Safe Sledding: Riding Positions and Conditions (Randy Toth)
Published on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 in News & Updates, Safety
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For safe snowmobile operation, it is important to know the basic snowmobile riding positions along with when and how to effectively use them. You should also know and recognize the basic snowmobile riding conditions and how best to operate your sled under these conditions.

Sitting – This position is the most common. It is a very comfortable, stable (lower center of gravity) and warm (down behind the windshield) riding position.

Kneeling – This position is most useful for shifting weight while traversing side hills. The uphill foot remains on the running board and the downhill knee moves to the center of the seat. This position also elevates the rider’s head and may provide a better look around and quicker maneuvering in congested areas.

Posting – This is a rough trail mitigation position. By standing up slightly with your knees bent and your feet under your body (semi-standing), you can increase traction and absorb trail bumps more easily. It also provides better visibility. It is used mostly for very rough trails, climbing steep hills and crossing difficult terrain.

Standing – This position is useful to momentarily increase the distance you can see ahead, as when approaching the crest of a hill or at a road crossing. By carefully standing up for a moment, you can increase your reaction time by being able to see farther around you. This position also permits the rider to shift weight as much as possible in any direction as quickly as possible. It also permits a quick transition to the other riding positions. Remember, for inexperienced riders hitting a bump or maneuvering sharply while standing may drastically increases your chance of falling off and getting hurt.

Turns – By leaning slightly forward and into a turn, more weight can be transferred to the inside ski helping to keep it down on the trail surface, giving it more “bite” and increasing your turning ability.

Side Hills – When traveling across the side of a hill, you should lean toward the uphill side of the sled to help keep it from tipping over. Be sure not to let your feet or hands become entangled in part of the sled in case it does tip over. It is much more desirable to fall off of your sled on the uphill side and watch it roll downhill ahead of you and safely away from you rather than fall off on the downhill side and watch your sled roll directly over you.

Up Hills – When climbing up a steep hill, your weight should be centered from side to side and positioned toward the rear of the seat to increase traction. Lean forward to lower the center of gravity and increase your stability. Make sure you have enough speed to reach the top; but be prepared to slow or stop suddenly at the top if an unanticipated obstacle or a sudden change in trail direction is apparent. Do not stop directly at the top if sleds are following you.

Down Hills – When coming down a steep hill, your weight should be centered from side to side and positioned toward the rear of the seat. Try to keep the clutch engaged to prevent sliding and possible loss of control. If you need to slow your decent then it is generally best to “pump” the brakes (alternately applying and releasing the brakes) to achieve the desired speed. Do not stop directly at the bottom if sleds are following you.

Loose Blowing Snow This condition may drastically reduce visibility requiring you to slow down and increase the distance between you and the sled ahead. You should also keep your headlights and taillights free from snow buildup.

Deep Soft Powder This condition may hide obstacles (rocks, tree stumps, streams) and may make simple operations like starting up and steering more difficult. Drive at a slow and steady pace and try not to stop in the deep powder where you may get stuck. Make wider turns using your body weight to help.

Ice – This condition presents special steering problems. The track and skis will have less traction requiring that you stay seated, slow down and make more gradual turns while anticipating longer stopping distances. High-speed ice riding may cause your hyfax to overheat and even melt, damaging your sled. Be sure to get back into deeper snow as soon as possible to keep your hyfax lubricated. Never ride over thin ice on bodies of water.

Marginal Snow – This can cause damage to the environment and to your snowmobile. Massachusetts law requires 4 inches of packed snow to legally ride.

Asphalt – This snowless surface is even harder to steer on than ice. Your sled tends to move in the direction of the track, regardless of where the skis are pointed. Imagine the feeling of embarrassment and panic as you realize that you will not make it across a highway to the trail opening on the far side just as you become aware of a rapidly approaching motor vehicle. This situation requires a quick dismount to drag your sled around to face the desired direction of travel.

Mud and Sand – Although your snowmobile can propel you through mud and sand, you should remember that mud and sand on the nice slippery plastic and metal surfaces of your drive train and suspension would forever change the way they function. Slow and steady should safely get you through small mud and sand patches with minimal damage.

Water – “Snowmobile Watercross” is an event where specially equipped snowmobiles “skip” across open water. It looks much easier than it actually is and it usually takes place in the summer where an expected occasional sinking is easily overcome. Winter snowmobiling is not the time to try your luck at watercross.

Nighttime – Riding at night can be a great experience. Be sure to check the operation of your headlight, taillight, and brake light and keep them free of snow. Drive slower and stay on familiar trails. Be sure to bring a flashlight with good batteries.

Passengers – Riding with a passenger can be fun on smooth trails; but it requires some careful considerations and riding adjustments. You need to decide when and which way to lean and how to communicate with your passenger. Remember to use an approved two up sled with a seatback and grips for your passenger.

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