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How to Ride a Snowmobile: Beginner’s Guide & Tips

Riding a snowmobile is a thrilling winter adventure that combines speed, skill, and beautiful snowy landscapes. However, venturing into the sport for the first time can be daunting. That said, let this beginner’s guide take you through the essentials of how to ride a snowmobile.

Riding a snowmobile entails preparation, correct mounting, proper posture, and consistent practice. It also involves learning how to handle getting stuck and strict observance of safety rules and trail regulations.

Mastering the art of snowmobiling is often viewed as a challenging endeavor. But with considerable practice, this seemingly difficult task becomes manageable.

Most beginners become accustomed to riding a snowmobile after their 5th or 6th attempt. With today’s guide, however, I aim to get you up to speed on snowmobiling much earlier.

Person With Black Helmet Riding Black Snowmobile

Get to Know Your Snowmobile

Before learning to ride a snowmobile, you must know its various parts and controls. This step is essential for first-timers who have yet to experience driving a snow machine (or any off-roading vehicle, for that matter).

Luckily, enthusiasts transitioning from ATV riding to snowmobiling will find this phase easy — as only the track system would significantly differ from those of a quad.

Instead of a tire-and-wheel assembly, snowmobiles have skis and a track system. This setup may require some getting used to since snowmobile skis have a different structure and grip compared to knobbies. Sticking to OEM parts should a repair or replacement arise is highly advisable — as it would be folly to risk safety over saving a few hundred bucks.

Controls mirror those of an ATV for the most part. The kill switch and throttle are on the right handlebar. Meanwhile, the parking brake, brake lever, headlight switch, and starter control are on the left.

Most snowmobiles have a grip warmer control, handy in extremely cold riding conditions. They must also have a tether switch that automatically shuts off the engine during a tip-over.

Whether or not your snowmobile has all these controls will depend on its make and model. Sportier crossovers and racing-oriented versions customarily have more controls and features compared to trail models.

Mountain and touring trims often have adjustable suspension setting controls due to their longer, wider tracks and more robust suspension systems.

Tailor the Rig to Your Preferences

Understanding the intricacies of your snowmobile’s controls sets the stage for achieving peak performance. But it isn’t as effective without matching ergonomics — a facet that boosts rider confidence and is especially crucial for novices.

Achieving optimal handling involves fine-tuning components based on your position on the rig. Consulting your owner’s manual for precise adjustments is ideal — you can start by setting the handlebars at a height that minimizes arm strain.

Adjust the ski and track suspension to match your weight and preferred riding style. Additionally, the headlight tilt should align with the load distribution on your snowmobile.

You can optimize handling by familiarizing yourself with the snowmobile’s throttle sensitivity and brake responsiveness for precise control. You may also experiment with minor adjustments and seek guidance from more experienced riders to refine your machine’s performance and comfort levels further.

I advise beginners to opt for momentum-type track systems and pro-steer snowmobile skis.

Prepare for the Ride

Once you’re adequately familiar with your sled, the following precedent to learning how to drive a snowmobile is to equip yourself for your winter escapade.

This calls for two essential facets — clothing and tool kits. The former entails cladding yourself for cold-weather riding conditions that could fluctuate during the ride. Meanwhile, the latter requires preparing for any unforeseen emergencies on the trails.

My recent post on Best Snowmobile Gear: Winter Trail Riding Essentials extensively covers everything you need before traversing your snowmobile trail of choice. It also briefly touches on specific training and certifications you must secure before embarking on any snowmobiling adventure.

Straddle the Machine

Accidents often occur when a rider starts the snowmobile but isn’t prepared to take control immediately. That said, beginners must practice basic riding techniques before riding recreationally.

The best way to begin your journey into mastering these skills is by classifying the techniques and heeding the steps and tips below (provided a thorough pre-ride inspection has already been completed):


  1. Point the snowmobile in a safe direction.
  2. Set the parking brake to ensure stability.
  3. Check and ensure the throttle isn’t frozen.
  4. Mount the snowmobile comfortably and securely. Make sure to prioritize positioning your body for control.
    • You may observe the ‘step-through method’ when mounting your snow machine. An alternative to this is called ‘side mounting,’ where an off-road vehicle is approached from the side, and one leg is lifted over its saddle. This method has been extensively explained in my previous articles and applies to mounting various types of vehicles, including snowmobiles.
  5. Rev the engine, then gradually move the choke to the OFF position after the engine warms up.
  6. If equipped with a reverse gear, ensure your snowmobile is in a forward gear before starting.


  1. Position the key and engine stop switch to ON, following the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  2. If the engine is cold, use the choke according to the recommended procedure.
  3. Warm up the engine before riding to ensure optimal performance.
    • The optimal engine temperature for a snowmobile in snowy conditions or deep snow typically ranges from 160°F to 200°F. However, it’s essential to consult your snowmobile’s specific manual, as recommended operating temperatures vary among different makes and models. Factors like snow conditions, ambient temperature, and the snowmobile’s load can influence engine temperature.
  4. Take precautions to ensure the snowmobile is safely positioned and responsive before starting. This step includes confirming that your snowmobile tracks aren’t frozen or stuck.
  5. Be attentive to any warning lights or indicators on the snowmobile’s dashboard during start-up.


1. Trail Riding

  • Slow down before turning to maintain control.
  • Lean into the inside of the turn for stability and enhanced maneuverability.
  • Avoid sliding the sled through the corner or accelerating aggressively.

2. Backcountry Riding

  • Understand how to use the brake for control.
  • Slow down before turning to navigate effectively.
  • Shift weight for balance during turns.

3. Mountain Riding

  • Stand on the snowmobile for control.
  • Learn to put the sled “on edge” for advanced maneuvering.
  • Master three-dimensional terrain navigation for mountain riding.

4. General Cornering Tips

  • Reduce speed when approaching corners.
  • Lightly squeeze the brake to assess snow slipperiness.
  • Maintain the right side of the trail while avoiding cutting to the inside.

How to Lean

Relative to #1, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to lean effectively:

  • Identify the direction you intend to turn or navigate.
  • Stand on the running boards or footwells of the snowmobile, distributing your weight evenly between both feet.
  • Lean your upper body in the direction you want to turn, shifting your hips and shoulders toward the inside of the turn. Make sure to keep your knees slightly bent to maintain flexibility.
  • Use your legs to absorb bumps and maintain stability, distributing your weight onto the inside foot for sharper turns.
  • Keep your core engaged for balance and avoid excessive leaning, as failure to do so could lead to loss of control.
  • Practice the first five steps with gentle turns and gradually progress to sharper maneuvers. Do this in an open and safe area to build confidence.
  • Adjust your leaning technique based on the terrain, such as hills or uneven surfaces. Be prepared to shift weight quickly to respond to changing conditions.
  • Practice coordinating leaning and steering for precise control and smooth turns.

Negotiating Hills and Inclines

  1. Exercise caution when approaching summits, especially when potential hazards are beyond your sight.
  2. Avoid riding off cornices (snowy overhangs), and be mindful of the risk of avalanches when traversing such terrain.
  3. Reduce speed on frozen waterways to optimize visibility and avoid potential hazards. Refrain from testing how fast your snowmobile is on such surfaces.
  4. Cross roadways at a 90° angle to expedite the crossing, ensuring safety and minimizing risks associated with road intersections.
  5. Be vigilant for trees, stumps, and branches near the trails. Maintain control and ride at reasonable speeds to prevent collisions with obstacles.
  6. Consider adopting a kneeling position for better control of the snowmobile during ascents.
  7. Opt for loosely packed snow when navigating hills and inclines. This choice enhances safety and stability during climbs and applies to beginners and more experienced riders.

Descending Downward Slopes

  1. Remember that descending hills require controlled braking instead of locking the brake. That said, pump the brake to slow your snowmobile gradually.
  2. Utilize the motor’s compression brake and be cautious of overheating.
  3. While going downhill, sit towards the back of the seat, use low gears, and gradually brake to prevent an out-of-control slide.
  4. For deeper slopes, maintain momentum and be prepared to turn downhill to avoid getting stuck.
  5. Avoid reckless maneuvers when descending.


  1. Set the parking brake and turn off the sled.
  2. Ensure a stable platform on uneven terrain by stomping and packing the snow below the track.
  3. Never roll the sled from below any snowmobile part when stuck on its side on a hill.
  4. Gradually stop and pull over to the right. Avoid any areas, like curves or hills, where the sled could roll.
  5. Exit your snowmobile safely, ensuring your surroundings are clear.

The above information summarizes the core skills a beginner should be adept at before engaging in snowmobiling more seriously. These initial techniques should be enough for neophytes to get started on their first snow rig.

However, they don’t universally apply to all types of winter trail riding. Mountain and backcountry riding, for instance, entails more advanced riding skills as their terrain conditions are more challenging.

Correct Riding Posture

Person Driving Black Snowmobile

When operating a snowmobile, having the correct posture is equally important as being skilled in maneuvering the machine. These two facets cannot work as effectively without one another. Proper riding posture makes your learning phase more consistent and helps ensure your success in the sport as a beginner.

There are four fundamental riding positions necessitated in snowmobiling, as follows:


The seated position is the default riding posture for most snowmobiling situations. While seated, the rider places their feet on the footwells, maintaining control through the handlebars. This position provides stability and comfort during standard trail riding.


The kneeling position is adopted when climbing uphill. The rider enhances control and stability by shifting body weight forward and assuming a kneeling stance, preventing the snowmobile from getting stuck on slopes. This position is crucial for navigating varying terrains effectively.


In situations warranting increased visibility or maneuverability, such as deep powder or backcountry riding, the standing position (a.k.a. hovering) is employed. Both feet are on the footwells, allowing riders to shift weight easily for balance. This position enhances control and agility in more challenging snow conditions.


This position (also called crouching) is a hybrid of sitting and standing for tackling bumpy terrains. By partially sitting and partially standing, the rider can absorb shocks and navigate uneven surfaces more comfortably. This position is beneficial for enhancing shock absorption and maintaining stability and control over the snowmobile.

Keeping your feet securely in the footwells is essential for any of these positions. Doing so provides stability and control over the snowmobile, especially during varied terrains. It also makes for seamless body position shifting, eventually translating to more effective braking techniques and turning maneuvers.

Learn How to Get Unstuck

Three scenarios could get a rider and their snowmobile stuck in the snow regardless of skill level. One is if you inadvertently do so due to a bad judgment call. Another is if your snowmobile dies on you for some reason. But the worst situation to find yourself in is if you get caught in an avalanche.

These situations may vary in likelihood. Nonetheless, all of them are possible. With this in mind, knowing how to navigate these scenarios in advance is essential.

Normal Stuck Situations

  • Keep calm, stop the engine, and avoid revving your snowmobile to prevent it from digging deeper.
  • Evaluate the snow and terrain conditions to determine the best strategy for unsticking your snow rig.
  • Use a tow rope or strap to pull the snowmobile out with the assistance of another vehicle.
  • To create traction, place materials like branches, pine boughs, or a traction aid under the track to enhance grip and facilitate movement.
  • Tramp down the snow to your front, rock your rig side to side, and drive forward.
  • Clear snow around the entire snowmobile — especially the front-end suspension parts, tracks, and skis — for reduced resistance and better maneuverability. Then, proceed forward slowly.
  • If facing uphill, turn your snowmobile skis to the side and pull the front end downhill before driving forward.
  • For newer mountain snowmobiles, pack snow on the downhill side and roll it over.
  • When moving again, employ a slight side-to-side rocking motion to enhance traction.
  • Inspect the area around the track and underneath the snowmobile for any obstructions hindering movement.
  • If efforts to free the snowmobile are unsuccessful, seek help from fellow riders or enthusiasts to assist in the recovery process.

With a Disabled Snowmobile

  • Assess the surrounding terrain for potential obstacles and choose the best path for recovery.
  • Inspect the area around the disabled snowmobile for obstructive elements.
  • A safety flag and reflectors should be attached to your snowmobile for visibility before riding.
  • Remove the drive belt and check track and brake functionality.
  • Choose an appropriate towing method:
    • Tow with a rope by attaching it to ski spindles or the front bumper.
    • Use a tow strap following the manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Utilize a rigid tow bar for safety and control.
  • Have another rider steer and operate the brake of your rig.
  • Slowly move forward to take up the slack in the tow rope.
  • Continue at a slow speed with gentle stops.
  • Enhance traction by placing materials like branches or pine boughs under the track.
  • If possible, seek assistance from more riders or enthusiasts for additional support.
  • Establish clear communication with assisting individuals. Ensure everyone is aware of the recovery plan and follows safety guidelines.

During an Avalanche

Note that these tips merely provide a basic overview. For a thorough understanding of handling avalanche scenarios, I strongly recommend completing your avalanche certification before riding.

  • Ride to the side of the avalanche.
  • Keep on any flotation-assisting pack if wearing one.
  • When falling off your snowmobile:
    • Push away from the machine to avoid injury.
    • Swim to stay atop the snow.
    • Roll on your back to be face up when stopping.
    • Create airspace by thrusting your arm up as the avalanche slows.
    • Stay calm to conserve oxygen.
  • If equipped, deploy an avalanche airbag and Avalung if available. They can help increase your buoyancy in the snow and maximize your chances of breathing.
  • If you have an avalanche transceiver or beacon, switch it to TRANSMIT mode before the ride. This will aid rescuers in locating you if buried.
  • Practice buddy rescue techniques such as probing and shoveling ahead of your snowmobiling adventure to quickly locate and extract buried individuals when needed.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Executing a riding technique once is one thing. But being able to do the same repeatedly and with a heightened proficiency is another.

New riders should focus on snowmobiling practice. However, this might prove more difficult than it sounds, considering the seasonality of terrain conditions required for this practice. Unlike ATVs, where you can build yourself a 100 x 200 feet practice area (provided you have ample land), snowmobiles need the presence of snow, which only occurs every winter.

Nonetheless, this setback shouldn’t be an excuse not to hone your snowmobile riding skills. Relative to this, here are some general guidelines on how to properly go about your practice sessions:

  • Begin in a large, flat, snow-covered field with no obstructions.
  • If you’re a teen or younger rider, have an experienced adult accompany you for guidance.
  • Practice starting and stopping at various speeds, including quick stops.
  • Utilize hand signals while turning in different directions.
  • Practice executing all four riding positions.
  • Master turning in an oval and doing figure 8s. For starters, the oval should be at least 60 feet in length.
  • Practice tight, low-speed turns.
  • Set up markers at specific distances and practice quick turns between them to improve your maneuvering techniques. Markers spaced 35 feet apart are a good place to start.
  • Hone your skills by slaloming through traffic cones.
  • Once you’ve nailed the basics, proceed to a hilly area and practice riding uphill and downhill (traversing hills).
  • Practice any other riding method you need or seek to excel at.
  • Observe experienced riders and learn from their techniques.

Perform Pre-Ride Checks on Your Rig

Person Riding Blue and Yellow Snowmobile

Whether you have a brand-new or pre-loved machine, conducting a thorough inspection on your snowmobile is crucial.

Addressing potential issues in the comfort of your garage is far more convenient than dealing with unexpected problems on the trails. As a beginner, you can’t afford to exacerbate any proclivity for issues by riding ill-prepared.

It’s customary to refer to your owner’s manual for guidance on lubrication, tightening, adjusting, aligning, and checking for wear on various components. Relative to this, key areas to inspect include the brakes, throttle, track, steering system, lights, battery, spark plugs, drive belt (and its tension), handlebars (and any warming features), carburetor or fuel injection, ski alignment, and clutch.

Before heading out, adhere to all recommended maintenance procedures for these and other components. Also, ensure your snowmobile is in excellent mechanical condition as winter kicks in and throughout its months of operation.

A great way to remember the key components you need to check is the mnemonic “START-GO” (courtesy of Offroad-Ed), which stands for the following:

  • S — Steering, Skis, and Drive System
  • T — Throttle and Brake
  • A — Activate Lights
  • R — Registration and Reflectors
  • T — Track and Suspension
  • G — Gasoline and Ignition System
  • O — Oil

Snowmobiling in Deep Snow

For beginners learning how to ride a snowmobile in deep powder, it’s crucial to recognize initial challenges and gradually build expertise in navigating varying landscapes.

Deep snow conditions pose difficulties, particularly in maintaining a steady speed for control. Maintaining momentum becomes paramount in these conditions, especially during hill climbs and slope traversals.

To overcome challenges associated with deep powder scenarios, you must first focus on practicing consistently and learning the basics of snowmobile operation. Once that part is covered, riding with more experienced snowmobilers should offer additional valuable insights and guidance, helping you navigate challenging terrains.

Also, heightened awareness and terrain assessment are essential for safe snowmobiling, enabling you to understand weather and avalanche conditions better. Ultimately, these skills are born out of consistent and intentional practice.

Conclusion — How to Ride a Snowmobile

In conclusion, here are some more tips on how to drive a snowmobile — in addition to what’s been discussed in this article:

  • Understand the inner workings of your snow rig and acknowledge its capabilities and limitations.
  • Avoid modifying your exhaust pipes, as it can lead to your machine exceeding legal noise restrictions.
  • When doing late-night snowmobiling, refrain from overpowering your lights.
  • Never pursue domestic animals or any other type of wildlife you see on the trails.
  • Refrain from driving in sparse snow to prevent accidents. Ideal snow conditions for novices range from 4—8 inches, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience.
  • Know how to infer stopping distances by heart. You can do this by taking your reaction distance and your snowmobile’s braking distance into account.
  • Making assumptions or being overconfident on the trails is a big no-no, even for experienced riders.
  • Adhere to the “Tread Lightly!” guidelines and keep within designated riding areas.

Learning how to ride a snowmobile for the first time should be an exhilarating experience, provided proper training and safety measures are keenly observed. It’s also worth noting that the experience becomes more fun the better your skills get.

Hopefully, this guide has provided enough helpful tips to get you started on your 10,000 hours of practice and soon have you on the trails!