Canadian snowmobile vacations

snowmobile

Are you considering vacationing or travelling to Canada between the months of December to March? Or are you a Canadian travelling within Canada? Then you should consider a snowmobile rental vacation!

Owning a snowmobile can be relatively expensive. Initial purchase of a snowmobile can run in the range of $8,000-$10,000. On top of that you’ll need insurance and trail permits each year; figure another $2,000 for that. Then you’ll need a trailer to move the snowmobile back and forth between your residence and the trails and then some place to store both the trailer and the snowmobile during the offseason. For occasional or vacation use, it makes a lot more financial sense to just rent.

Renting a snowmobile

Rentals are typically for one day or a half a day, and prices will run in the range of $250 to $350 CAD per day. The rates should include a helmet, the snowmobile, plus all required insurance and trail passes.

What it won’t include is warm clothing and gear. As you’ll be travelling in windy, cold conditions it’s very important that you have multiple warm layers with wicking. Dress as if you’re going to be chilled to the bone.

The nice thing about a rental is that you are likely to receive a current model snowmobile so you’re not driving some old machine that’s prone to failure.

Trail systems

Snowmobiling in many parts of Canada is done via an authorized trail system. Snowmobile clubs receive permission to create trails across government and private land. The clubs maintain the trails, including grooming them, posting signs and maps, and monitoring them for safety. The clubs then network the trails across individual provinces, offering the snowmobiler thousands and thousands of kilometers of trails.

To use the trails, the clubs sell trail passes that must be purchased and displayed on your snowmobile. Your snowmobile rental must have this trail pass to use the trails. As the trails frequently run across private land, snowmobilers without the trail pass do not have permission and can be charged with trespassing.

Basic safety considerations

You should consult your rental operator for safety considerations, however there are some considerations that are immediately relevant.

First, consider travelling in pairs. Snowmobile trails can be remote, and a breakdown on your own can leave you stranded. Having a second snowmobiler with you means you have backup.

Consider keeping a GPS handy. Trail systems are intricate and can be confusing, and when you’re travelling through bush and fields covered in snow, it’s easy to lose one’s direction. Don’t depend on your cell phone, as many snowmobile trails are well outside cell phone reception.

Stay on the trail. While there will be many signs on the trails posted to this effect, it’s not just to stop people from travelling all over someone’s private property. It can prevent you from getting stuck. The trail system will be groomed and packed down making it very easy to traverse with a snowmobile. Go off the trail and you may find yourself sunk in 3 to 6 feet of fluffy snow. Novice snowmobilers may not realize that snowmobiles will sink and get stuck in ungroomed trails. There’s nothing more foolish looking than someone who’s stuck 10 feet from a groomed trail and has resorted to sitting on their downed snowmobile for three hours until someone comes by for help.

Beware crossing open water. Some trail systems may cross frozen rivers and lakes, but a frozen lake is not a 100% guarantee. Even in the deepest of winters these lakes and rivers can crack and develop stress fractures leaving open water covered by a thin dusting of snow. For an interesting take on snowmobiles in water, check out a video of Canadian ‘Professor Popsicle’ as he (under controlled conditions) drives a snowmobile into a Canadian lake: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PAwzPgRYOI&list=PL0B7B52ACA8F16032&index=3

Other considerations

As mentioned above, be prepared for bitter cold when dressing. Wicking undergarments with warm middle layers and windproof and waterproof outer garments work well. And don’t discount your legs, feet and hands. When you’re travelling in cold weather and wind generated by a vehicle travelling at 70kmh you can expect to get cold fast. It’s also common to wear a thin balaclava underneath your helmet, covering your face but leaving your eyes exposed. This helps with the cold around your neck area as well.

If you can, get a snowmobile with heated handgrips and thumbwarmers. This is standard equipment on most modern snowmobiles.

If you’re Canadian and crossing provinces, be aware that your health coverage may not be 100% transferable between provinces – you can end up with medical related costs in the event of an emergency. For example, see the case of a Quebec women who ended up with $13,000 in medical costs due to getting half-eaten by a polar bear while in Manitoba. As a result, consider getting out of province coverage from a Canadian travel insurance provider like Allianz Global Assistance.

Summary

So what’s your experience – have you ever driven a snowmobile? Would you consider renting one while on vacation?

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