Safety and Survival Tips For Snowmobiles
Safety and survival is crucial when you ride a trail. Winter can be unpredictable and deadly. Adequate preparations are an absolute necessity. First and foremost most states require certification before you can operate a snowmobile. Each state has its own regulations regarding snowmobile operation. Check to make sure you have this certification before riding.
Weather conditions are a must when going out on a ride. If you don’t know the weather forecast it can be catastrophic. The trail you want to ride may be frozen and can be problematic to navigate. The wind chill may be too low, especially, in areas where there are subzero temperatures. Most importantly, know the forecast about blizzards and storm systems that dump large amounts of snow in a short period of time. Blizzard conditions mean that snow and wind are at least 35 mph and will drop visibility to less than a quarter of mile for three hours or longer. It is very easy to get lost from your initial location, especially at night.
In addition to weather conditions, pay careful attention to avalanche conditions. If you live in higher elevations be aware of the times when avalanches are possible. Spring is one of those times. Because the temperature can warm and melt snow, it can then refreeze during cold snaps. If it snows again on top of the frozen snow, the snowpack becomes unstable and subject to slides. Also, be on the lookout for warmer than usual winters. Just like spring, the same warming and sudden snow storms can create avalanche conditions. Lastly, blizzards or large storm systems that dump heavier snowfall in a short amount of time can create such a large snowpack that the weight causes an avalanche.
Preparedness is the difference between life and death. What you know and what you have can increase your chances of surviving should you become stranded for any reason. What you bring with you can save your life or the life of someone else.
If you are in higher elevations, you need to carry with you an avalanche aid kit. DO NOT put the kit in your sled! Instead keep the kit in a backpack on your person. If you get hit by an avalanche often the sled and rider get separated and your kit will be feet away from you. If it is with you then you have access to its contents.
- Have an avalanche beacon transmitter to help locate you if you are hit by an avalanche.
- Carry a probe and a shovel to dig through the snow in the event of an avalanche. You only have fifteen minutes before the snowpack will suffocate you. An air pocket can keep you alive until help arrives.
Here are some rescue tips just in case you are hit by an avalanche:
- You can use your pack as a floatation device to try and keep as close to the surface of the snowpack as possible. Try if you can to roll face up in the snow so that you can dig your way out or give yourself an air pocket.
- Try to stay on your sled and ride out to the side.
- If you get knocked from your sled, push away from the sled and fight to stay on top of the moving snow.
- As the avalanche slows put your hand up and expand your chest cavity to make an air pocket. This will give you valuable time while rescuers try to get to you.
When riding during avalanche conditions, there are a few things you need to know to stay safe. Don’t park your sled on the bottom of a steep slope but park on the side of the slope. Always test the stability of the slope on a small bank before riding. Tracks on a slope does not mean it’s safe. Any slope steeper than 25˚can potentially slide. Slopes with a 30˚ to 60˚ incline are extremely prone to avalanches. For safety’s sake, don’t drink and drive! Alcohol can lower your body temperature and dehydrate you, not to mention it impairs your response time and problem solving abilities.
When you ride, make sure that you wear clothing that is a polyester blend that wicks moisture away from the skin. Cotton and wool get wet and freeze which can lower your body temperature. If you get stranded it can cause hypothermia quicker. It is always a smart idea to pack extra clothes just in case.
Snowmobile maintenance is crucial to keeping safe on a ride. Check your sled before going out and keep a tool kit under your seat if possible just in case you breakdown or have an accident. Here are some items you need to have in that kit:
- Duct tape is your best friend. MacGyver never left home without it!
- Tools in your kit should include wrenches of most commonly used sizes. Also carry a belt removal tool, spark plug wrench and a screwdriver.
- A spare drive belt can save your bacon someday.
- Don’t forget spark plugs or a pry bar.
- Lastly, remember to include a tow rope so your buddies can tow a sled that has been damaged beyond repair or cannot be fixed on the trail.
So what happens if you do get stranded and possibly separated from your group? If you pack a first aid kit and an emergency kit you should have a fighting chance of getting back home. Your emergency kit should have:
- Fire starting materials like waterproof matches or lighter.
- Compass and a map
- Space blanket
- Dehydration is still possible in the cold. Don’t be fooled and keep water on hand.
- Bring snacks and remember to ration your supplies.
- Carry a knife just in case. You never know when it will come in handy for repairs or in survival situations. Think Rambo.
Remember always tell a friend or family member where you are going and how long you will be. If you get stranded and don’t come back in a timely manner they can alert the authorities and get help to you. Should you find yourself in a survival situation here are some tips to help you:
- If you have cell service then call for help.
- If you are on foot only travel from your location if you are absolutely sure where you are going. Only travel during the day not towards evening or at night.
- Find shelter of any kind. Abandoned structures, trail shelter, trees, caves, rock shelves, or snow caves.
- Make a fire. Use rocks to contain the heat. Heated rocks wrapped in clothing (be careful not to burn yourself) can keep your extremities dry and warm so frostbite doesn’t set in.
- If you don’t have water, melt snow. You can use your body warmth to melt the snow in a sealable container if you do not have fire. Keeping hydrated will ensure your problem solving abilities are intact and your emotions are in check. People who are not hydrated get frostbite and hypothermia faster.
- Lastly, try to exercise to stave off frostbit. Whatever you do keep awake. Hypothermia could set in while you are asleep and you wouldn’t know it.
Yeah, no alcohol and looking silly with all that gear may seem like a bummer but trust me it could save your life. Safety today so you can ride tomorrow!