The Beginner’s Guide to Snowmobile Racing

Snowmobile is an exciting and action-packed thrill ride. It’s a popular activity with hardcore sledders and can showcase high-level skills and high-end machines. If you have never seen a snowmobile race before, I highly recommend it. 

I’ve been an avid snowmobiler for most of my life. I spend a lot of my time in the winter on my sled, exploring trails and enjoying the snow. I’ve also participated in a few races over the years, so I have a good idea of what’s involved with these events. 

I’ll provide you with a beginner’s guide to snowmobile racing in this post. If you are just learning about snowmobiling, there is a lot to explore, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. So I wanted to break down the racing aspect of it here to help you out. 

Let’s dive in and start the race. 

What is Snowmobile Racing?

Snowmobile racing is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll break it down for this article. 

In a basic sense, snowmobile racing involves riders competing against one another on an established racecourse. 

This racecourse can be an oval shape where the riders complete a certain number of laps, or it could be a distance race that covers a pre-established route that riders must follow. 

Nearly every snowmobile race is won by the fastest rider. 

There are different types and categories of races, and we’ll look at that in the following sections. But snowmobile racing is similar to car racing or other motorsports where riders face off in a head-to-head setting.  

6 Different Types of Snowmobile Racing

There are several different types of snowmobile racing that you’ll see. They can vary by the type of racecourse or the power and age of the machines racing against one another. Below are the most common types of snowmobile racing. 

Oval Racing – This is the classic snowmobile race that is very similar to other motorsports races. Riders compete against one another on an oval-shaped track on ice or snow. There is a predetermined number of laps, and the first one to finish wins the race. 

Drag Racing – This is another common type of racing that is speed-related and pits riders in a head-to-head matchup. At the starting gun, the riders take off at top speed, and the one to reach the finish line in the fastest time is the winner. 

Snowcross – If you have watched dirt bikers race motocross, this is very similar to Snowcross. Several riders compete against one another on a course with various turns, terrain, and features, with the winner being the one with the fastest time. 

Cross Country – Cross country snowmobile racing is more distance-related and takes place over longer courses than other races. These races can go on for hours and cover many miles, and the winner is the one who completes the course in the fastest time. 

Watercross – Watercross, also known as water skipping, is a snowmobile race that occurs on water. This race can either be a distance race to see who can go the furthest or an oval course to see who completes the course in the fastest time.

Vintage Racing – Vintage races use older machines with riders competing in any of the styles mentioned above. This is a great way to see classic machines in action to see what they can do.  

Snowmobile Racing Rules

Each snowmobile race will have its own particular set of rules. It would be too much to cover all of those details for each major race, so I’ll just touch on some of the most common rules you’ll likely see in the different types of races.

Safety Rules – Nearly every race out there will have rules specifically concerning safety. These rules will require riders to wear helmets, body armor, and other protective gear. The snowmobiles might also need to have specific equipment requirements to be safer. 

Machine Rules – Every race can also have rules about the type of snowmobiles that can be used in the race. These rules can limit engine size, aftermarket parts, or the year of the machine for vintage races. 

Race Specific Rules – The rules of each type of race will be different. For example, a drag race will have different rules than a cross country race to determine who is the winner. And a snowcross race will have slightly different rules than an oval race. 

Governing Body Rules – There are various snowmobile groups and race organizations that establish rules and parameters for the riders who participate in the events they sanction. Each of these can be slightly different from one another. 

Pit Rules – A pit refers to a group of people who help maintain the snowmobile during the race. This is similar to auto racing, and there are specific rules to what tools, equipment, and behavior are allowed in the pit for races that have them. 

If you want to go into more detail about rule specifics (and they can get really specific!), check out the links and resources below. 

Essential Snowmobile Racing Gear and Apparel

If you want to start snowmobile racing, you will want to get much of the same gear and apparel that you need for regular snowmobiling. There isn’t a massive difference in what gear is required, but you might want to get race-specific items if you are really into it. 

Here is a quick breakdown of some essential racing gear and apparel. 

Helmet – Every rider needs a good helmet, and racers need a lightweight option with excellent visibility. Full face and open face options will both work for racing, and you just want to make sure you have good visibility at all times, alongside adequate impact protection. 

Jacket/Suit – A jacket or full racing suit is another essential piece of equipment. If you are trail riding, you can get away with wearing any kind of cold-weather gear, but you’ll want a genuine snowmobile racing jacket or suit if you are going to compete. 

Boots – Snowmobile boots are another essential item. You want to keep your feet warm while you ride and a good pair of boots is a must. Snowmobile boots will also help you maintain a better grip on your sled, which can help you turn and maneuver during a race. 

Gloves – You also want a good set of gloves so your hands stay warm, and you can keep a solid grip on the handlebars and throttle. Racing gloves don’t always need to be as warm, especially for shorter races like drag races. 

Body Armour – If you are doing snowmobile races where you catch air, you will want the added protection of body armor. This can include shoulder and chest pads as well as shin guards. It will help prevent injuries if you happen to take a nasty spill. 

How to Find Snowmobile Racing Near Me

If you live in an area where snowmobiling is popular, there’s a good chance there will be a race near you. You can check in with your local snowmobiling club or look at their websites for a list of what races might be coming up. 

Snowgoer is a popular snowmobile-related blog and website that lists many races. Search through the forum pages for various races and see if there might be a race coming up in your area. 

If you don’t live in an area where snowmobiling is popular or possible, there probably isn’t going to be a race near you. You might need to travel away to get to a place with more snow and more races.

Popular Snowmobile Races

There are many snowmobile races every year, and these range from major to minor events. It’s impossible to name every single race, but I’ll list some of the most popular ones here so that you can check them out. 

  • International 500The I-500 is one of the most popular snowmobile races in the world. It’s one of the largest single-day races and takes place every year in Sault St. Marie, Michigan.
  • Iron DogThis is one of the longest races in the world, and it covers 2,600 miles through the wild backcountry of Alaska. It’s an endurance event that takes riders many days to complete and is a test of will for riders and their machines.
  • World Championship Derby ComplexThis one has a nickname of the “Indianapolis 500 of Snowmobile Racing. This is the same racecourse where some of the best oval and snowcross races occur and is located in Eagle River, Wisconsin.   

How Long are Snowmobile Races?

All of the different snowmobile races will have different lengths, and how long they are varies from event to event. 

Oval races will typically be a number of miles long. The popular I-500 race mentioned above is 500 miles long, and riders must complete 500 one-mile laps. Cross country and enduro races can stretch into the thousands of miles, with the Iron Dog in Alaska being 2,600 miles. 

Drag races are a lot shorter, and these are measured in feet instead of miles. A standard snowmobile drag race is usually 660 or 1000 feet, which mimics the quarter-mile auto drag race style that it is based after. 

Snowcross races will be a number of laps that typically make the race a few miles long. These aren’t as long as oval or enduro races but are longer than drag races by a considerable amount.  

How Fast do Race Snowmobiles Go?

Race snowmobiles can go pretty fast, and the top speed they reach depends on the type of race and the engine’s power. 

The fastest race sleds are drag sleds, which can reach top speeds of 200 miles per hour or more. Drag racing doesn’t involve turning and takes place over a short distance, making these high speeds possible. 

An oval race will typically see speeds ranging from about 60-100 mph, depending on the circuit class and how many racers there are. Sometimes you might see speeds higher than this. 

A snowcross race will be a little slower and will probably top out around 80 miles per hour because of more turns and obstacles.

Famous Snowmobile Hall of Famers

Only hardcore sledders will recognize the names of the riders who make it into the hall of fame. But even though they aren’t necessarily famous worldwide, these Hall of Famers are some of the best racers in the world. 

Some famous snowmobile Hall of Famers include:

  • Todd Wolf
  • Jeff and Greg Goodwin
  • Dick Bahr
  • Jim Kedinger
  • John Faeo
  • Craig Marchbank
  • Dale Loritz

If you want to learn more about who is in the Snowmobile Hall of Fame, check out the official site here. If you are ever in St. Germain, Wisconsin, you can also visit the hall of fame in person! 

What is Vintage Snowmobile Racing

Vintage snowmobile racing involves using older machines that are classified as vintage. This is generally recognized as a snowmobile that is 25 years old or older. Each vintage race will have its own rules and parameters dictating what type of sleds can race. 

Vintage races can be varying styles, but most of them are oval races. I’ve also seen vintage cross country races. But you won’t see old machines hitting huge jumps, and there aren’t really vintage snowcross races.

Watching or researching vintage races is a great way to learn about old machines and how far snowmobiling has come. Whether you are a gearhead or just a novice, you can always learn something new.   

What is Cross Country Snowmobile Racing

Cross country snowmobile racing involves going longer distances rather than going in circles or laps like an oval race or snowcross race. 

This type of racing is also known as enduro racing and will have an established starting and ending point. 

The winner of a cross country race is the rider who finishes the course in the fastest time. Cross country races often take several days (or more) to complete, and they aren’t as spectator friendly as other races. 

How Much Money do Snowmobile Racers Make?

While snowmobile racing is popular in some circles, even the best racers don’t make that much money. 

It’s hard to pin down an exact number, but the average yearly pay for a racer is only around $36,000. 

The top earners in the sport can earn closer to $50,000, but that’s still not quite enough money to call it a full-time profession for most people. Many racers have day jobs or do other things in the summer months to make more money (source). 

Like any other athlete, snowmobile racers make money by race earnings and sponsorships. There just isn’t always a ton of money to be made with either of these. If you want to snowmobile race to get rich, you will have a tough time with it.  

Is Snowmobile Racing a Sport?

I definitely think that snowmobile racing is a sport. It takes a lot of skill and practice to get good at, and the top racers earn money, so that should classify racing as a sport. But I don’t think there is any official designation that says snowmobile is or is not a sport. 

This question gets asked a lot but is always up for debate. Every snowmobiler will tell you that it is indeed a sport, but people who have never been on a sled might argue that it’s not a sport with a similar argument that car racing isn’t a sport.  

Is Snowmobile Racing in Olympics?

Snowmobile racing is not in the Olympics. It’s never been recognized as an Olympic sport, and I doubt it ever will be because there are no motorsports in the games at all. That doesn’t take away from the credibility and amazing nature of racing, in my opinion. 

There are other significant events where snowmobile racing is recognized, including the Winter X Games. And the famous snowmobile races mentioned in this article are all credible as well.

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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