The First Time Sled Rider
If you’re purchasing a snowmobile for a first-time sled rider, there are a lot of things you’ll need to take into consideration. Let me be the first to say that if the second sled is for your other half, women are just like men and youth when it comes to choosing the right snowmobile — you don’t make any assumptions or take anything for granted.
Here are some things to take into consideration:
- Experience with recreation vehicles — skills from riding ATVs, motorcycles and even seadoos, will be transferable to some degree.
- Body size and weight. A five foot person weighing in at less than a hundred pounds won’t likely be able to handle the same sled as someone of five feet, ten inches, tipping the scales at a hundred and fifty pounds.
- Upper body strength. Each person has individual weak points and strengths, although for many women, upper body strength is on the weaker side. Small riders, such as those who ride in Snocross or Motocross, usually work out in a gym to improve upper body strength.
Here’s one of my daughters-in-law out for her first snowmobile ride — can you tell how apprehensive she is right through the visor?
Tips on choosing the snowmobile:
- Choose a snowmobile that is light on the front end, so it is easy to turn and maneouver. I don’t call my Mach I the Mach Ton just because it’s heavy! If the sled appears hard to steer, try taking front spring pressure off or increasing the center spring pressure. If that doesn’t produce something relatively easy to turn, keep looking!
- Check how difficult it is to pull the recoil rope to start the sled. While you might plan to always be around to start your wife’s snowmobile, she may not feel like being tied to your schedule! Not all snowmobiles require the same amount of strength to start them, and may vary on how fast you have to pull the recoil. Of course, electric start is always an option, but every rider should be able to start their sled if that fails.
- The small, lighter sleds in a manufacturer’s line-up are often designated for youth and women riders. On one hand, this is reasonable, however there are times when this just isn’t practical. An inexperienced rider needs to have enough power to get out of a situation after hesitating. For instance, many new riders will simply stop when they come to a challenging part of the trail.If the sled lacks power, they’re likely stuck on the spot, so that another rider has to come back to pull them out, or if they’re riding alone, they have to try to pull themselves out. Also, in soft powder, a small horsepower sled just plain powers out when trying to break its own trail. This also leaves the rider stranded.
My wife’s favorite snowmobile, one she rode thousands of miles, was a cross-country RV. It was light enough that I could load it into the back of a truck by myself just by pulling the front end up first. As well, she could drive up beside pretty well anyone else who was stuck, and drive away after helping pull them out.
However, its little 340 free air engine lacked the speed a new rider needed to catch up to the crew after she slowed down through more difficult terrain. I replaced the engine with a 500 fan cooled one, and she never looked back. You should have seen her face the day I told her I’d sold it…but that’s another story.
Anyway, keep the terrain in mind when choosing the size and power range of your wife’s sled. If it’s just groomed trails with speed limits you’re talking about, then it’s not a problem.
Making sure snowmobiling is a fun experience!
- Every snowmobiler needs to ride wearing the proper clothing. This includes a snowmobile suit, not a ski suit. While suits designed for skiing may look more fashionable, they are not as heavily insulated as a snowmobile suit, since the person wearing it will be working hard coming down the slope.
- Safety courses are mandatory for young snowmobile riders, and a great investment for new mature ones. However, if there isn’t a course available, make sure that you go over the standard safety rules and rules of the trail, including arm signals used by the group you ride with.
Nobody should ride a snowmobile without a properly fitting helmet. It must be tight enough to not turn on the head, but not pinch the ears or side of the face. If your partner wears glasses, the helmet must be designed to accomodate them. Improper fitting gear, or a helmet/visor combination that results in the visor fogging up constantly while riding are both dangerous, and real fun-spoilers, for every snowmobiler.
My daughter-in-law suiting up for her first ride — luckily my wife’s leather suit was a perfect fit! [For my daughter-in-law anyway, my wife has a new one…]
Once you’ve got your novice snowmobiler ready to go, make sure the ride itself is a fun one. Remember they’re struggling enough with learning how to ride, without charging out to your favorite back road. Find some easy-to-navigate terrain and let your wife set the speed you’ll travel [as slow as it may seem at 10 or 15 mph — remember I’ve been there — they will get faster as their skill level increases].
So here are the kids heading out — that is, once they get headed in the same direction. She’d just driven her first fifty feet, tried to turn up over a graded ridge and got stuck. However, she learned fast — she took the next ridge at a good speed, getting a lot of “air” as she flew over the ditch.
My son was a bit nervous, but my daughter-in-law never looked back. And after a gruelling two hours she declared that snowmobiling was a lot more fun than the ski trips he’d been dragging her on. His comment was that she was a much better snowmobile driver than skier too…
The Experienced Rider
When you’re buying a snowmobile for an experienced rider, whether the rider is male or female, you take exactly the same things into consideration:
- Ability of the rider.
- Strength of the rider [see notes above]
- Preferences and tastes of the rider
- Snow conditions and terrain you expect to ride on [see notes above on smaller, lighter sleds]
- Budget considerations – new, used, or abused, in other words, a fix-it-up model
Before you know it, you and your wife will be hitting the trails every weekend!
Article by David Aksomitis. First published in 2002.