Nova Scotia has a system of beautiful trails on crown land specially designated for snowmobiling, and this winter season many people may be organizing snowmobiling outings with family and friends. Whether you are new to this beloved pastime, or a seasoned expedition leader, there are things you can do to help make sure the experience is both exhilarating and safe. 

When planning your snowmobiling expedition, here are some tips to keep in mind: 

1. Understand the Risks 

Most adventures in the great outdoors come with some degree of risk. It is important to understand these risks and make informed decisions. 

Every year, an average of 73 Canadians are killed in snowmobile accidents. While most accidents involve only one snowmobile, approximately 20% of fatal events involve multiple vehicles. In these cases, it may often be that one or more of the drivers has been negligent in some way. 

The most common cause of death is collision with a stationary object – for example, a tree or a post. Statistics Canada reported that 49% of fatalities between 2013-2019 were connected to the consumption of drugs and/or alcohol. In 34% of the fatalities, excessive speeding was reported; in 35%, there were reports of nighttime or evening riding. 

You may not be able control all the conditions of your snowmobiling expedition, such as the actions of other riders, but you can make plans and take precautions to help prepare for a safe adventure. 

2. Know the Laws 

In Nova Scotia, you can take your snowmobile out on closed courses, private land (with permission), as well as on designated trails.  

You may legally drive a snowmobile if you are over 16 years old and have a valid driver’s license, so long as you are not responsible for supervising an underage snowmobiler. Children, riders without driver’s licenses, as well as adults responsible for supervising underage riders (whether or not they have a license) may be required to take a safety training course, or pass a safety training test. There are some exceptions: read the provincial rules and regulations for details.  

With some exceptions, all snowmobiles must clearly display a registration plate, and have liability insurance.  

3. Prepare Your Safety Equipment 

With average snowmobile speeds on trails hovering around 50 km per hour, and possible speeds of nearly 200 km per hour, the risk of traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, and more, can be high. It is highly recommended that you wear a helmet that has been approved for recreational vehicle use. It should fit snugly under your chin and provide protection from the wind and sun. 

It is also recommended that you wear a face shield or goggles to protect your eyes from flying objects such as pebbles, ice, or even branches along the trail. Many snowmobile helmets come with built-in face protection. Consider that the white snow may reflect the sun’s glare; you might want your goggles or glasses to be tinted. A word of caution – it may be prudent to avoid overly tinted lenses, as these can make it difficult to see in overcast or evening conditions. 

Make sure you have warm clothing, including thick socks and mittens to protect your extremities. Layers can be a good idea, as you may find yourself warming up along heart-pumping turns. Waterproof boots and an extra pair of socks can help make sure your feet stay dry. 

4. Check Your Snowmobile Condition 

Whether you’re renting, have just purchased your machine, or are bringing it out of storage for the season, it’s important to conduct a thorough inspection of your snowmobile before you ride. Turn the handlebars each way, checking that the steering mechanism moves smoothly. Check on the motor drive belt, the emergency switch, taillights and headlights, as well as your battery. Test your brakes and spark plugs, and make sure you have enough fuel. If you have any doubts or concerns in your checks, contact a professional mechanic. 

5. Pack An Emergency Kit 

In the unfortunate event of an emergency such as an accident, having an emergency kit on hand can make a world of difference. In addition to your regular safety equipment such as a helmet and warm layers, here are some things you might want to pack: 

  • A GPS or SPOT messenger unit (to help you should you become lost, or help emergency personnel locate you) 
  • Emergency flares to share your location 
  • Extra fuel  
  • A portable shovel, to help you dig out of deep snow 
  • Ice picks tied to cords, for travel near/over frozen water 
  • A first aid kit 
  • Snowmobile maintenance tools such as screwdrivers, wrenches, and other basics for emergency repair 
  • Food and water rations 

 6. Make a Clear Travel Plan 

With thousands of kilometers of trails, both on crown land and private property, available to snowmobilers in Nova Scotia, there is plenty of choice as to where to direct your expedition. Make a clear plan as to where you’ll be going, and for how long. Check the maps (the Snowmobile Association of Nova Scotia has a great interactive resource), buy any permits you may need, and make overnight arrangements if your trip covers more than one day.  

Depending on trail conditions, how fast you want to go, and the experience levels of all the snowmobilers in your party, you could travel anywhere from 160 to 250 km in one day – or more. This may affect how much food and water you’ll need to bring, and how you may want to plan rest stops along the way. 

You may also want to let someone who isn’t going with you know of your travel plans. Leave them with a map of the trails you’re planning to take, and details of how long you plan your expedition to be. Make sure to check in with them at the end of your expedition, or when you safely arrive at your overnight accommodations. This way, should anything happen to you, there is a person on the outside who may be able to alert emergency personnel as to your approximate location. 

7. Check the Trail and Weather Conditions 

Powder makes for great snowmobiling, while icy conditions might not be ideal. Different snowmobilers have different preferences, but generally it may be more dangerous to ride in extremely cold weather. It is recommended to avoid riding over frozen bodies of water, but if you must, make sure the ice is sufficiently stable. Check the weather and the conditions of your planned trails before embarking. If you have any doubts as to the safety of your expedition before you go, it may be best to reschedule or plan an alternate route.  

8. Ride Safely  

The same rules apply to snowmobiling as to driving any vehicle: do not ride while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, do not speed, and make sure you stay on designated trails. Do not pull anyone behind your snowmobile. Don’t overload your machine with excess weight – check the manufacturer’s guide if in doubt as to its limits.  

The RCMP recommends you never travel alone, and always have a charged cell phone available in the event of an emergency. 

If you must cross over ice, such as frozen ponds, lakes, or rivers, triple check the ice conditions before doing so, and never ride in single file. If you are tired, stop and take a break until you can be alert behind the handlebars.  

If You’ve Been Injured, Contact Our Snowmobile Accident Lawyers Today 

Accidents can happen on even the most safely planned expeditions. If you or someone you love have been injured in a snowmobile accident , you may be entitled to compensation. While no amount of money can make up for the pain and suffering of an injury, you may be able to get some help to cover medical bills and necessary treatment, as well as support for lost income. Contact us today to book a free initial consultation and see how our snowmobile accident lawyers might be able to help in your specific case.