Mountain Snowmobiling and Snow Biking Safety
Even for experienced riders, mountainous terrain operation can present conditions and situations that could result in serious injury or death. Please review all information about riding in mountainous terrain.
Warning: An avalanche can occur at any time, in any conditions and on any slope. The avalanche information provided here should be considered basic information and is not intended to replace your participation in an avalanche safety training course. After reviewing the following avalanche information, be sure to participate in an avalanche safety training course before riding in mountainous terrain. The training course will provide more information, as well as the opportunity to practice riding and using proper search and recovery techniques.
For more information, education, training courses and links to international resources visit Avalanche.org.
Get the Safety Gear
In addition to carrying a spare belt, spark plugs and tools on each snowmobile, each person in your riding group should wear the recommended snowmobile riding apparel and carry (on their person) the following survival items when riding in mountainous terrain:
- A digital avalanche beacon with new "fresh" alkaline batteries
- An avalanche probe
- A compact shovel and hand saw
- A backpack, preferably an avalanche air bag backpack
- Emergency provisions, including a small first aid kit, extra pair of gloves, extra dry socks, tow rope, map, compass/GPS, lighter or waterproof matches, signal mirror and whistle, bottled water, high-calorie snack food, and compact emergency blanket
Get to Know Your Safety Gear
Following the safety gear and apparel recommendations will increase your chances of survival if you encounter an avalanche or become stranded in the backcountry, but even experienced and properly equipped snowmobilers, hikers and skiers perish in avalanches or succumb to hypothermia. Using a beacon or probe for the first time during an avalanche recovery operation or not knowing how to deploy your avalanche airbag backpack during a slide should be considered UNACCEPTABLE to you and all members of your riding group. It's critical that you and all members of your riding group know how to use the safety gear.
While you may know how to use your gear, you may have to rely on your riding group to find you in an avalanche. Make sure they know how to use their gear.
- Dress in layers. Multiple layers of clothing provide the best barrier to cold and wind. Layers can be removed, but they cannot be added so be sure start out with enough layers. Avoid cotton materials, which will freeze if they get wet.
- Wear highly visible gear.
- Try on all gear and equipment to make sure they fit and do not interfere with your riding capabilities. Place all survival aids in your backpack and wear the backpack at all times. Non-essential items can be stored on the snowmobile in an accessory bag.
- Read and follow the manufacturer's user and maintenance instructions for all gear. If you have questions about how your gear works, contact the manufacturer for more information.
- Practice using your beacons, shovels and probes with your riding group in real-world conditions wearing all your gear. Have someone hide an active "transmitting" beacon by throwing it (not walking it) into a snowbank and time your group's search for it.
- Test deploying your gear. If you own an avalanche air bag backpack, check with the manufacturer's test deployment guidelines and bottle weight replacement specifications. Most air bag backpack manufacturers recommend testing the pack once a year so you know it works and feel comfortable with the bag and deployment time.
- Make sure your probe and shovel are in good condition and that you know how to assemble them.
Get the Picture
Slopes steeper than 30 degrees are more prone to avalanches, but any slope should be considered avalanche terrain, even small slopes with trees. Low-angle slopes are also avalanche terrain if they have steeper slopes above them.
Note: The 30-degree slope graphic is for illustration purposes only. The risk of an avalanche is always present in mountainous terrain, regardless of slope angle. Always look for the following warning signs of unstable snow. If you see or hear any of these signs, riding on or below any slope is dangerous and should be avoided:
- Recent avalanches
- A "whumpfing" sound under a snowpack
- Cracks across the top of a snowpack
- A recent heavy snowfall
- Blowing snow
- Rapid warming
Get Out of Harm's Way
- Before riding, always tell a responsible person (i.e. at the lodge or gas station) where your group is going.
- Never ride alone. Always ride in a small, manageable group. Riding in a large group makes it more difficult to track riders or find missing members.
- Go one at a time. Only one snowmobile at a time should cross, ascend or highmark a slope. Other riders should watch from a safe location until the previous rider exits the slope.
- Never park at the base of a slope or at the bottom of a gully or valley. When parking to take a break or watch other riders, park at the sides of the slope with the front of your snowmobile pointed away from the slope.
Get to Know Your Mountain Snowmobile or Snow Bike
The following information pertains to a deep snow/mountain snowmobile or snow bike. This type of snowmobile or snow bike is longer and narrower and has a higher center of gravity when compared to a typical trail snowmobile or snow bike. These features make riding the backcountry a safer and more enjoyable experience.
The mountain snowmobile or snow bike is slower, has a larger turning radius and will overturn more easily than a trail snowmobile or snow bike. The skis are designed to float and provide more lift than trail skis. The track features paddles that pack and shovel snow rather than dig in and grip the snowpack.
Because Polaris mountain snowmobiles and Timbersled mountain snow bikes feature tall track paddles, the rear suspension rails and sliders will sit above the snowpack on a groomed trail. Always deploy the scratchers and limit high speed operation when trail riding. Do not rely on the engine temperature gauge to determine when to deploy rail scratchers. The rail sliders and track can overheat well before the engine temperature indicates the need for more cooling.
Always practice riding your mountain snowmobile in a safe, open, flat area before attempting your first ride in mountainous terrain. This is especially important for low-elevation riders who are not accustomed to riding a snowmobile designed for deep snow.
Do not ride in mountainous terrain until you are comfortable riding and controlling your snowmobile in deep snow.
- Practice turning, leaning and braking both on and off the trail. When you're comfortable with these maneuvers, practice more advanced maneuvers in deep, flat snow.
- Learn techniques from more experienced riders.
- Practice placing your feet in different locations on the floorboards to learn where your balance point is while performing turns and other maneuvers.
- Practice traversing through deep snow, which is when you will often need to steer by leaning your body weight in the desired direction while turning the skis slightly in the opposite direction.
- Practice using proper throttle control to maintain vehicle momentum and adequate track speed in deep snow. Everyone gets stuck at some point in time. If you know your snowmobile is becoming stuck, try to turn downhill as much as you can before the snowmobile comes to a stop.
Get the Forecast
Make a riding plan based on the current avalanche and weather forecast. It is important to remember that overnight weather conditions may have created unsafe riding terrain that was considered safe the day before. Visit Avalanche.org. Follow the page links to locate current avalanche reports and conditions for your area of operation.
Get Avalanche Safety Training
Polaris recommends you and all members of your riding group participate in an avalanche safety course. Visit Avalanche.org/avalanche-education for education and training resources.
Avalanches are a matter of timing. A steep slope can be safe one day but unsafe the next day due to changing weather and wind conditions.
- Always review the user instructions provided with your safety equipment and follow the recommendations for maintenance, testing and use. Always test your safety equipment to ensure it works properly before riding in mountainous terrain.
- Always store your survival gear in your backpack and wear the backpack. Do not store your survival gear on the snowmobile.
- Always research current avalanche conditions in your area of operation before riding. Check with local law enforcement, resort or lodging personnel, gas station attendants or other riders to learn about current conditions and any advisories in the area.
- Read and understand the avalanche danger scale. Pay attention to any danger level warnings issued for your area of operation.
- Always remain alert while riding in mountainous terrain. Be aware of snowpack conditions above you as you ride. Avalanches can occur at any time regardless of current condition reports.
North American Public Avalanche Danger Scale
Avalanche danger is determined by the likelihood, size and distribution of avalanches.
Note: The provided information is a general guideline. Safety information can be found in your Owner's Manual. Polaris owners can access Owner’s Manuals by logging in to their RideReady account. Visit the RideReady website to learn more.