There’s always a debate in Minnesota about the best winter sport and activity – skiing, hockey, ice fishing? But if you’ve ever gone snowmobiling, that’s the thing at the top of your winter must-do list every year!
And who could blame you? Hitting the trails and exploring the outdoors while it’s covered in snow is our kind of fun, too.
If you’re planning a snowmobile trip soon, especially if your plan is taking you across or near ice-covered bodies of water, brush up on your ice safety knowledge with these tips from Canvasworks.
First Things First: Prep Your Snowmobile & Get Your Gear Ready
Die hard snowmobilers know, you have to take the time to make sure your snowmobile is in good condition before taking it out on the trails or over ice. And it’s more than just checking your battery and topping off fluids.
Take a look at our Preseason Snowmobile Checklist for a complete guide on how to get you and your snowmobile ready for the season. If you know you’ll be heading over ice this year, take some extra precautions by packing gear in sealable plastic bags, getting more waterproof gear, and even wearing a buoyant snowmobile suit just in case.
In addition to preparing your snowmobile, make sure your trailer is set to haul your snowmobile. Install your SnoCaps Trailer Enclosure if you haven’t already, and use our Snowmobile Trailer Guide to help you ensure your trailer is ready to take you and your snowmobile everywhere you want to go.
Plan Your Snowmobile Trip
Along with having a perfectly functioning snowmobile, other critical aspects of your snowmobiling adventure should be having a plan on where you’re going and knowing your route, taking people with you, and letting other people know where you’ll be.
While snowmobiling is usually a safe sport, it can be dangerous if you don’t know where you’re going or push yourself too hard. Know good snowmobile safety measures and always have a plan.
Ice & Snowmobiles: How to Ride It Right
Ice can always be a dangerous place to ride, especially if there is moving water underneath, like a river or lake. You can’t guarantee that the thickness and condition of ice all the way across a body of water is consistent or safe.
Often the safest course is to not ride across a river or lake unless you are absolutely certain of a safe route. Even then use caution when crossing the ice and follow our tips below.
If you do venture out onto a frozen lake or river, know these general ice safety guidelines, as well as these tips specifically for snowmobiling.
Know the Ice Thickness & Condition
Never ride on ice that is less than five inches thick. Anything less than that, and you and your snowmobile will plunge into very cold water. Test ice thickness before riding onto any frozen water surface.
Along with thickness, check the condition of the ice. The only ice that is safe for traveling on is new ice, which is clear and hard.
Avoid ice that is slushy, has thawed and refrozen, is by moving water, or is rotten, which means it has undergone temperature changes and has a layered look.
Control Your Snowmobile on the Ice
If the ice is thick and safe enough for a snowmobile, still take some precautions when riding. Remember you have less traction on ice, so starting, stopping, and turning are all harder to control.
Slow down when on ice and avoid heavy braking. Instead let up on the throttle and coast to a stop to avoid spinning out.
To lower your center of gravity, which helps you control your machine, stay seated the whole time you're on the ice.
Also be hyper aware of where everyone in your party is while riding over the ice. Collisions are common because it’s harder to stop and people don’t always see where their fellow riders are. Remember that when riding on frozen lakes, riders could be coming from any direction, so pay close attention.
What to Do If You Fall Through
Stay calm. If you do happen to fall through thin ice, don’t panic. Whether you are wearing a buoyant snowmobile suit or not, air will be trapped in your suit and helmet that may help keep you floating for a few minutes at least.
Use that to your advantage and extend your arms forward toward an unbroken ice surface. Kick your feet and try to propel yourself onto the ice, kind of like a seal.
Even if the ice breaks, keep kicking in the direction of the shore line, and use any sharp device, like keys, a knife, or an ice pick, to jab into the ice and help pull you onto the surface.
Once you’re on the ice, roll or crawl away from the hole. Don’t stand up until you’re on firmer ice or on the shore again. Then start drying and warming up as soon as possible to keep from getting hypothermia. Get back to your vehicle, change into dry clothes, wrap up in blankets, and warm up.
For even more ways to protect yourself against hypothermia when out on iced over lakes or even boating on cold water, read our guide on cold weather boating safety.
How to Help a Friend Who Falls Through the Ice
If you see someone else fall through the ice, move your snowmobile away from the hole. While it might seem counterintuitive or like you’re leaving someone behind, you’re not. Protect yourself and get your heavy machine to safer ground so you don’t fall in, too.
Then go back toward the hole with a rope. Get close enough that you can throw the rope to your friend while remaining on safe ice or the shore, and pull them in. Then help them get to shelter and warm them up immediately.
Go to the Best Snowmobile Destinations with a SnoCaps Trailer Enclosure From Canvasworks
Stay safe snowmobiling this year and make your winter adventures amazing by trying a new trail! Get a SnoCaps Trailer Enclosure and take your sled anywhere. Custom manufactured to fit any trailer, our team at Canvasworks ensures you can haul your sled safely wherever the snow takes you.
Check out our SnoCaps gallery for ideas and order yours by contacting us today!