Snowmobiling is a fun, adrenaline-filled way to pass a long, snowy winter. But speeding across a frozen lake or winding through tight wooded trails, certainly isn’t without its risks — in fact, 2017 marked an all-time record high in snowmobiling fatalities, according to the Ontario Provincial Police. That winter, 29 people in the province died on snowmobiles, with the primary causes being excessive speed, loss of control, and driver inattention. That’s 21 percent more than the number of people who died in boating accidents and 24 percent more than those who died on off-road vehicles. It should come as no surprise, then, that the provincial government recently announced that snowmobile safety training and licensing will soon be available online.
“We recognize that safety is critical and it starts with proper rider training and licensing,” John Yakabuski, Minister of Transportation, said in a recent press release.
Anyone over the age of 12 and without a valid driver’s licence is required to obtain a motorized snow-vehicle operator’s licence (MSVOL) to drive on trails established and maintained by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC), a volunteer-led not-for-profit association that acts as a voice for organized snowmobiling in Ontario. The training course, which is usually about six hours, covers snowmobile laws, maintenance, driving positions, survival, first aid, night driving, courteous driving habits and skills to help riders avoid collisions.
“Expanding training options are not only a convenience, they will ultimately contribute towards a safer snowmobiling environment,” said Ryan J. Eickmeier, the OFSC’s Executive Director. The training will move online thanks to long-standing requests by the OFSC, which applauded the government for deciding to make the training more accessible, particularly for those living in rural and remote communities.
The Ministry of Transportation is now working closely with the OFSC to develop the online training and testing program, however, a launch date has not yet been determined and when it is launched, it won’t be mandatory for riders with a driver’s licence to take the course. Ultimately, these riders will still have to take the initiative to undergo the training, which provides important knowledge you simply won’t get through a regular driver’s licence, like how to position your body on the sled and how to read trail signs.
For those interested in the current in-person training and testing available, head to the OFSC’s website, where you’ll find more details to help you get on the trails this winter, including required trail permits and self-guided snow tours in nearly every part of the province.
If you’re new to sledding, or simply considering trying it, there are lots of companies that rent out snowmobiles. But if you’re interested in buying for the first-time, you may want to consider a “touring” model in the 500 to 600 cc range. These sleds often come with an electric start, reverse, thumb and hand warmers, a high windshield and mirrors, and are a little easier to manage than an ultra-powerful performance sled. And if you’re towing it to another part of the province, make sure your trailer is in good condition, you have a rigid tow-bar and you’re using proper towing mirrors, so you can keep an eye on your load and ensure everyone makes it to the trails safely.