January 21-29, 2017, is International Snowmobile Safety Week. Most snowmobilers report the following reasons for participating in the sport: appreciation of scenery and closeness with nature, getting away from the demands of life, and spending time with family or friends. In fact, 95% of snowmobilers think of snowmobiling as a family activity; most of those who participate are married and have children. This demographic makes safety slogans like “Make Every Trip a Round Trip” even more poignant.
Put Others First
A few simple safety principles can keep you and your fellow snowmobilers safe on the trails, allowing you to relish many more snowmobile seasons in the future. This safety video and others put out by the ISMA (International Snowmobile Manufacturer Association) would be a great place to start, and taking a snowmobile safety course is even better. In the meantime, we’ll explain the basics of snowmobile safety for you, below. Remember, unsafe behavior doesn’t just put you at risk; it also puts other riders at risk. Common courtesy dictates making cautious choices when you venture out.
Safety in Numbers
The first safety principle involves the buddy system. We get it: sometimes you really want to get away from it all. Every. Other. Person. But snowmobiling is not intended to be a completely solo sport. From mechanical failures or avalanches, you need to expect the unexpected. Especially because by necessity this sport takes place outdoors in cold temperatures, the risks are just too great not to take this precaution. In addition to taking a buddy along, you may also want to create a “snow plan” ahead of time and share your route with family and friends, in case you and your buddy end up in a tough spot.
Simple as 1-2-3
The 3-second rule can help you avoid the most common cause of snowmobile crashes: Following the sled in front of you too closely. By maintaining at least a 3-second distance between you and the driver in front of you, you’ll allow enough space to react in case that snowmobile abruptly stops, for any reason. Simply choose an object (like a tree or sign) and start counting when the sled ahead of you passes it. If you get there before you’ve made it to the number “3,” you’re following too closely. Slow down, and you’ll be in a safer spot in case something unexpected happens.
Even though snowmobile headlights can reach 200 feet ahead, it can be easy to go fast enough to override your headlights. Doing so keeps you from being able to respond to trail conditions, such as a tree in the way. The faster you’re moving, the less likely you are to be able to respond to a barrier in time. A basic rule of thumb is not to go faster than 40 mph at night. We’ll explain why in Part 2.
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