Before you hit the trails, get the gear.
By Trent Jonas
The snow is flying, and this season, you’ve resolved to hop on a snowmobile and hit the local trails. There are a few things you need to consider before you get on a sled and go, though, especially if you plan to ride on public lands or waterways. Here are a few things you need to do, as well as some basic gear you need to get started snowmobiling.
Several states, including Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, require you to take an approved snowmobile safety course before you’re allowed to ride on public lands, waterways or trails. In most cases, you can take the course and earn the required certificate online, however some states require younger riders (12 to 15 years-old, typically) to take an in-person skills course, as well. Check with the licensing authority in your state, such as the department of natural resources or motor vehicles, to learn what is required of you before you hit the trails. If a safety course is required, an online provider like Snowmobile-ed.com can get you the certification you need.
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Like most other winter sports, the rule to follow when dressing for a snowmobile outing is: Layers! Non-cotton layers! Cotton absorbs moisture, whether from perspiration or precipitation, which can lead to hypothermia when it cools. You want a material that will wick the moisture away from your skin, like fleece, silk, polyester, wool or a synthetic blend.
Start with silk, polyester or synthetic base layer. You’ll want a base layer on your torso, legs and feet. For example, Klim’s Aggressor Series is a collection of base layer clothing that’s tailored specifically for snowmobile enthusiasts. Klim also has a women’s base layer collection. A pair of silk or synthetic sock liners works as a good base layer for your feet.
Choose a heavier mid-layer that’s made from a warm, soft material, like fleece or merino wool. A hood is always a good idea for extra head warmth. At the same time, a zippered mid-layer will permit you to vent some heat and cool off if you start to get warm on the trail or during a post-sled happy hour. A solid example of a mid-layer piece is the North Face Essential Fleece Full-Zip Hoodie. On colder days or for riding in the open, across a lake or a field, you should also consider a pair of soft or fleece pants, like L.L. Bean’s Fleece Base Layer Pants for extra warmth in your legs.
For your head and neck, you’ll want something like a balaclava, that will cover at least your head and neck. Smartwool’s version is lightweight, straightforward, and made of merino wool. Of course, there are many other technical options out there—pick the one that’s most comfortable for you. Be sure to add a pair of wool socks to keep yourself warm from head to toe.
For snowmobiling, it’s crucial to have an outer layer that is both windproof and waterproof. Visibility is another consideration: You want other vehicles to be able to see you, and if you get stranded, a brightly-colored piece of outerwear will make you easier to locate. The Klim Storm Jacket, for example, is designed for the trail and comes in a variety of high-visibility colors. A pair of bibs from Castle, who makes them for both men and women, will keep wind and snow off your legs and midriff while offering yet another layer of core protection.
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When you’re out in the elements, it’s really important to protect your extremities not only from wind and cold but also from things like branches and kicked up rocks. That’s why the right gloves, boots, and helmet are crucial pieces of gear for snowmobilers. You’ll want gloves that are thick, as well as wind and waterproof, but not so thick that they immobilize your fingers. Look for something like the Aurora snowmobile gloves from Fly Racing. The gauntlet style will prevent snow from getting inside your outer layer and the reinforced fingers and knuckles add an extra layer of protection for your hands.
You should already have a couple layers of socks on your feet, but they will do you no good unless you have a pair of snowmobile-appropriate boots on over them. The Baffin Wolf boot offers the right combination of warmth and rigidity to keep your feet protected for as long as you’re out on your sled.
Finally, you need a helmet. Period. Many states require them by law and just plain safety dictates them in all other circumstances. Look for something that offers a combination of warmth and full face protection from wind and obstacles, like the 509 Delta R3 Ignite Helmet. Take your time and be sure to choose a helmet that fits well and that you can wear all day long if you have to.
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Before shopping for a sled, get some practice using a friend or family member’s or find a local snowmobile rental. Try a few different models so you can figure out what features are important to you in a real-world situation.
Once you do buy a snowmobile, be sure to check your state and local licensing requirements. In some states, you may not be required to register your snowmobile, but you may have to get a permit to use certain public lands or trails. And if you take your sled to another state that does require registration, you may be required to buy a non-resident permit for the time you’re visiting and riding. So, it’s always a good idea to check the laws and rules anytime you’re riding in a new place for the first time.