Now that winter is here in full force, many Canadians are looking forward to hitting the snowmobile trails and gliding over kilometre after kilometre of fresh snow. Depending on where you live, snowmobiling may be more than a recreational activity. In some rural locations, snowmobiles also serve as a valuable mode of transportation.
Whether you snowmobile for fun, or to get from one point to another, there are essential safety considerations to keep in mind before heading out.
1. Check the forecast
Keep an eye on the local weather forecast before heading out on your snowmobile. If a blizzard, freezing rain storm or other extreme weather condition is on the horizon, it’s best to stay inside and avoid an outdoor trip altogether.
2. Review local laws
Take the time each winter season to review your provincial and regional laws regarding snowmobiling. It’s important to note any legal requirements and to ensure that you meet all requirements before hitting the trails.
In Ontario, you must be 16 years of age or older and have either a valid Ontario driver’s licence or a valid motorized snow-vehicle operator’s licence to drive a snowmobile along trails or public roads where snowmobiles are allowed. You must carry your driver’s licence or snow-vehicle operator’s licence with you and be able to present it to a police or conservation officer when asked.1 For a full list of snowmobile-related laws in Ontario refer to the Highway Traffic Act, the Motorized Snow Vehicles Act and the Off-road Vehicles Act of Ontario.
3. Inspect your snowmobile
Before heading out for a ride, you should take time to thoroughly inspect your snowmobile. Make sure that everything is in working order and that you have enough gas to reach your destination. Ensure that your mobile phone is charged and that your emergency kit is fully stocked.
4. Wear a helmet
Not only is wearing a helmet important for safety reasons, but snowmobile drivers and passengers in Ontario are required to wear a helmet when operating or riding a snowmobile off their own property.1 It is highly recommended that all snowmobile riders and passengers wear a helmet when on their own property as well.
All helmets must meet the standards approved for motorcycle helmets and be fastened properly under the chin at all times. The same rules apply to passengers being towed in a sled or toboggan by a snowmobile.
5. Dress for the weather
To protect yourself against exposure to cold weather, make sure to gear up in weather-appropriate layers before leaving home. Choose materials that are well-insulated with wind-proof and water-proof garments overtop. Opt for moisture-wicking materials underneath, as absorbent materials such as cotton can make you colder once they become wet. Outfit yourself with cold-temperature rated boots and gloves and ensure they are free of any holes. In addition to your helmet, you should also equip yourself with appropriate eye protection, such as a visor or goggles.
6. Plan your route
Before heading out, plan your snowmobiling route and note any dangerous or prohibited areas to avoid. Many paved public roads are off-limits for snowmobiles, as the speed and volume of passenger vehicles and trucks pose a serious safety risk.
Frozen water poses another significant safety risk, as snowmobilers could lose traction, or fall through the ice and into the strong currents flowing beneath. Aim to avoid crossing frozen water whenever possible. If your route absolutely requires you to ride your snowmobile over a frozen lake or river, make sure that you have reviewed all of the Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations’ “Ice Smart Safety Tips.”
Try to stick to official snowmobiling routes wherever you can. Designated snowmobiling trails are typically well-groomed and should be clear of hazardous obstacles.
7. Tell someone where you’re going
You should never leave home without telling someone where you are riding and when you should be expected back. This way, if you aren’t back by the time you had originally planned for, they will know where and when to start looking. If you have a mobile phone capable of location sharing, it would be a good idea to allow a close friend or family member access to your location details throughout your trip.
8. Follow the rules of the road
Just like any vehicle, it’s important to know and obey all of the rules of the road when operating your snowmobile. Speed limits for snowmobiling will vary depending on where you are, so be sure to research what the speed limits are in the areas you will be riding ahead of time. Make sure that you are familiar with each of the seven necessary snowmobile hand signals and know when to use them: Left turn, stop, right turn, slowing, oncoming sled(s), sled(s) following, and last sled in line.2
9. Never operate a snowmobile while impaired
Driving a snowmobile while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is never permitted and can result in the same impaired driving offences as the driver of a car or truck on a highway. If convicted, you could lose your privilege to operate all types of vehicles.
10. Keep your proof of insurance with you
If you are planning on purchasing and operating your own snowmobile, note that snowmobiles must be registered and insured to be driven off your own property. Your insurance card must be carried with you every time you drive your snowmobile off your property and be available to present to police or conservation officers when asked.
Make sure to speak with your insurance broker about the liability insurance required for your snowmobile before hitting the trails this winter. You may want to increase your limits to ensure that you’ll have enough coverage in the unfortunate event of an accident.
If you have questions about the types of snowmobile coverage available, or if you already have snowmobile insurance and want to ensure that your current limits are right for you, contact an OTIP insurance broker at 1-866-561-5559.
1. Ontario Ministry of Transportation – Off-road Vehicles and Snowmobiles
2. Ontario Ministry of Transportation – Snowmobile signals and signs