Snowmobiling in Northeastern Ontario: Are You Ready?

Be prepared on your next ride north with these essential safety and preparedness tips.

Exploring the hinterlands and getting away from it all are major reasons most of us go snowmobiling. But regardless of where you’re snowmobiling or for how long you intend to be gone, your sled can quickly transport you away from communities, services and support. That’s perfectly normal and nothing to be concerned about, as long as your personal safety is always something you’re aware of and on guard to protect.

Heading Into The Great Beyond

Credit: Craig Nicholson

Many snowmobilers leave their usual riding area for their sledding getaways, visiting incredible destinations like Northeastern Ontario, which includes OFSC Districts 11, 12, 14 & 15. These riders venture far away from familiar trails, favourite pitstops, customary services and comparatively close home bases, in search of different places, new trails and unique experiences.

That’s part of the attraction and the adventure, but braving the unknown also adds an element of uncertainty and vulnerability that for safety’s sake, requires enhanced preparedness, plus greater self-sufficiency and ride caution. For example, always make a concerted effort to Ride Your Side, take extra care on active logging roads, and cross unfamiliar waterways following the stake line.

Pre-Planned Preparedness

Credit: Craig Nicholson

OFSC Prescribed Snowmobile Trails are well laid out to connect communities & services within every region of the province. That’s certainly the case in Northeastern Ontario, where a multitude of Trans Ontario Provincial (TOP) Trails are routed to access plenty of snowmobile-friendly communities along the main highway routes.

In addition, Northeastern Ontario also has a vast wilderness covering big distances, where lots of snowmobile trails also travel on forest access roads, utility corridors, cut lines and old mining roads. So savvy snowmobilers plan ahead for how to avoid or handle any unexpected occurrences, especially in more remote areas.

The best advance planning and preparedness happens at home, before your tour starts. That way, you can embark on your Northeastern Ontario tour with peace of mind, and you know what? 99% of the time everything will go exactly as arranged. But in the off chance that it doesn’t, being ready is your best bet for securing your own safety and that of your group.

Itinerary & Routing Tips

Credit: Al Fletcher

Planning your itinerary and routing should be a group effort. It’s not only more efficient and effective, collaboration helps ensure everyone is fully aware of what’s expected – and their role in making it happen. Decide up front whether you want to do a saddlebag tour or day rides from one stagging hotel, and how far you want to ride each day. Next, check trail status and preplan your daily routing (and reconfirm before starting each day’s ride), using the OFSC Interactive Trail Guide (ITG). Be sure to note the location of warm up shelters along the trail.

Credit: Craig Nicholson

Then, call ahead and make the appropriate room reservations. By the way, I suggest that 4 – 6 riders are optimal for a touring group, enough to help each other if a sled gets stuck or breaks down, but not so many that restaurant and gas stops take too long.

All riders should carry a hard copy of your ride itinerary in a Ziploc bag, complete with routing, distances, lodgings and contact info for every rider in the group (and for their family, who should also be provided with a copy of the itinerary). The itinerary should also include pre-arranged emergency contact number(s), such as that night’s lodgings, so any rider separated from your group can call to reconnect.

Snowmobile Prep Tips

Credit: Craig Nicholson

Every rider should get ready for the planned ride by servicing tow vehicle, trailer & sled before leaving home. This preparation includes ensuring that each sled is full of gas & oil, has an owner’s manual, manufacturers tool kit (at minimum), spare belt and personal emergency kit on board. Each sled should also be set up with a full fuel caddy and also consider a set of ice scratchers to reduce engine overheating on hard-packed trails.

Your group should also carry several tow straps, a long, strong length of rope, multiple  mylar survival blankets and a decent first aid kit. For sled security, ensure that you have enough cables to lock together all your parked sleds overnight.

Body Prep Tips

Credit: Craig Nicholson

For those frigid Northeastern Ontario days on the trail, keep your hands warm with working handlebar heaters and a pair of hand muffs. I also recommend heated gloves, high windshield, a heated seat and chemical toe warmers for the utmost trail comfort. This staying warm advice assumes that each rider is already properly geared up with the warmest possible snowmobile suit, riding gloves (or mitts), helmet and boots. For group safety, a Helmet Safety Light is a smart choice for every rider – it’s a real gamechanger!

Credit: Destination Ontario

It’s also good to have a satellite phone, satellite messenger, GPS or tracking device in your group. Each individual should also carry a fully charged cell phone (although service isn’t always available) and either a paper map or the OFSC Go Snowmobiling PRO App. Packing a power bar and extension cord to plug all your devices in overnight will provide longer battery life. And don’t forget to slip a couple of energy bars into a pocket for trail snacking!

Credit: Craig Nicholson

Special Assistance Services

Despite all our best efforts, sleds do occasionally breakdown. If so, Northeastern Ontario offers two remedies that can help save your ride. One is a snowmobile towing service that can pick your sled up on the trail and get it into a dealer for repairs. The other is operations in Cochrane, Haileybury, Kirkland Lake and Temiskaming Shores that can get you back on the trails with a rental sled until yours is repaired.

Credit: Craig Nicholson

For most experienced snowmobilers, many of these tips and advice for touring Northeastern Ontario are already a regular part of how we plan, what we take and how we behave on every ride, close to home or far away. But when you’re heading out for a multi-day ride in a region as big as Northeastern Ontario, taking extra time to pre-plan your ride safety, comfort and trail protocols will help ensure you achieve the very best ride of your winter!

Ontario law requires a snowmobile entering an OFSC Prescribed Snowmobile Trail to display a valid Ontario Snowmobile Trail Permit.

About Craig Nicholson—The Intrepid Snowmobiler

Popularly known as The Intrepid Snowmobiler, Craig Nicholson is an International Snowmobile Hall of Fame journalist who specializes in recreational snowmobiling activities. Craig has snowmobiled in every region of Canada and many states. His one-of-a-kind tour book, “Canada’s Best Snowmobiling – The Ultimate Ride Guide”, chronicles his adventures, as does his website and Facebook page.

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