How Much Snow Do You Need to Snowmobile?

Six inches of snow would be the very minimum amount I would recommend riding on. Anything less than that, and you can run into problems with obstacles and overheating. There is no universal answer to this question but the more snow, the better.

I’m Chaz, and I love snowmobiles and everything about the sport. I’ve been riding for nearly 30 years and have seen every condition you could imagine. From feet of fresh powder to small dustings, I have ridden through it all. 

Here, I’ll share some of my experience with snow conditions, from how much of it you need to snowmobile to what the ideals conditions for riding are. 

Start your snow dance, and let’s get to it. 

The Bare Minimum

There is no exact amount of snow required to snowmobile. In theory, you can even ride a snowmobile without any snow at all. Some people even race on grass or dirt. 

However, I stick to the snow and recommend having at least 6 inches of snow on the ground before you start riding in the winter. A 6-inch base is better than equal amounts of powder because the hardpack will hold your sled up more effectively. 

If you love winter sports, the excitement is hard to contain when the first flakes of the season begin to fall. But even if you get 6 inches during the first storm, it might melt away quickly or not provide quite enough to keep your snowmobile safely on top of the obstacles on the ground. 

That’s why I’ll say here that 6 inches of packed snow is the bare minimum you need to snowmobile. 

Why Snowpack Matters

Having enough snow on the ground is essential when you ride a snowmobile for a few reasons. Obviously, it’s a necessary aspect of the sport. It’s not called ‘mobiling,’ is it?

Snow covers the ground and creates a relatively smooth and flat surface for you to ride on. Think about how the trails look when there is no snow. Tree stumps, rocks, branches, and all sorts of other obstacles exist. 

You need enough snow on the ground to cover these obstacles, so you don’t run into them or wreck your machine. Even with 6 inches of snow, you will experience more obstacles than when there is a few feet or more of a base. 

Snow also helps to keep your sled from overheating. Some of you might have fan-cooled engines, and this doesn’t apply. The vast majority of snowmobiles currently on the trails rely on snow and ice to effectively cool the engine. 

If you ride when there isn’t a lot of snow on the ground, that might be because it is warmer outside. This combination of conditions can lead to overheating, holding you up on the trail, and even causing permanent damage to an engine. 

Powder vs. Packed Snow

Spend enough time on a snowmobile, and you’ll experience all types of snow conditions. Everyone has their individual preferences as to what’s best, but most snowmobiler’s I know either love powder or love packed snow. 

Powder Pros and Cons

I fall into the powder lover’s camp. Fresh snow, and lots of it, is my favorite type of condition to ride in. I’m talking at least of a foot of powder. Some of the best days I’ve ever had on a sled have been in three feet or more of fresh snow. 

I think powder riding is just more fun. You can catch airs, bounce around, and get untracked lines all day long. More snow does mean an increased risk of avalanches, so you should learn how to identify sketchy trails and always be safe.

Packed Snow Pros and Cons 

Packed snow can be great to ride on as well, and many riders prefer this. You can go quite a bit faster in packed conditions because your sled tracks will have a better bite, and there is less drag because your skis and nose are sliding on, rather than plowing through, snow. 

Packed conditions are better for racing and lead to easier handling, as long as you aren’t going too fast. The downside of packed snow is that it’s not as cushioning if you want to catch air and can cause damage to your sled or your body if you crash. 

It comes down to personal preference, really. I’ve had amazing days in all sorts of conditions. Powder is my favorite, but a good day on packed or iced-out trails is better than being stuck inside! 

FAQs

Here are some quick answers to a few questions about the amount of snow you need to snowmobile. 

How cold is too cold to snowmobile?

There really isn’t a ‘too cold’ to snowmobile. As long as you are prepared for severe conditions, you can ride in temperatures well below zero. You might have issues starting up your sled when temperatures are really cold – think -20F or below. 

Can you drive a snowmobile without snow?

Technically, yes. A snowmobile will operate on grass or dirt in the same way that it would on snow. The track will spin and propel the machine forward. But most sleds are designed for this and will quickly overheat when not driven in the snow. 

How do you drive a snowmobile in deep snow?

Powder riding can take some getting used to if you’ve never tried this before. You might need to sit back on the machine and stand up to counterbalance. Generally, it’s a little more of a floaty experience than on hardpack. Check out the video below for some powder-turning tips. 

The Final Measurements

You don’t need deep snow to snowmobile. You do need enough of a base to cover any obstacles that exist on the ground. Generally, 6 inches of hardpack is enough to give you this coverage. 

This is not a steadfast rule, and you might be able to ride on less or require much more, depending on where you are riding. If you think there might not be enough snow, always ride carefully at slower speeds until you are sure. 

What do you think is the minimum amount of snow you need to ride? Let us 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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