If you’re looking for a new way to get outdoors this winter, snowmobiling is worth a shot. It’s a fun and exciting way to explore nature, and a unique way to see many national parks.

But snowmobiling has its disadvantages: it’s dangerous and can have major detrimental impacts on the environment. Snowmobiles are large, powerful machines, and the inexperienced or foolhardy can easily find themselves injured or lost. They’re noisy and burn fossil fuels, disturbing wildlife and contributing to global warming.

But these downsides don’t mean you can’t have a safe snowmobiling trip with minimal impact on the nature you’re exploring. Here are eight simple tips to help you out.


1. Stay On Marked Trails

Specific trails have been marked by experts who know what terrain is safe for snowmobiling, and what areas are best avoided. Staying on marked paths benefits the local flora and fauna, too, by restricting all snowmobilers to a set area, rather than spreading them out.


2. Don’t Drink and Drive

This one’s pretty obvious, but it’s also key. Not only does alcohol impair your ability to safely ride, it lowers your body’s capacity to keep warm. In the event that you get injured or lost, you don’t want to want to be at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting off hypothermia.

Photo: timo_w2sCC


3. Plan Ahead

Snowmobiling is a great way to explore, but it’s not a sport that calls for improvisation. Decide where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone before heading out, and make sure to tell someone. That way, if your’e not back as planned, he or she will be aware that something has gone wrong, and a search party will know where to find you.


4. Green Your Ride

Snowmobiles have gotten a lot more eco-friendly in recent years, so make sure to choose one with limited noise levels and CO2 emissions. Always go for a 4-stroke over a 2-stroke engine; they pollute less and are quieter. Better yet, go electric.


5. Ride at a Safe Speed

Slower is safer. Remember that you’re sharing the trail, not just with wildlife, but with skiers, hikers, snowshoers and others. It’s also greener, since riding at high speed increases the emissions and noise levels of your snowmobile.

Maintaining a safe speed is especially crucial at night, when you run the risk of over riding your headlights. If your headlights illuminate 200 feet in front of you, make sure you can come to a full stop within that distance. Otherwise, you may see an approaching obstacle, but you won’t be able to avoid crashing into it.

Photo: timo_w2sCC

6. Have the Right Gear

First and foremost, this means dressing appropriately. Wear warm clothes and a waterproof outer layer. Gloves and boots of course, plus goggles. A helmet is always a good idea.

Have a first aid kit, plus a tool kit with a knife, a compass, waterproof matches, and a GPS for extra credit.


7. Know Your Hand Signals and Trail Signs

This is Snowmobiling 101, and for good reason. Hand signals are the clearest and easiest way to communicate between snowmobilers and other trail users, so know them all. Know your trail signs, too. They’ll let you know where it’s safe (and legal) to ride, what trails are two-way, and the speed limit.

Photo: sambouchard418CC


8. Check for Adequate Snow Coverage

If you’re riding with a guide, he or she should take care of this, but keep an eye out anyway. Riding a snowmobile on insufficient snow coverage does major damage to the terrain.


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