A Beginner’s Guide to Snowmobiling

snowmobile beginner guide

Congratulations, and welcome to the amazing sport of snowmobiling. It’s never too late to get out on the snow, and there’s enough snow and fun for everyone interested in taking advantage of it. 

I’m Chaz, a snowmobile enthusiast who has been riding for nearly 30 years. Even though I’ve been involved in the sport for decades, I was once a beginner and know how important it is to have good information to guide you along the way. 

I wanted to make a post geared toward beginners to help them get started and share some basic tips that will get you on the snow and pointed in the right direction.  

This guide is for anyone who wants to learn the basics of riding and safety before they get out on the trail and can also help people who have ridden a few times and want to improve their abilities on a sled.

Fire up the engine, and let’s get to it. 

Tip 1: Safety First

snowmobile helmet safety

Before you even sit down on a snowmobile, you need to know the fundamental safety concerns involved with riding. Any motorsport is dangerous, and snowmobiling is no exception. 

Hundreds of people die, and thousands are injured because of snowmobile-related accidents every year – you don’t want to become one of these statistics. High speeds and lack of experience are two significant contributing factors to these numbers. 

Understanding that snowmobiling is dangerous is essential. When you’re new to the sport, you may not have this awareness and ride too fast or take risks that you’re unaware of. This can spell disaster if you get into conditions or speeds outside of your ability levels. 

Always, always wear a helmet when you are on a snowmobile. Most accidents involve being thrown off a moving sled, and you need to protect your head from impact if this happens to you. A helmet can save your life, and you need to wear one at all times. 

Never ride alone in case you get lost or have an accident. Snowmobiling takes place in remote locations far away from help and hospitals – having friends along with you is more than recommended. 

You should also educate yourself about avalanche safety and general backcountry and winter wilderness survival. Having these skills can help you make better decisions and react appropriately in case of an emergency. 

Tip 2: Snowmobile Gear and Equipment

You’ll need to get your hands on some good gear and equipment when you are first beginning snowmobiling. This is (obviously) a cold-weather sport, and having the proper gear will help you stay safe and warm while you ride. 

Snowmobile helmets are an absolute must for every rider. Other equipment does not always need to be snowmobile specific, but helmets do. You can get heated helmets for extra comfort or open face options, which can be a bit cheaper.

Other essential cold-weather equipment you’ll need include a snowmobile jacket, snow pants, or a snowmobile suit for the best of both worlds. These outer layers protect you from wind and moisture, and you need to have a quality option. 

Boots are also important, and you want a good blend of warmth and comfort. Gloves are essential for keeping your hands warm on the handlebars. And if you don’t use a full-face helmet, you’ll need goggles, as well. 

After you get the essential cold-weather gear, there is a lot of other equipment that can come in useful. A good GPS unit will help you navigate the trails and prevent you from getting lost. If you need to load your snowmobile in a truck, you’ll need a ramp for the job. 

There are a lot of other gear and equipment items out there that can come in handy. You can find some of my favorites here.     

Tip 3: Buying a Snowmobile

Buying a snowmobile is exciting. If you love the sport and want to get out in the snow as often as possible, buying a machine is a surefire way to get motivated and have easier access. 

If you have never ridden a snowmobile, I would suggest renting before you buy. This will help you learn basic driving techniques and get some tips and advice from guides or people who have more experience than you. 

If you are ready to shell out some cash and get your own snowmobile, you have plenty of options. Buying a new sled from a major manufacturer is one way to go, and although it’s expensive, you’ll have a quality machine and a warranty. 

Buying a used snowmobile is a better idea for beginners, in my opinion. You won’t have to spend as much money upfront, and there are plenty of used machines in good working condition available – especially in locations where the sport is popular. 

Do your research on which brand and model is ideal for the style of riding you want to do. Some snowmobiles are really fast and powerful, while others are designed for multi-passenger use. You’ll have a ton of options when buying, so don’t rush the purchase.  

Tip 4: How to Ride

ride a snowmobile

Once you have a snowmobile, whether renting or buying your own, it’s time to ride! If it’s your first time, you should go with other experienced riders or a guide. They can teach you the basics and help out if anything goes wrong. 

Safety, again, is the name of the game when you are getting the hang of things. Start slowly and don’t go too fast or turn too hard. It doesn’t take much to be thrown off a sled, and that’s not a good way to start your riding career. 

Riding properly is all about balance and control. You’ll want to sit comfortably on the sled with your hands on the handlebars and your feet planted on the rails. Proper balance and good grip will help you control the sled as you accelerate and turn. 

Throttle control is another important aspect of riding, and it takes some getting used to. Whenever you use a new machine, take a few practice runs to feel out the throttle.

Take a look at a more in-depth guide to learning how to ride here. And when you’re feeling comfortable, there are more advanced techniques to learn, as well.  

Tip 5: Maintenance and Mechanical 

snowmobile maintenance

If you do buy a snowmobile, you’ll want to keep it in good working condition at all times. Staying on top of regular maintenance is key to getting a long life out of your machine, and learning a few basic mechanical tasks can help save you money.

Some basic tasks that I would recommend learning how to do on your own are how to clean a clutch and how to clean the carbs. These two tasks should be part of your seasonal maintenance and will keep your sled performing at its best. 

Knowing how to stud your snowmobile track is another easy DIY task that can come in handy if you need extra traction. There are some excellent tricks to know that can make working on your sled easier, like learning how to remove a clutch without a puller

Another essential part of good maintenance is knowing how to get your snowmobile ready for summer storage. And after it sits during the warmer months, you’ll want to know how to start it back up again

You could always pay a snowmobile mechanic to take care of many of these basics tasks for you. But if you want to learn more about your machine and save some money, I’d highly suggest learning some of these.     

Tip 6: Where to Go Snowmobiling

snowmobile places

If you live anywhere that sees snow in the winter, there is sure to be a place to go snowmobiling somewhere nearby. Some areas are better than others, and you’ll need enough snow to actually ride, but where there is winter, there is the potential to ride. 

North America is the top region in the world for snowmobiling. Many locations in the US and Canada are full of deep snow and long winters to make even the most experienced riders drool. 

I grew up riding in Colorado, so that is one of my favorite places to go snowmobiling. Other fantastic areas in the Rocky Mountain region I would recommend are Utah and Wyoming. Montana also has some amazing locations to explore. 

Canada is home to some truly wonderful trails and backcountry locations to take advantage of. I’ve been to British Columbia a few times and have had some of the best snowmobile trips of my life here. 

The midwestern and eastern parts of the US also have some great places to ride. These locations don’t have as much backcountry terrain, but the tradition of snowmobiling runs thick in states like Michigan and Maine

I prefer backcountry riding over trail riding, but I know others who feel the opposite way. If you are just beginning, try to explore as many different locations as you can. 

Tip 7: Rules and Regulations

snowmobile rules

No matter where you ride, there are some rules and regulations you’ll need to keep in mind. This mainly applies to riding on public lands where there are other riders and members of the public. Private land typically isn’t subject to the same regulations. 

If you own your snowmobile, you’ll have to get it registered and possibly insured. Just like with a regular automobile, you’ll have to get some paperwork and a sticker that needs to be present with you when you are out riding. 

The exact rules you need to follow will depend on where you are riding. Some places require that you have a driver’s license to operate a snowmobile. In other areas, you just need to be of a certain age

If you are riding in a state or national park, you might only be allowed to ride on specific trails or in certain areas. This limits the impact on wildlife in the area or keeps lands free of any motorized use. 

Wherever you ride, check for any local rules and regulations before you head out in the snow. Most of these are straightforward and don’t require you to put in much effort to comply. If you get caught breaking these rules, you can get a ticket or lose the chance to ride. 

Tip 8: Snowmobile History and Facts

snowmobile history

The history of snowmobiling is pretty interesting, and the sport has come a long way since it first began over 100 years ago. I always tell beginners to learn about this history to help them understand their machines and fellow riders.

You don’t need to know the history of the sport to learn how to ride, but educating yourself about the industry and its past can help you respect the sport. Call me a history nerd, but I always want to learn about the past. 

One of my favorite facts from snowmobile history is that the first “snow machines” were nothing more than bicycles that had skis up front and heavily treaded tires in the rear. From there, motor sleds were invented that were pushed across the snow by a propellor. 

There are also many interesting snowmobile facts out there that can provide you with an understanding of the industry if you are curious. Snowmobiling plays a big part in many local economies, and the sport continues to grow and thrive. 

Snowmobiling wouldn’t be what it is today without the innovations and developments from the past. Learning this unique history can help you increase your love of the sport.  

Tip 9: How to Become a Better Snowmobiler

As a beginner snowmobiler, you have a lot ahead of you. Luckily, it’s not as complicated as some other winter sports like skiing or snowboarding. There is technique and skill involved, but you don’t need as much athletic prowess. 

The best way to become a better snowmobiler is to spend as much time as you can out in the snow riding. Practice makes perfect, and each day you spend on the trails will improve your skills and knowledge of how to control the machine and navigate certain conditions. 

I would also suggest going out with people who have more experience than you as often as possible. Not only can they teach you what you know, but by playing follow the leader, you will pick up on new skills instinctively. 

Joining a snowmobile club is another way to connect with other riders in your area and become a better rider yourself. These clubs usually maintain trails and promote the local snowmobiling culture. Making friends who also ride can also help you improve. 

Everyone will have a different learning curve, so don’t get frustrated if you aren’t very good your first few times out. It takes time and effort to improve. Put in the work towards both of those factors, and you’ll be a seasoned rider in no time. 

Final Thoughts

We all start somewhere. And if you have just started snowmobiling, welcome to the club. It’s an amazing sport that can quickly develop into a lifelong passion. It’s never too late to begin, and the sport continues to evolve. 

Following the tips mentioned above can help you improve your skills and have the basics covered as you learn about the sport. Really, you just need snow and snowmobile to get started! 

How long have you been riding? What’s your favorite thing about snowmobiling so far? Let me know in the comments below. 

About Chaz Wyland
I’m a snowmobile fanatic. I live for riding and am out on the trails or backcountry as often as possible during the winter months. I was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains and have snowmobiled in dozens of North American locations. When the snow is falling, you’ll find me on a sled.

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  • Cina

    Hi Chaz,
    Goodmorning can you direct us where to ride a snowmobile today. We drove up from Pittsburgh we thought Tug hill is the best bet . Kind of dissapointed! Any place ? please advise .

    Thank you,

    • Chaz Wyland

      Hey Cina. I might have already missed you but hope you found somewhere great to ride. Not too familiar with the area you’re in directly, but I know there are decent trails around.

  • Chris W.

    We are about to purchase my brother’s skis and trailer. We have lots of PWC experience, but we have never ridden snowmobiles. Trying to learn as much as possible thru reading; hope to get hands on this winter. BTW these skis are vintage, my bro is 83. He has been to Canada, Michigan, Montana and Maine, on countless trails and adventures. Am hoping to follow in his footsteps. (we live in Maryland) It will be challenging! Can’t wait!!

    • Chaz Wyland

      Hi Chris,

      That’s awesome you got your hands on your brother’s old sleds! You are in for a treat, and I’m sure you will love it. And I think you’ll pick up the basics of riding and controlling a snowmobile quickly. It is pretty different from a PWC, but the throttle and steering are at least a little similar. Maybe your brother can give you a quick lesson before you hit the trails? But if not, just start slow and be safe, and you’ll have a great time!

  • Martin

    Hi Chaz, very good information, I hope I can ride one this year, planning to do it in Maine, wish me luck.

    • Chaz Wyland

      Hey Martin!

      Good luck! Haha. You’ll do great. Just be sure to keep safety in mind at all times, and don’t forget to have fun. Any day on the trails is better than being cooped up inside all winter long. Let me know how it goes!