With over 20,000 groomed snowmobile trails, a favorite pastime for thousands of Minnesotans is snowmobiling. Keep in mind, however, that a snowmobile is only as safe as its driver. Before you jump on your sled and hit the trails, give yourself a little refresher in snowmobile safety.
Minnesota is a “Zero Alcohol” state. Never use alcohol or drugs before or while riding a snowmobile. Safety perception is altered after only one drink. Since over 70% of all fatal snowmobile accidents involve alcohol*, staying sober can help you, and others, stay alive to enjoy another ride.
Before heading out be sure to check the brakes, headlights and taillights, emergency switch, and idle on your snowmobile. Make sure it has enough fuel and battery power, and check the machine over thoroughly before you begin your ride. Pack an emergency kit, and bring the cell phone and GPS if you have one.
Never ride alone. Riding with a friend is not only fun, but if things go wrong, it's good snowmobile safety to have another machine and driver around to help. Being injured and alone is a dangerous situation. Make sure your friends are also driving sober.
Take extra care with children on board; go slow and take short trips. Keep children safe by always having another adult ride with you (2 adults, 2 snowmobiles, 1-2 children). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 16 not operate snowmobiles and that children under age 6 never ride on snowmobiles. When children do ride, make sure they are aware of snowmobile safety rules, even for a quick trip around the property.
Check the weather and trail reports before you go. Avoid riding on ice-covered lakes and rivers. Underwater currents and blankets of snow can both create and conceal thin ice. Stay on designated snowmobile trails and don't venture off. Not only is this potentially dangerous from debris hidden by snow, but it is trespassing and landowner complaints may close the trail.
Always wear a helmet and facemask. Dress in layers under a full-body snowmobile suit; wear proper gloves, mittens and boots. Consider that when you are riding at 40mph, you are creating 40mph winds upon yourself, which makes the air feel much colder on any exposed skin.
Take a Snowmobile Safety Course. Especially if you only ride a handful of times a year, it's worth the $10 to take the independent study course from the Minnesota DNR. You can get a training CD by visiting their certification page. You'll need it to get certified, and since you'll have the CD at home, you can review it before you ride for the first time each season.