Snowmobile Safety 101

snomobiler rides on flat snow with sunset background

Winter is the best time of the year for those who don’t mind the cold temps and extra layers. For many, that means it’s time to pull out the snowmobiles (or “sleds,” in rider lingo) and head out on the trails.

                Related: 12 Ways to Stay Active This Winter

While it’s tempting to just hop on your sled and go, there are a couple of things you need to know before you do. New and experienced riders can both benefit from this quick safety check-up.

Safe Riding Tips for Snowmobile Operators 

  1. Take a snowmobile safety course. While taking a snowmobile safety course is not required, it’s recommended to help you get more familiar with your sled. The go-to online snowmobile safety resource is the Safe Riders! Snowmobile Safety Awareness Program. This snowmobile safety education course walks you through essential safe snowmobiling practices.
  2. Know your way around a snowmobile. Familiarize yourself with the parts of your sled and know how to tell if something isn’t functioning properly. It’s important to keep up with routine maintenance, too. Need a guide? Follow this pre-ride checklist from the Safe Riders! website.
  3. Keep emergency supplies handy. It’s always good to be prepared, especially if you’re riding in the backcountry. While you hope you don’t need them, your emergency kit should have things like:
    • A first aid kit
    • A flashlight
    • Extra fuel
    • Extra blanket(s)
    • Flares
    • Scissors or a knife
    • A compass
    • Tools


  4. Know the lingo. In this case, that’s hand signals. There are four you need to know that will help you signal to fellow riders and drivers alike. They are:
    • Left turn: Left arm straight out
    • Right turn: Left arm out, forearm raised at a 90 degree angle
    • Slowing down: Left arm angled toward the ground
    • Stop: Left arm straight up in the air

    See photos of hand signals in action at


  5. Wear the proper gear. It goes without saying that when you’re snowmobiling, it’s cold outside. Wear layers and cold weather gear rated for low temps and long exposure. Some sleds have heated handlebars, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll want thick gloves with a few hand warmers in there. Always wear a helmet for safety and visibility. The top-of-the-line helmets have heated visors to keep your field of view clear. (Experienced riders say they’re worth the splurge.)
  6. Watch out for hazards. When everything’s covered in fluffy white stuff, it can be hard to know what’s underneath (log, marsh… wall). If you’re unsure of an area, steer clear of it. And exercise caution when crossing roads or riding on the side of roads.
  7. Never drink and ride. Seriously, it just doesn’t mix. Alcohol affects your vision, balance, coordination, reaction time and judgement – all of which need to be at their peak when you’re navigating terrain on your sled.
  8. Know where you’re riding. Whether it’s on a marked trail, field or in the backcountry, it’s important to know your surroundings. Be sure to check out local snowmobile trails, especially if you’re just starting out – they’re marked and maintained by organizations in your community. If you’re not sure of an area, or what’s under it, don’t ride on it.
  9. Insure your sled. Things happen. (Remember that wall mentioned above?) What’s important is that you and your sled are covered.

Ready to rip? Just make sure you verify or review your snowmobile coverage first. Depending on where you’re riding, your sled can be covered under your auto or home insurance. Laws and available coverage vary by state, so it helps to check in with a local insurance professional like an Erie Insurance agent who knows how things work where you live.

Get information on insurance for off-road vehicles or find a local ERIE agent in your area to request a free quote.


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