8 Tips for Snowmobiling with Kids

Planning, patience, and hot chocolate—everything you need to know!

As an avid outdoor adventure seeker with three apples that didn’t fall from their tree, I’ve had several snowmobiling excursions in Northern Ontario with my children that have, for the most part, been enjoyable experiences for everyone.

However, we didn’t have this success without some real tests of patience, proper equipment, lots of snacks, and many opportunities for learning. Running into problems with children in the cold can really put a damper on outdoor adventures.

The following eight tips will help you avoid some common mistakes and ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure for everyone. Be sure to include your kiddos in the planning and preparation as much as possible, depending on their ages and abilities.

A red circular OFSC snowmobiling Buy Your Permit logo

1. Have a (Good) Snowmobiling Plan

With the right plan, everyone in the family can have a great snowmobiling day.

Before venturing out, know your route, destination, and approximate return times. Things can go wrong along the way that will alter the plan, but that should be built into the plan. On very cold days shorten the trip or increase the amount of warm-up time. In the dead of winter, especially up here in Northwestern Ontario, our days are very short and darkness isn’t our friend. This is a huge consideration for me when riding with my kids—I’m always at our final destination well before dark. Check out these resources for planning your Ontario snowmobile adventure.

2. Invest in (and Carry) the Right Snowmobiling Gear

Buying quality snowmobiling gear for the kids pays off big.

From head to toe, kids' winter clothing including boots, ski pants, jackets, mitts, and helmets should be of the same quality as adults’ gear. I learned this early on as a parent taking our oldest son out for his first rides. Often, kids' outerwear isn’t of the same quality, making them uncomfortably cold before adults feel it. This is also an opportunity to teach your kids about moisture-wicking fabrics and proper layering techniques to help regulate body temperature.

The gear we carry on our sleds is also important. A chainsaw and/or axe can make the difference in whether (or not) you can make it past a fallen tree on the trail. It also aids in making a fire, when necessary. Other gear I don’t leave home without include: a fully charged cell phone (kept close to the body core to maintain the battery), flashlight, matches, lighter, tow rope, ice picks, tools, extra plugs, extra socks, mitts, and hotshot hand warmers. Check out this guide for more on what to pack on your next snowmobile trip. 

3. Have Patience (and Loads of Snacks) When on the Trail

When snowmobiling with kids, the key is equal parts planning and flexibility.

I sometimes need to be reminded that kids need extra care and time; think about getting those mitts tucked comfortably and smoothly under the jacket sleeves, or aligning the seams of socks just right over the top of their sensitive feet. Give them all the time they need for clothing adjustments, snacks, bio breaks, and play. Exploring the outdoors in a fun and supported manner provides kids with wonderful memories, learning opportunities, respect for, and motivation to continue to explore the beautiful land we share. 

4. Be Prepared to Change (and Communicate) Your Snowmobiling Plans

The unexpected can happen quickly and could involve snow, ice, and wind conditions or even issues with the snowmachine. Have backup plans and try to anticipate these things as much as possible. I have started out many trips with one route in mind, only to have it change very quickly. Clearly communicate original plans, and any modified plans to your group members so everyone is accounted for and arrives at the destination safely. It’s a great idea to communicate plans with someone at home and to update them if the route is to be modified.  

5. Have a Warming Plan 

OFSC warming shelters: one of mankind's greatest inventions.

Many OFSC Prescribed Trails operated by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs provide warming shelters.  These are so appreciated and become crucial in a day plan. There’s really nothing better than coming up to these shelters, lighting a fire, warming up, and drying some frosty things out. The best feeling is when you arrive at a warming shelter and someone already has the fire on! We often lay out our helmets, facemasks, and other items that need a warm up and this really improves the quality of the ride for the way home.  

Other warming tricks include hot chocolate, visits at friends’ places along the way, and having lunch over the fire. We’ve had dozens of lunches tucked up, out of the wind, into beautiful cliffs with a warm bonfire cooking delicious smokies. This is also an opportunity to teach kiddos how to make fires, and to be good stewards of the land by cleaning up after ourselves (and sometimes others), and putting out fires properly.

Another warm-up tactic is to include meal or snack stops at snowmobile-friendly restaurants as you plan your route. There are loads of restaurants with OFSC Prescribed Trail access that welcome snowmobilers and families. 

6. Snowmobile with Others and Stay Together

Always sled with a buddy, especially when you're riding with kids.

Sounds simple, right? There are times when we stop and wait for others to catch up, but when we don’t see them within a few minutes, it’s safe to assume something could be wrong and we need to double back carefully on our tracks. This often is an unexpected bio break or warm up, or a broken down sled. It could also be a wrong turn at a junction; when this is the case, stay put and make yourself visible by leaving your headlight on. Gather as many sleds from your group and stay together. Hopefully, cell phone reception can help you out, and allow for a happy reuniting of the group.  

7. Smaller Kids Ride Up Front

In my earlier days of riding with kids, I always had them ride on the back of my two-seater snowmobile. It wasn’t until I had a very cold daughter on a very frigid day—where we just weren’t getting ahead of the cold—that my friend suggested she ride in the front. She was still small enough that this didn’t obstruct my view and the warmth from the machine, combined with me behind her, provided a much warmer ride.  

8. When in Doubt, Do Not Go Out — Avoid Extreme Weather When Snowmobiling With Children

When conditions involve extreme cold temperatures that are just not favourable, accept that some days on the trails just aren’t meant to be. We are our children’s most important role models and we must always consider what our actions and behaviors teach them. One day they will be old enough to go out independently or with friends, and they need the skills and experiences we teach them to make wise decisions to ensure safe and enjoyable adventures over a lifetime. 

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

About Duncan McEwen

Duncan McEwen is a father of three who lives on the north shores of Lake of the Woods, Ontario. He is a school teacher and owns and operates his own fishing guide business on Lake of the Woods in the summer months.

Recommended Articles

Search Snowmobiling