||Squeezing the throttle lever feeds more fuel to the engine which in turn powers the driveshaft and rubber track moving you forward (or backwards on snowmobiles equipped with reverse).|
|Handlebars||Main steering mechanism.|
|Windshield||Protects you from the wind and wind chill. Also deflects any debris, ice or snow that may fly up during operation.|
|Headlight(s)||Illuminate the path in front of your snowmobile and alert other riders to your presence. They are to be used during both daylight hours and evenings. Most snowmobile headlights have high and low beam settings.|
|Hood or Cowl||Protects and covers the engine and other mechanical components. Always check the engine before any trip.|
|Engine||Snowmobile engines are generally two stroke except for newer models that use four stroke engines. Repair and troubleshooting is similar to any other vehicle. Always remember to maintain your vehicle properly and, when possible, have it serviced by a qualified technician.|
|Hull or Tub||Also known as a belly pan, it is meant to aid in floatation in deep snow and also to protect the undercarriage from rocks, ice and other hard debris.|
|Front and Rear Bumpers||Help to protect against minor collisions with trees, rocks, and other snowmobiles. Always drive with care and at a safe speed.|
|Ski Tip Handle||Handy for pulling, moving, and lifting the vehicle.|
|Skis||Including wear bars and carbides, the skis glide along the surface of the snow and steer the vehicle through the snow. Most ski blades have stabilizers that run along the bottom of the blade to decrease side-to-side motion.|
|Ski Spindle||Connects the ski to both the suspension and the steering sytems.|
|Shock Absorber||Using either springs, hydraulics, or both, "shocks" will help give you a comfortable and smooth ride over bumpy terrain.|
|Track||Made from reinforced rubber, the "track" is wrapped around the rear suspension system of the snowmobile and is driven by the engine.|
|Rear Suspension||Suspends the track as it digs into the snow which helps maintain contact between the snowmobile and the snow. Also supports the rear of the snowmobile by absorbing bumps allowing for a smooth ride.|
|Running Board||Also referred to as the tunnel it is located on both sides of the snowmobile and used to rest the feet on while the snowmobile is in motion.|
|Tail Lights||Always make sure that your rear lights and brake lights are in proper working order. Always carry spare bulbs in the toolkit under your seat.|
|Passenger Strap||Make sure your passenger has a solid, safe strap on which to hold. Only carry a passenger if the snowmobile is designed for it.|
|Vehicle Identification Number||This number is a unique identifier assigned to the snowmobile. Federal law prohibits the removal of this number from the vehicle.|
|Instrument Panel||Gives you information about your snowmobile such as speed. Also includes warning lights and the tachometer. The tachometer indicates the rotation speed of the driveshaft in RPMs (revolutions per minute). Review your owner’s manual so you are aware of all warning lights and their meaning.|