Think about a fresh, sparkling blanket of untouched snow stretching out in front of you and only tracks behind you—it's no secret why avid snowmobilers spend the warmer months waiting impatiently for the winter season. Whether you've got a brand-new, shiny snowmobile sitting in the garage ready for its first run or you've hit the trails numerous times before, it doesn't hurt to brush up on some critical snowmobile safety tips.
Nothing brings winter fun to a halt faster than an incident that causes property damage or, worse, personal injury. The good news is that following these twelve snowmobile safety tips can help reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic incident. Here's what you need to know before heading off on an adventure of snowmobiling in Ontario.
Before you even think about revving up your snowmobile, you must fully understand the laws and regulations about licensing and insurance. Snowmobiles are recreational vehicles, so you are required by law to have the correct licence and insurance coverage to drive them. The rules can seem complicated at first, but they make sense once you understand which ones apply to you. Here are some legal requirements for licensing and snowmobile insurance in Ontario:
Some trails, particularly those privately owned by snowmobile clubs, require a permit. If you're unsure whether you need a permit for the trail you want to use, consult with your local snowmobile club.
You aren't legally obligated to take a snowmobile safety course unless you are aged 12 to 15 and want to obtain your motorized snow-vehicle operator's licence. However, it still makes a lot of sense to invest in the safety of yourself and others with some professional training. This is the most critical snowmobile safety tip we can offer because, much like driving a car, there's simply no substitute for training and expertise when you get yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. Courses are typically not very time-consuming or costly, so they're well worth the investment.
As a bonus, you may be able to reduce the cost of your insurance by taking an approved course and following their snowmobile safety tips—speak with the expert brokers at Morison Insurance to find out more about the discount options offered by your insurance provider.
Each time you go snowmobiling in Ontario, take some time to inspect your vehicle and ensure it's in safe, trail-ready mechanical condition. Check to ensure you've got adequate fuel and oil levels, visually examine the entire machine for anything that doesn't look right and test the battery, lights and brakes. One step worth considering is an annual, professional tune-up to ensure everything is in proper working order.
As we all know, a clear weather forecast in Ontario is only sometimes guaranteed. But even so, it's a solid snowmobile safety tip because it only takes a few minutes and could help you avoid dangerous conditions. Along with the basic forecast, check up on ice conditions and trail conditions for the specific trail you plan to use. If the conditions are icy or a menacing blizzard is on the way, stay inside with a hot beverage and hit the trails another day.
This is one of the snowmobile safety tips people tend to think they've got under control—but in reality, they may be missing some essential items that could help protect their safety while snowmobiling in Ontario. Always carry a cell phone, even if you may not be in the signal range. You should also have a first-aid kit, a repair kit for basic repairs that can get you back to civilization if you break down, and a winter emergency kit with survival aids such as a compass, trail maps, waterproof matches, a flashlight and a knife.
Along with the above items, ensure you have the proper riding gear. That means protective equipment such as a DOT-approved helmet and goggles or a face shield, but it also means making sure your body is fully covered in warm, waterproof clothing, from snow pants, boots and coat to a toque, scarf and gloves. Remember, you'll be in an open, fast-moving vehicle, so it's not just a matter of proper clothing for the current outdoor temperature—you also have to contend with the wind-chill factor, which can cause severe frostbite without the proper protection.
It's important to always carry your driver's licence or motorized snow-vehicle operator's licence, along with your insurance card, if you are leaving your property. You must present your licence and proof of insurance if requested by a police officer or conservation officer.
Most things are more fun with a friend, and snowmobiling is no exception. However, bringing a friend or family member along is also safer than going alone. This is a crucial snowmobile safety tip that is particularly important if you're exploring a new trail. If one of your snowmobiles breaks down or there's an accident, you can help each other get back to safety.
Whether snowmobiling in Ontario with friends or going solo, a good snowmobile safety tip is to tell a friend or family member where you're planning to go and a rough estimate of when you expect to get back. If something happens and you get stuck out on the trails, they'll better know where to look for you. But more importantly, someone will know where you are and what you're doing, so they'll know you need rescuing if you don't come back or contact them to let them know you're alright.
When packing all the stuff you want to bring and inviting friends to come along, make sure to avoid overloading your snowmobile. Check the manufacturer's manual to find out how many passengers it can safely carry and the recommended overall weight limit for people and items being carried. This snowmobile safety tip is a big one to pay attention to because an overloaded vehicle poses a significant hazard. It'll be more prone to tipping over or rolling because of the excessive weight or an unbalanced load. If you have heavy gear or extra people that you must bring, you'll need other snowmobiles and drivers to help shoulder the burden.
Unless you have a lot of experience, always heed this next snowmobile safety tip by always staying on groomed trails—especially when you're on unfamiliar terrain. Everything looks the same when it's under a thick layer of snow, so there's no way of knowing when you're about to hit a big rock or encounter another dangerous hazard. Marked trails aren't entirely free of potential complications, but they have been groomed by someone who knows the area well and is much more likely to be safe.
It's also important to avoid bodies of water like frozen lakes and rivers, even if the ice conditions look thick and sturdy. Your snowmobile is a heavy machine that can break the ice that would hold up just fine under your feet. While it all looks calm and serene above the ice, there can be strong currents underneath that are capable of sweeping you under the unbroken ice if you fall in. If you must cross ice and have the experience to do so safely, wear a personal flotation device just in case you fall into the frozen waters.
Snowmobiles can't safely tow people on skis, sleds, or anything else. It's very unsafe and can easily cause injury to the people on the snowmobile and the people being towed or severe damage to the snowmobile if it tips or rolls. It is possible to safely pull a sled loaded with gear (not people or animals), but you need to have the right equipment and expertise and remain on groomed, even trails, when towing.
This may seem like the most apparent snowmobile safety tip, but it's also easily forgotten once you're out there having fun. When operating a snowmobile, you're driving a heavy motorized vehicle that can go very fast. That means that just like driving a car or truck, there's the potential for severe injury or damage if you aren't entirely vigilant and reactive to what's happening around you.
Like any other type of motorized land-use vehicle, it's illegal to operate a snowmobile while under the influence of alcohol or different kinds of intoxicants. Alcohol and drugs make you less alert to the possibility of danger and drastically reduce your reaction times, so you can't correct course in time to save yourself if you're hurtling toward an obstacle at top speed.
If you're driving, it's essential to ensure that you remain entirely sober, but your passengers should not be intoxicated either. Unlike a passenger in a car or truck, snowmobile passengers can't just sit there passively—they have to hang on at a bare minimum and actively ride even if they aren't steering, which is much more challenging to do while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Snowmobiling in Ontario is among the most fun and exciting winter activities. There's no need to stay locked indoors when you can be tearing through fresh powder with the wind in your face, enjoying the great outdoors and admiring the natural beauty of our province. But like anything else, you need to take the proper precautions and reduce the risk of injury or damage by following some essential snowmobile safety tips.
But there's another critical step you need to take to protect yourself—call the experienced Morison Insurance brokers. They can give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have protection against financial loss in the event of property damage or third-party injury. Our brokers work for you, not for the insurance companies, so we always have your best interests in mind and will work tirelessly to track down the optimal coverage for all your insurance needs. Contact us by calling 1-800-463-8074 or filling out the contact form on this page. We look forward to speaking to you!
This content is written by our Morison Insurance team. All information posted is merely for educational and informational purposes. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Should you decide to act upon any information in this article, you do so at your own risk. While the information on this website has been verified to the best of our abilities, we cannot guarantee that there are no mistakes or errors.