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If you’re new to snowmobiling, learning to ride might seem a little intimidating.
Like anything new, it will take some getting used to. If you have experience riding other off-road vehicles or motorcycles, getting started may be a little easier for you.
The tips on this page will help you learn how to ride a snowmobile. You’ll be ready for the backcountry in no time!
How difficult is it to ride a snowmobile?
Compared to learning how to ride an ATV or dirt bike, riding a snowmobile for the first time is a little more difficult.
The level of difficulty can depend on the characteristics of the snow you’re riding on. Deep power, groomed trails, and hard packed snow or ice all require slightly different riding techniques.
Once you’ve learned the basics of snowmobile operation techniques, you’ll need to practice riding and getting used to different snow conditions and terrain.
How do you ride a snowmobile safely?
Riding a snowmobile safely comes down to practice and preparation.
First, you should take the time to get familiar with the controls, features, and functionality of your sled.
Before you ride, you should always perform a pre-ride inspection to ensure that the snowmobile is in safe riding condition.
You should also be sure to check weather and snow conditions before you ride. Always be aware of avalanche conditions and avoid dangerous areas.
Next, always wear enough layers and the appropriate safety gear when riding a snowmobile. This includes:
- A DOT-approved helmet.
- Goggles and face protection.
- Waterproof gloves and outerwear.
- Enough layers to keep you warm.
- Insulated, winter riding boots.
Be prepared for the unexpected by carrying a first aid kit, tool kit, shovel, and emergency supplies.
It’s also wise to ride with a friend and to make sure you’ve told someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
Always obey the rules and speed limits of the trail or riding area.
Avoid riding with more people than the snowmobile is designed for.
Finally, no your own limits and only ride where and how you’re comfortable.
Completing a snowmobile safety course is a great way to get started.
Learn How to Ride a Snowmobile
Learning how to ride a snowmobile can be a fun, but challenging process.
Here are some tips to help you get started.
Body Positioning and Balance
The proper riding position on a snowmobile is similar to that of an ATV.
You’ll want to keep your head up and your shoulders in a good posture. Be sure to avoid fixating your vision on trees and other obstacles, and instead look in the path where you intend to go.
Your elbows should be slightly bent with both hands firmly grasping the handlebars.
Keep your feet on the running boards at all times.
In many cases, your snowmobile’s throttle is your friend.
You’ll need to keep the RPMs up to stay in motion and in control.
You’ll use your right hand to operate the thumb or finger throttle.
Work on making gentle adjustments to the throttle to keep full control of the sled.
Steady, smooth throttle adjustments and constant speed will make your ride feel better and help you stay in full control of the sled.
When the track is spinning, the sled is easier to control.
Stopping & Using the Brake
A snowmobile’s brakes don’t work the same as an off-road vehicle with wheels.
The brake is designed to stop or slow the sled’s track. But, depending on the speed you’re riding, you will still have some forward momentum depending on the nature of the surface.
You’ll operate the brake with your left hand.
In deep snow, you’ll stop quicker. On hard-packed or icy snow, your stopping distance will be great.
Be sure to choose a safe riding speed to avoid the need to slam on the brake.
Turning & Cornering
On flat trails, you’ll typically need to slow down before the turn and point your skis where you want to go while leaning slightly into the turn.
On deeper snow, you may need to lean into the turn while countersteering with your skis.
Riding on Hills
To traverse hills you’ll generally need to ride perpendicular to the slope.
This requires you to weight yourself uhill while holding an edge with your track and skis. Keeping your downhill leg kneeling on the seat can help.
Make smooth movement with your handlebars, throttle, and body weight.
When riding straight up a hill, you’ll need to shift your body weight forward and maintain enough momentum. Using a kneeling position can help.
Riding downhill will require you to keep control and avoid going too fast or too slow. Shift your weight towards the rear and pump the brake as needed.
Groomed Trails vs. Backcountry Riding
Your riding techniques, and the skills required to navigate the terrain, will depend on where you’re riding.
Riding on a trail is the easiest way to get started. Your main focus will be getting used to controlling the throttle and keeping your sled in the proper position on the trail.
On a trail, you’ll be seated most of the time, while navigating through the backcountry or deep snow will require a more active riding position.
You’ll need to practice working the throttle to achieve the appropriate speed and get used to using the brake with your left hand.
Keep an eye out for speed limits, other riders, and other regulations.
In the backcountry, riding a snowmobile will be a little more challenging. First, you’ll need to learn how to pick the best path of travel.
Next, you’ll need to practice leaning your weight and working the throttle through turns and over deep snow to stay in control.
Adding hills, trees, and other mountain terrain adds additional challenges.
Riding in Deep Snow
Riding in deep powder is some of the most fun you can have on a snowmobile.
However, it does take some practice.
The most important thing to remember when riding in deep snow is to keep your momentum going. If you stop or slow down too much, you’ll sink into the snow and will need to dig yourself out.
Digging out a Stuck Sled
In the backcountry or when riding in deep snow, getting stuck is part of the game.
You can get your sled unstuck by:
- Packing down the snow around and under the track.
- Rotate the skis downhill.
- Have a helper pull on the skis.
- Apply the throttle while shifting your weight back and forth to gain traction.
Always be prepared, know your machine, and ride within your limits.