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Trail Hazards

Recognizing and avoiding trail hazards is one of the major keys to safe snowmobiling. This process begins with awareness. Any time you operate an off-road vehicle, you have to be even more aware of your surroundings and ready to deal with all situations as they happen.

Watch closely for hazards like half-buried rocks or machinery, driveways, ditches, culverts, run-offs, or unmarked dips and depressions. Even good trails sometimes have to cross or go close by hazards like these, and these hazards can be hidden by the snow.

Fences are a particularly bad hazard. Trail are often routed through specific openings in fence lines, so getting off the trail means a good chance of getting tangled up in barbed wire. At high speeds, this can be fatal. Andy any time you are off the trail, you are at a much higher risk of an unpleasant discovery of rocks.

Another serious hazard is guy wires on telephone and power poles. Sometimes trails are inadvertantly routed very close to these hazards. The guy wires are capable of decapitating unwary riders, so be very careful and ride more slowly around any king of power or telephone poles. The guy wires are very difficult to see until you are practically on top of them. Please report any wothout warning markers.

Trail speed should always be kept to a reasonable pace. You never know what is around the next bend. There could be fallen trees, wildlife, a groomer, an oncoming sled on you side of the trail, or any number of other hazardous situations. Slow down, enjoy the outdoors, and you'll have a better time snowmobiling.

If you are on a road that doubles as a trail, expect to find parked vehicles on the sides of the road. Never exceed posted or statutory speed limits. Be extra careful where plowed roads end and turn into trails. Typically there will be only a narrow, rough, and bumpy opening to the trail. Watch for barricades and parked vehicles at the ends of unplowed roads, and report any that are not well marked.

When riding in unfamiliar territory, the problem of the unknown is compounded. There could be a hairpin turn, an ice hill, a difficult bridge entrance, or an un-bridged creek. If you keep your speed down to a reasonable pace, you will have time to react to and avoid trail hazards.

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The best way to deal with a snowmobile emergency is to avoid it entirely. To do this, maintain your sled, plan your ride, dress appropriately, and ride responsibly. But if an unforeseen problem does occur, be ready to deal with it.

Getting Lost

If lost, backtrack if possible. If backtracking is not possible, stay put and wait to be found. You did tell someone responsible where you were going, didn't you? In case of heavy weather or major mechanical malfunction, build a fire, erect shelter, remain with the sleds, and stay as warm and dry as possible until help arrives.

Medical Problems

Medical problems can present the most pressing emergencies. Frostbite, hypothermia, and snow blindness are some of the most common problems.


is the crystallization of fluids and soft tissues of the skin. The skin becomes flushed, then progresses to a white or grayish-yellow tone. Mental confusion sets in and judgment is impaired. In advanced cases, shock is present and death becomes a real possibility. Minor frostbite is treated by slowly warming the afflicted area. Severe frostbite requires a physician's care. Avoid frostbite by dressing properly and limiting exposure in very cold weather.


happens when the body loses heat faster than it can generate it. This can happen even in relatively warm weather. Symptoms start with uncontrolled shivering, loss of motor skills, sleepiness, and slurred speech. Treat victims by warming them. The best way to prevent hypothermia is to stay dry and avoid consumption of alcohol.

Snow blindness

results from light overload. Symptoms are severe headache, dizziness, sensitivity to light, and seeing stars. Treat victims by getting them into a totally dark area if possible, or at least an indoors, low light situation. Avoid snow blindness by using high quality sunglasses that absorb at least 90% of the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun.

Frostbite, hypothermia, and snow blindness and how to treat them are covered in more detail in the NYS Snowmobile Safe Riders adult education course.

Snowmobilers can be even better prepared to deal with a medical emergency if they have had Red Cross training in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Contact the local Red Cross chapter for more information.

Above all else, in any emergency, clear thinking is absolutely necessary. Stay calm. Stay together. Plan a course of action. Conserve resources and use them wisely. If you can get to help, get it as quickly as possible.

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