Are Snowmobiles More Dangerous Than Motorcycles?


If you like going fast in the summer on a motorcycle, and your need for speed has you looking for a winter equivalent, snowmobiling is the way to go, but which one is more dangerous?

Overall, motorcycles tend to be more dangerous than snowmobiles. While the rate of injury is about the same for either machine, the rate of death is three times greater for motorcycles.

What’s crazy is that snowmobiles cover a lot more ground than motorcycles! All told, the U.S. has a whopping 137,000 miles of signed trails that are either designated as snowmobile trails or multi-use trails. The entire Interstate Highway System, by comparison, claims a paltry 48,000 miles. Read on to find out why motorcycles are still more dangerous.

Why Are Motorcycles More Dangerous Than Snowmobiles?

There are a couple main reasons why motorcycles are more dangerous than snowmobiles. Let’s dive into them.

More Motorcycles Than Snowmobiles

In the U.S., there are an estimated two million snowmobile riders. In the northern tier of states as well as most of the mountainous states in the West, there are tens of thousands of miles of groomed trails for snowmobiling. The two top states, Wisconsin and Minnesota have a combined 45,000 miles of snowmobile trails. Put another way, if you rode 50 miles a day during the winter, it would take you more than nine years to ride every mile! 

Even if there are more snowmobile trails than roads, one of the main reasons that motorcycles tend to be more dangerous is that there are simply more of them. The U.S. has about 1.1 million registered snowmobiles and about 8.3 million registered motorcycles. Add to that fact that motorcycles are typically sharing the roads with all varieties of other vehicles, and you have the other reason why they are more deadly.

Motorcycles Have To Share the Road

According to the National Safety Council, 61% of motorcycle deaths occur in urban areas and involve other vehicles. On a motorcycle, there are just more things that lie outside of your control. For that reason, my own experience riding motorcycles has been mostly on empty highways. I’ve never really wanted to ride on busy roads.

Snowmobiles, on the other hand, are almost exclusively ridden in rural or remote wilderness areas away from traffic. Let’s face it, if there’s enough snow on the main roads to ride a snowmobile, then there isn’t going to be any other traffic! So in most cases, the main dangers are lack of experience, trees and other obstacles, wildlife, and avalanches in the high mountains. 

Tips For Snowmobiling More Safely

So, motorcycles are more dangerous from a few factors–but snowmobiling still has a lot of risks.

In fact, statistically speaking, there are six safety factors to consider when riding a snowmobile:

  1. Rider skill
  2. Riding on-trail vs. off-trail
  3. Speed
  4. Day vs. night
  5. Alcohol Consumption
  6. Wearing a helmet

Making the wrong choice on any of these factors greatly increases your risk of injury or death.

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to overcome some of these risks, so let’s talk about them.

Get Certified

Knowing how to ride, feeling comfortable operating the machine, and staying within your skill level are some of the most important things you can do to stay safe riding a snowmobile. Most states where snowmobiling is popular offer snowmobile safety programs as well as safety certification for kids and adults.

Some states require certification in order to ride on state trails. The best thing to do is to contact your state to see what the regulations are and what safety courses are offered. The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association also has safety information and videos for free on their website.

Stay on the Trail

Snowmobile trails are typically flat and fairly wide and pose few technical riding challenges. Venturing off-trail can not only harm the environment by creating erosion and damaging young trees, but also can be very hazardous.

Off-track you can encounter deep snow which could get you stuck (this has happened to me, and it’s not fun wrestling a 600-pound beast in waist-deep snow), steep slopes, stumps and other unseen objects, trees, and in the high country – avalanches.  

Snowmobiles are very good at setting off avalanches because of their weight, speed, and sound. In the high country, riders have also been known to be riding along on what they thought was a flat ridge, only to find it was a cornice of windblown snow that breaks off and sends them tumbling to an uncertain fate. 

For your own sake and for those around you, please stay on the trail.

Slow it Up

Even on maintained trails, the greatest danger is going too fast. Snowmobiles can travel as fast as 80 mph. Even a very experienced rider can find themselves in trouble quickly at those speeds. In rural areas–where most trails are–animals or other trails users may be present just around the corner. It’s very important to give yourself time to react. Slow down.

Ride In the Light

A lot of snowmobilers like to ride at night, and it can add a layer of adventure and fun, but the safest time to ride is in the daylight hours, even though they tend to be rather short in the winter. Still, you’ll have a much better chance of seeing obstacles and wildlife. Also, some animals such as deer are often on the move at night.

Alcohol Consumption

This is an obvious one. The trail might happen to go right by your favorite watering hole, but it’s best to steer clear for all of the reasons we’ve known forever about alcohol and operating heavy machinery. Be smart.

Put Your Brain in a Bucket – Wear a Helmet

Even if you follow all of the safety guidelines, you still never know what is going to happen, so wearing protective gear and a helmet are the way to make close calls just that – close calls. The extra gear will cost you extra money, but it’s always worth it.

How Much Does It Cost To Get Into Snowmobiling?

While we’re talking about the cost of helmets and safety gear, you might be wondering how much that all costs. Well, I’ll dive into the cost for the snowmobile itself as well as the gear including the safety gear.

Entry-Level Riders

If you’re looking to purchase a snowmobile, you can expect to pay about $8,000 for a beginner sled. To outfit yourself with clothing, you can spend as much as an additional $2,000-$3,000, but probably at least $1,000 unless you already have some of what you need. Here’s a brief breakdown of the gear you may need:

ItemCost Range
Snowmobile Suit (or pants and Jacket)   $300-$800
Boots                  $200-$400
Helmet          $150-$400
Other Gear (gloves, balaclavas, protective gear)$300-$500
Beginner Snowmobile (Sled)~$8000

Unfortunately the costs get higher from here. That’s just the gear.

Other costs include trail usage fees and registrations, gas/maintenance for your machine, and if you can’t ride from your back yard, or if you want to travel to check out new trails, you’ll need a trailer and a vehicle powerful enough to tow it, potentially up steep mountain passes.

This cost goes down significantly if you get used gear. Looking at Craigslist for a minute I found you can buy an older snowmobile for less than $3000. Just like used cars you should do your due diligence and get inspections and the price will vary with the brand, condition, and age of the snowmobile.

Getting Past the Cost Barrier to Entry

That might seem like a pretty high bar if you want to get into the sport. The best way to get started is to ride with a friend or family member and test the waters (the fluffy, frozen waters that is). If you fall in love with the thrill of it, then you can look at what it’s going to cost you to participate.

The most important thing, especially if you live in the colder parts of the nation, is to have a winter sport, whether it’s snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing. Getting outside to do something fun is a must.

If your only sport is shoveling and slipping on the ice and cursing, you’ll hate winter. The trick to winter is to have fun with it and love it! It won’t be long before you start to dread the longer days and maybe even shed a tear as the snow melts away in spring.  

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

Recent Posts