Sledding with the Kids
One of the major attractions of snowmobiling for families is the ability for everyone to participate. Ladies, there is no reason for you to sit at home babysitting because you have young children. Almost all children enjoy a snowmobile ride, so with the right planning and equipment, the whole family can enjoy our great winter wonderland.
First, let’s look at the equipment you need.
A 2-up sled with a tow hitch will be very useful during the child-raising years. We started our girls in a cutter with me holding Ann and Sarah beside me while Bruce drove the machine. Children can start riding in a cutter as soon as they are big enough to wear a helmet. Today’s cabooses are quite sophisticated compared to the one we had in the ‘80’s. Some are completely enclosed and come with heaters. Just add a battery-operated CD player with some favourite tunes, and you will have one happy little sledder!
Once your child outgrows the cutter, you can put him or her on the sled seat in front of you. Our girls loved the security of having arms on each side of them and a good view of the trail ahead. They often got too comfortable and would fall asleep resting on my arm, which soon became numb.
I remember one time Bruce was breaking trail with Sarah in front of him. He had to cross a swampy spot and as the sled crossed over, the back end started sinking rather quickly. Bruce gave it a shot to blast through, but Sarah had fallen asleep and her helmet went forward and hit the kill switch. We watched helplessly as the tailight slowly sank into the black muck. Bruce had to scramble off and hand Sarah over to me, getting his feet and legs soaked in the ordeal. He managed to pull the sled out, turn it around, and then carved a new trail without a daughter on board to hit the kill switch, to make it safely back onto the dry side with us. Nothing like a husband who stinks of stagnant swamp water!
Once your children get so big that you can’t safely see over them seated in front of you (or when you get slammed in the chin by the back of their helmet too often), it’s time to put them behind on your 2-up sled. Our two girls never liked it back there; one of the reasons was that they could not see around us. Bruce was especially good at blocking their view, so we always joked that a mural on the back of his snowmobile jacket would give the girls something to look at!
Sarah and Ann couldn’t wait to get their snowmobile licences from the OFSC Driver Training Course at age 12. Then it was up to mom and dad to provide sleds. I remember Sarah getting a hand-me-down 1982 Yamaha Excel V when Bruce bought a new 1995 Yamaha VMax touring sled. When Ann turned 12 and got her licence, she also received a hand-me-down in the form of a 1991 Yamaha Venture that had both electric start and reverse. It’s best to try to match the machine to the child’s abilities — not too big and powerful to start off with.
Here are a few other tips and suggestions to make snowmobiling with children as enjoyable as possible. Dress your children appropriately. Don’t get a helmet too big and heavy because it could be hard on their neck muscles. Dress them in layers just as you would yourself. Bring extra mitts, socks, sweater, and safety pins in case there is a broken zipper. Bring lots of snacks and stop often. Check for frostbite because some kids have a habit of not telling you if they are too cold. Give them a chance to romp around and wear off built-up energy. We used to make sure one of our stops was the clubhouse where they got snacks and a warm-up and an indoor bathroom. Don’t take kids out at night or on a blistering cold day or if there is a chance of a major snowstorm. Don’t stay out too long. Two or three hours is often plenty long enough on a nice sunny afternoon.
And finally, teach them responsible snowmobiling by being a good example. A classroom course is a good base to start with. However, it’s up to you to put your young children in the driver’s seat and continually teach them the on-snow skills and knowledge that will set them up for a lifetime of safe enjoyment and recreation on a snowmobile.
Bruce and I have never regretted one dollar spent on snowmobiling as a family because our times together have been priceless. That’s why I encourage you to get your family into snowmobiling this winter!