Tartan Rapids at Prosperous Lake
Cliffs of Blanchette Island
Shore of Great Slave Lake
Ice Thickness Safety ChartSnowmobiling in the Yellowknife area is a favorite winter recreational activity for many people. There is nothing better then hoping on one’s snowmobile and cruising across a lake with a layer of fresh snow. As with all activities snowmobiling has its risks and one should always be alert for potential danger.
Your helmet and engine noise can impair your hearing. Visibility is also reduced in snow, blowing snow and night driving. Never assume what another snowmobiler will do. Be aware of the other riders around you. Don’t take changes thinking that you can anticipate another rider’s moves.
Watch Out For
- Overflow, thin ice and open water
- Oncoming snowmobiles
- Unforeseen obstacles beneath the snow
- Unexpected corners, intersections and stops
- Winter Roads
- Trees and branches on the trail
- Other trail users such as hiker, skiers and dog sleds
Don’t Drink and Drive
- Snowmobiling requires alertness, caution and attention. Your reaction time and ability to control your sled can be drastically affected after consuming even small amounts of alcohol or drugs. Alcohol and drugs can effect your perception, reaction time and response to unexpected situations. Alcohol is involved in 70% of snowmobiling fatalities.
- Alcohol increases your susceptibility to cold and hypothermia. Snowmobilers often have access to remote locations miles away from help. If a situation should occur where help is required, your chances of survival and treatment of injury can be greatly reduced.
- Operating your snowmobile under the influence of alcohol or drugs is punishable under the Criminal Code of Canada. If convicted of operating a snowmobile while impaired you may lose your drivers license.
A disproportionate number of snowmobiling accidents, including 9 out of 10 fatalities, occur after dark. Forward visibility is reduced by darkness and it is much more difficult to spot and identify potential hazards in time.
Overdriving your headlights can also be a serious problem, so slow down when snowmobiling after dark. Becoming disorientated or lost is much ore likely at night. Always wear outer clothing with reflective trim on the arms, back and helmet.
Never ride alone at night. Always dress in full snowmobiling outfit even if your intended destination is just next door. Be certain that all lights are working and keep in mind that hand signals become increasingly more difficult to see as darkness sets in.
Drowning is one of the leading causes of snowmobile fatalities. In the Yellowknife area you will encounter a lake. In most cases these lakes are perfectly safe to cross and ride one. In areas of lakes where there is moving water, the ice does not freeze as fast or is as thick as other areas of the lake. These areas should be avoided until they are safe to travel on. As well in the early part of the season and after heavy snowfall snowmobilers often encounter overflow. If you run into overflow, DO NOT LET OFF THE THROTTLE. Continue to accelerate until you are out of the overflow. If you are following someone who runs into overflow, veer off to make your own path.
When traveling in a group across a lake, spread out and give yourself some distance between yourself and other riders. Visibility is reduced due to snow dust and if you run into overflow you have time and room to maneuver.
If you travel in areas where the lakes are not safe consider using a buoyant snowmobile suit and carry ice picks around your neck so that you can pull yourself up onto the ice.
If you break though the ice, don’t panic. Kick vigorously into a horizontal position and swim to the nearest ice edge. Place your hands/arms on unbroken ice while kicking hard to propel your body onto the ice. Once clear of the ice, stay flat and roll or crawl to stronger ice. Keep moving and find shelter and warmth as soon as possible.
You can find more information on Ice Safety and Myths.
This is the lowering of the body’s core temperature. It can happen on land and in the water. Hypothermia does not require extreme cold and accelerates with wind and wetness. Dressing warmly in water resistant layers helps, but if immersed, quickly replace wet clothes, keep moving to generate body heat and find shelter and warmth.
Snow blindness occurs when direct and reflecting sun glare are too bright for the eyes. Riding without quality UV protected sunglasses, goggles or visor can cause permanent damage to your eyes. Snow blindness is more common during the late winter and spring when the sun is higher in the sky.
Frostbite results from freezing temperatures and poor circulation. Frostbit is most common on extremities and exposed skin, it can be identified by unnaturally white skin surrounded by harsh red coloring. Cover up and layer well, making sure that socks fit loosely within your boots. Gloves with liners are warmer the gloves.
Wind chill is lower temperature caused by wind and or the forward momentum of a fast moving snowmobile. Wind chill exposes you to severe cold which in turn can cause hypothermia. Wind-proof outer garments, extra layers and a balaclava will offer some protection, but keep your face shield down to prevent wind burn and to protect your face and eyes.
We don’t get many avalanches in and around Yellowknife, however, it’s important to understand the dangers of avalanches in the NWT. Please refer to the CCSO Safety page on Avalanche Tips and Awareness.
With high tech winter wear and proper layering, winter comfort is easy. Start with polypropylene and add thermal under layers that release moisture while retaining heat. Add other heat retentive layers depending on the temperature. Also consider the fact that your forward motion will add wind chill factor. Avoid cottons and sweat shirts that retain moisture, making you cold and clammy, which could lead to hypothermia. YOU CAN ALWAYS TAKE OFF A LAYER BUT IF YOU DON’T HAVE IT YOU CAN’T ADD IT.
Snowmobile Safety Supplies<
A snowmobiler should always carry at all times on every ride:
- Spare spark plugs
- Drive belt
- Manufacturer’s tool kit
- First Aid Kit
- Jack knife
- Spare mitts or gloves
Other items that a snowmobiler should carry during any ride are:
- Small tarp or sheet of plastic
- Signal mirror, signal flares or flare sticks
- Wind and water proof matches as well as ordinary wood matches in a water proof container
- Compass or GPS Receiver (extra batteries for GPS!)
- Emergency blanket
- Spare gloves and toque
- Orange flagging
- Cell phone or satellite phone
- Folding shovel
- Hatchet and/or folding saw
- Mess Kit
- Tea Bags
- Survival food packages
- Portable stove
- Water bag
- Duct tape and electrical tape
- Razor Blade
- Sewing kit
- Snare wire
- Flash light
These items are inexpensive and can be readily purchased locally.
Before leaving on a trip leave word with someone as to your planned route, time of departure and approximate time that you will return home. If you do not return home at the designated time a search can be started.
If you need to survive in the bush for whatever reason you should take the following steps:
- Find a sheltered area to set-up a camp. This area should be reasonable visible to someone searching for you but be protected from the wind.
- Build a shelter – Quincy Snow Hut – Lean-to or a tent of spruce bows.
- Start a fire and collect enough fire wood to keep the fire going for a day or two.
- Collect water by melting snow
- Conserve energy and heat
- If you are wet dry your clothes as quickly as possible
- Learn to recognize signs of hypothermia
- Conserve your food as you do not know when you will be rescued.
- If you must leave your snowmobile on a lake and camp on shore indicate the direction to your camp so a search party will know in which direction you traveled.