Safely Trailering your Snowmobile (Randy Toth)
This story by SAM’s own Randy Toth was recently featured on the American Snowmobiler website.
Have you ever seen a snowmobile sticking out of the back window of an SUV? It was an experience that I almost had firsthand. How the heck did I manage to get myself into that predicament? Actually it was really easy.
I was attempting to load my snowmobile onto my tilt-trailer many years ago when I suddenly hit a patch of ice. The sled stopped moving forward but the track continued to spin. Before I could release the throttle to back up and try again, my studs suddenly dug in and the sled took off and rocketed up the tilted trailer.
The abrupt upward force of the trailer threw me backwards, causing me to lose grip of the brake but tighten my grip on the handlebars while attempting to stay on the sled. This caused my thumb to push the throttle forward increasing my rate of climb. The front end of my trailer arrived very quickly and gravity began inevitably pulling me, my sled and my trailer down.
I noticed the trailer tongue passing underneath and the rear window of my Ford Bronco rapidly approaching the front of my sled. As I slid my thumb off the throttle and tried desperately to apply the brake in a panic stop, I realized that I was, in fact, facing a theoretical dilemma made real from an old high school physics class.
It goes something like this. Let’s say you launch a projectile (me on my snowmobile) at a specified velocity and gravity immediately begins pulling it down. Recognizing that gravity accelerates things at 32 ft/sec2, how far will the projectile travel in the forward direction before gravity causes it to hit the ground or in this case the Bronco’s rear window?
Practical experience has taught me that this sort of physical phenomena happens rather quickly and I could not possibly calculate the point of impact while remaining airborne. Luckily, I still had my helmet on so I sounded the collision alarm and braced for impact. The sled skies hit the Bronco about one-inch under the rear window, pushing in the sheet metal, barely missing the glass.
I was really lucky, I thought, until I realized that the sled was momentarily being held up by the friction of the ski tips against the rear of the Bronco. This situation was unstable and certainly no match for gravity which was continuing to pull the trailer down to its normal position. Suddenly, everything began to descend, with the skies scraping along the rear of the Bronco and heading for the gap between the front of the trailer and the rear bumper of the Bronco.
It occurred to me that perhaps I should go out and buy a front shield for the snowmobile trailer. Not only would it protect the snowmobile from road slush but it might act like an aircraft carrier arresting cable and prevent me from going off of the trailer in the unlikely event of another freak accident. This seemed to be a good idea and I made a mental note to go purchase one if I survived.
Meanwhile the sled continued to fall and securely wedge itself between the Bronco and trailer body with the skies pointed upward. This event almost escaped detection by my riding buddies since they were looking elsewhere at the time. Unfortunately, I had to ask for their help to pry my sled loose from its entanglement.
That memory is triggered anytime I hear about the misfortune of others, such as the time I stopped at my local dealer who remarked that he had just sold two brand new sleds to some novices who had refused his help in loading up their new sleds onto their trailer. Thereupon, another customer came in and remarked that he had passed two new snowmobiles upside down in the road around the corner from the dealer. He said something about the fact that they apparently weren’t tied down.
Then there was the time two guys drove up to Woodford, Vermont and got out of their truck to unload the sleds. All they found was an empty trailer. Backtracking, they were lucky to find the sleds right side up in a ditch just a short distance from the parking lot around the last corner. Amazingly, they had driven about 25 miles up steep hills and around many sharp corners without losing the sleds. Apparently they also neglected to do the walk around double-check.
Finally, there was the story of “Wild Bill” who drove his sled up onto his aging tilt trailer. There was a loud clang as the trailer came down, hit the tongue and leveled off. This was followed immediately by another loud clang as the trailer platform continued on down snapping the tongue off from under the trailer. Luckily, a kind hearted Vermont dealer left his Sunday football game and opened his shop to fix the trailer so we could get home. He asked for so little money that we all chipped in and gave him a big tip! When was the last time you crawled under your trailer to check the underside conditions?
Okay, so the message here is to be careful loading and unloading your sled, routinely check your trailer thoroughly for wear and tear and always perform a walk around double-check before driving away. Be careful out there!