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6 Tips for Snowmobiling Safety

Snowmobiles.

Snowmobiling is an exciting and thrilling way to experience winter. Since two adults or one adult and a child can ride comfortably on a single snowmobile, snowmobiling opens up a winter wonderland to people of all ages. However, snowmobiling is not without its risks. Think of a snowmobile as a cross between a motorcycle, a convertible and a sled: they’re  fun but powerful - and potentially dangerous.

Whether you’re a seasoned snowmobiler or heading off on your first adventure, keep these helpful tips in mind for a safer winter:

1. Be prepared: wear the right gear.

Like any winter activity, proper snowmobiling attire is all about layers. Start with a base layer that wicks moisture created by perspiration away from your body. Avoid cotton layers as cotton does not dry quickly and can even freeze, increasing your risk for frostbite should you be stranded or injured. Wear suits, bibs, jackets and gloves specifically designed for winter activities like snowmobiling. This gear will repel water, cut the wind and keep you ventilated, advises the Snowmobile Safety Awareness Program. Always wear a DOT helmet and facemask. Dress for safety and survival.

2. Check the weather.

Even if you ride the same trails every weekend, sudden changes in weather conditions can make trails unsafe overnight. Monitor the weather forecast and keep an eye on trail reports. Never assume that because a trail was safe last week or even yesterday that it’s still safe today.

3. Understand how drag impacts stopping distance.

Speed and drag impact braking distance. Drag measures the friction between your snowmobile’s tracks and the surface it travels over. As a general rule of thumb, the deeper and more powdery that snow is, the more drag it creates. This means your snowmobile will move faster over deep powdery snow than it does over shallow snow. It will also take you longer to slow down.

4. Slow down.

Excessive speed is a leading cause for snowmobile accidents, in part because drivers simply don’t understand how long it truly takes to stop or change direction on a snowmobile. The faster you travel, the longer your stopping distance will be. Just like driving a car, stopping distance is defined as reaction time plus braking distance

Consider this example: if you see an obstacle 500 feet in front of you while traveling 30 mph on a snowmobile, you’ll continue to travel 150 feet before you actually apply the brakes (reaction distance), coming to a stop just over 50 feet later (braking distance). That means the total stopping distance is over 200 feet, giving you plenty of time to avoid the obstacle

If you’re traveling at 60mph, however, your reaction distance is 250 feet and your braking distance is over 300 feet. Together, it will take more than 500 feet to stop, which means you’ll end up hitting the obstacle in an accident. Slowing down saves lives!

5. Alcohol and snowmobiling don’t mix.

Alcohol is a factor in more than 70 percent of fatal snowmobile accidents. Save the drinks for after your ride: follow a zero alcohol consumption policy before and during any snowmobiling activities.

6. Keep right.

Heading out on the trail for the first time? Treat trails like two-way roads: stay right to avoid oncoming traffic! Be especially cautious on hills and around corners with limited visibility. Always stick to designated snowmobile trails and follow all posted signs.

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