As the collective ‘yahoo’ is heard from snowmobilers celebrating the early arrival of winter across the majority of snow belt regions, we are all reminded of how great sleddin’ is and why we make it our choice for winter fun. Along with great enthusiasm, early snow also brings the need for additional caution and the use of common sense.
With new snow, trails typically don’t have deep bases so any extra throttle in corners or a hard pull from a standing start is liable to take it down to the dirt. With groomers out trying to get trails open as quickly as possible, repairing damage is not exactly a welcomed chore. For off-trail regions and mountain riding, a large dump of fresh snow is awfully inviting. In the 4 feet of snow, maybe a 3 1/2 foot stump or rock can translate into awfully expensive if you ‘find’ it lurking in an area you thought was ok for an early spin. In the mountains, avalanches are always a concern and with large dumps of new snow and fluctuating temperatures, the conditions for slides become more and more prevalent. Always check for conditions and warnings. Be sure all riders in your party know the signs of potential avalanche areas, are carrying the proper rescue gear and have the training and know-how of what to do should a slide occur. Another significant danger that lurks for early season riders is poor ice conditions. Always anxious to get it going, some riders make some really dumb decisions and test fate by riding on just a couple of inches thinking that their sled’s horsepower will compensate should a break-through occur. Sadly, they don’t think about all the possible problems (wet belt, clutch slipping, track spin, blown belt, their buddie’s wake…) that can all drop them into the frozen drink. For these knuckle heads we can only hope they are wearing a floater suit so their families don’t have to endure the pain of losing a loved one because they didn’t use common sense. Swamps buried under new snow are very slow to freeze. Until the lake is staked by a club as an open trail or has been tested by locals with multiple holes in various spots, no ice should ever be assumed safe.
My last point is all about common sense and perhaps tough love. We know how much kids love snowmobiling and their desire to ride solo is typically relayed in relentless requests to do so. Sadly, some parents give in and let “little Johnnie” go out on his own way before he is able to do so. For some reason a frozen lake or open field seems to be an acceptable place for kids to ‘play’ on Dad’s sled. With no governor on the throttle, “Johnnie” weighing in at 90 lbs. has now been handed the controls of a 500+ lb snowmobile that delivers anywhere from 100 to 160 HP. Given the need to be able to transfer weight to properly turn a snowmobile, it’s safe to say this is a bad decision. Youngsters shouldn’t ever be riding solo on an adult machine and ‘tweens need to have proper ‘certified’ training (not Dad’s bad habits) prior to being at the helm of a sled. Some will argue that kids need an opportunity to learn and that’s a valid point if you include; kids need a properly sized sled, appropriate training, a governed throttle and supervision if they are to learn and develop their skills safely. No one wants to hear about a child being injured. All it takes is for a carbide to catch or a little patch of ice and a sled can get sideways and roll over - a 500 lb snowmobile is no match for a child. Another common issue is kids wearing an XL bucket on their small head. Their helmets needs to be properly fitted, not hand-me-downs that they can grow into. A helmet won’t work as intended for protection if it doesn’t fit right. Kids are tough to expect common sense from, but as parents, it is our obligation so we need to protect them and if that means saying ‘no’ until the time is right, then ‘no’ is the proper answer.
Safe snowmobiling is fun snowmobiling and that’s why so many families are making it their time to bond. With early snow, the excitement is high and that’s completely understandable, but beware of the blind faith when it comes to fresh snow and new ice. Looking to the future, it’s all about getting our kids involved so let’s protect and teach them properly. A little common sense goes a long way in keeping your rides safe and devoid of costly incidents. It’s started early and promises to be a good one, enjoy the season everyone.