Snowmobile accidents are unfortunately common. In the US, there are over 14,000 injuries and 200 deaths per year linked with this incredible outdoor sport, which is a lot considering only around 133,000 snowmobiles get sold annually, and there are roughly 1.3 million registered snowmobile drivers.
Are there ways to avoid these accidents? When are snowmobiling accidents most likely? I will teach you all about what makes the chances of accidents skyrocket.
The majority of snowmobile accidents, especially fatalities, happen between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m. at night. Low visibility is the most significant contributor to accidents, but the chance that drivers will get behind the wheel while intoxicated also goes up once the sun sets.
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When Are Snowmobiling Accidents Most Likely To Happen
Most snowmobile accidents happen at night when visibility is low. Visibility impacts reaction times significantly.
However, there are plenty of other times when you are more likely to get in a sled accident.
Below are the 7 times when snowmobiling accidents are most likely to happen.
1 – After Dark and Overnight
Regardless of your snowmobile’s color or headlights’ brightness, you are still more likely to be in an accident at night.
Other contributing factors, like bad weather or fog, can further complicate vision after dark.
Additionally, cars are less likely to look to the side of the road or react quickly to unexpected obstacles at night. Drivers are more likely to be overtired.
According to the NSC– National Safety Council, “Night driving is dangerous because, even with high-beam headlights on, visibility is limited to about 500 feet (250 feet for normal headlights) creating less time to react to something in the road, especially when driving at higher speeds.”
2 – While Intoxicated
Intoxicated drivers are always more likely to be in a snowmobile accident. Even a single drink can put many people’s BAC (blood alcohol concentration) above the limit.
Even if you have lots of practice driving while intoxicated (and I hope you don’t), the alcohol still limits your reaction times, leading to a higher chance of accidents and more deadly outcomes.
Alcohol makes a great relaxant because it slows your brain’s processing time. You end up with some hefty hospital and repair bills.
Plus, when you drink and ride or hang out with sledders who imbibe, it can land you a ticket or even jail time.
3 – Near Roads and Traffic
Other vehicles increase the chances of a crash or other accidents. Trails that run parallel to and cross over regular roadways are more likely to have accidents involving snowmobilers simply due to traffic.
Meanwhile, paths primarily out of the way and stay off main roads tend to see fewer problems.
4 – Riding Off-Trail
Although an experienced, cautious rider typically won’t have too much trouble, riding off-trail can increase your chances of getting in an accident.
You can run into barriers under the snow or obstacles away from maintained areas, even on familiar territory.
It would be best to always ride with friends when exploring away from designated trails.
Getting to the top of a mountain is exhilarating but can also cause an avalanche. No one wants to end up buried in the snow away from anywhere most people are likely to visit.
While it’s possible to survive off-trail catastrophes, it’s still wiser to be aware and take steps to prevent accidents.
Recognizing Avalanche Areas
Knowing where avalanches are more likely to happen can help keep you out of danger while riding off trail.
The most obvious warning signs are snowy and icy overhangs and steep slopes over 30 degrees.
Take the following steps to stay safer when you’re away from trails.
- Avoid highmarking or riding over the highest point of a steep slope.
- Riding with others should be more than a loose agreement. Ensure that your party goes single file, and everyone carries appropriate rescue gear in case of accidents.
- Always try to stay near dense timber.
- Never park at the bottom of a steep slope.
- Plan an escape route in advance.
- Keep an eye on one another and know when to take turns crossing perilous areas.
5 – In Unfamiliar Territory
It’s easy to get in trouble when you don’t know the area where you’re riding. Your experience level won’t stop you from running into thin ice, sudden dropoffs, and other tricky areas.
If you don’t know where to go, getting lost, trapped, or into an accident is more likely.
Avoiding problems you don’t know exist is nearly impossible, so try to see new places with experienced locals.
Stick to riding on maintained trails, or at least in places where you can do a trial run to check things over thoroughly before opening up the throttle.
6 – In Extreme Weather
It may seem like simple common sense, but don’t go out sledding in extreme weather. No one should have to tell you that a blizzard is the wrong time to hit the trail, but people still try it.
Rain, sleet, and hail are worse. It’s worth missing that next ride if the chances of you getting snowed in or pelted with freezing rain are high.
When planning a trip up a mountain, remember to check the forecast and wind speed for the day.
As you ascend, a light breeze can become a more dangerous wind, making the apparent air temperature much colder.
Likewise, clouds that wouldn’t be an issue below can obscure your trail if they descend low enough to touch the mountains.
7 – On Deep But Loose Snow
Hardpacked snow and ice can be rough on your skis and carbides, but it’s better than getting stuck in deep, loose snow.
Whether your snowmobile is modern and can reverse, or you have a classic model that needs to be manually backed out, deep snow can mean deep trouble, especially for solo riders or those in unfamiliar territory.
The skis and track of a snowmobile can tackle a foot or two of snow, but when the drifts get too deep, and the powder is fresh, you can quickly sink in.
Worse still, deep snow can obscure enormous obstacles like fallen trees and other surprising features.
Crashing is bad enough when you don’t need to dig your way out. Always check the weather and ensure that you don’t plan a ride if there are likely deep drifts on your path.
If you do get caught out in deepening snow, do your best to pick a route where things are more densely packed, or there’s some overhead coverage.
Helpful Tips To Know About When Snowmobiling Accidents Are Most Likely To Happen
Like most road accidents, snowmobiling accidents come from hidden dangers and insufficient time to react.
When you choose to ride in full daylight and familiar areas with trails, you are less likely to have an accident for purely practical reasons.
Here are a few more helpful tips to know about when snowmobiling accidents are most likely to happen.
- Another common reason people get in accidents on snowmobiles is when taking prescription medicine. Many common prescription drugs can interfere with your powers of observation, sense of direction, reaction times, and more. If your medicine says ‘Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery,’ it means forklifts, industrial tools, snowmobiles, and other vehicles.
- The timeframe 8 PM to 3 AM is a rough estimate of when it is darkest. As the evening wears on, more people are likely to be tired on the roads, increasing the chance of accidents. Whatever your local bar closing time is, the hour after that is when you are most likely to have a road-based sled accident. By 4 AM, most people, even night owls, are likely to be in bed.
- Improperly maintained snowmobiles are also more likely to have an accident because the chances they will break or at least break down are higher. Remember to do a pre-ride inspection every time you go out to sled and promptly repair or replace any damaged parts.
The most dangerous time to go snowmobiling is at night. After 8 PM, visibility is lower, and people miss more in the dark.
Low visibility impacts driver’s and sledders’ reaction times. This is compounded by frequent proximity to roads, trails that cross over the public streets, unfamiliar areas, riding off the trail, and bad weather.
The safest and best time to ride will always be in good weather, during the day, in a group of well-rested, sober riders.