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What are the Effects of Snowmobiles on the Environment?


Every responsible snowmobiler knows that before you can enjoy an afternoon on the back of a sled, there are some safety considerations to think about first. Safely loading and unloading your sled for transport to and from the trail is paramount, as is wearing the appropriate gear. Your sled should be recently-maintained and in trail worthy condition, too.

Did you also know that there are environmental safety considerations to take into account? Part of snowmobiling responsibly is being mindful of the nature around you. Before you hop in the saddle and zip off into the trails for a day of snowmobiling fun, make sure you’re being an environmental steward.

Be aware of noise pollution

Did you know that snowmobiles are built to federally-mandated noise control standards? This is to protect both humans and animals from the effects of noise pollution.

Noise pollution is a blanket term for problems stemming from loud or disruptive noises—like the roar of an engine in an otherwise soundless area of nature. Stock snowmobiles are designed to keep engine noise to a minimum. This protects wildlife from becoming startled or panicked, which might cause them to injure themselves or flee their habitat. If you’re on a stock sled, you can snowmobile with confidence that you’re not going to cause too much of a ruckus for the local wildlife—especially if you’re just passing through.

A few quick tips to reduce noise pollution:

  • Stay on the trail and don’t venture into areas where animals may be easily startled
  • Don’t snowmobile after dark or at sunrise, when animals may be more
  • Don’t modify your sled’s exhaust system to make it louder
  • Install aftermarket exhaust silencers to further reduce your sled’s noise

Strive to reduce carbon pollution

The biggest knock against snowmobiles outside of noise pollution is carbon emissions. Thankfully, snowmobile technology has come a long way in a short time. Most late-model snowmobiles are much, much more efficient than sleds from even a decade ago and have much lower emissions.

The best way to keep your snowmobile’s emissions at a minimum is to keep it in prime mechanical shape. Stay up to date on oil and filter changes, and make sure you’re using high-grade fuel. A well-running engine is better for the environment than one that struggles to run efficiently.

The other way to limit your emissions is to avoid modifying your sled for performance. Performance modifications generally come at the expense of increased emissions. If you’re looking for more power, consider a four-stroke engine over a two-stroke and look at stock models in different classes. The fewer performance modifications you make, the less you have to worry about increased emissions from your sled.

Snowmobile Effects on the Environment
Snowmobile Effects on the Environment Infographic

Consider snowpack and coverage

Snowpack is good for snowmobiling. There’s a reason everyone loves to hit the trails after a heavy snowfall! The more snow under your sled, the more fun you’re going to have. More importantly, good snowpack and coverage prevents you and your sled from causing undue environmental damage.

Snowmobiling without adequate snowpack can damage vegetation. Your track will rip into ground-level vegetation and the weight of your sled will compact surface soil. Most snowmobile manufacturers recommend sledding when there’s at least four inches of snow—six is even better. If you can still see dirt or vegetation, it’s better for the environment that you wait for the next snowfall.

Need more incentive not to sled without proper snow levels? Running your snowmobile on raw ground will cause excessive wear on your track and skis, leading to expensive maintenance! If you want to avoid a replacing the track or taking your snowmobile in for new runners, keep it off of exposed dirt and grass, and on the snow where it belongs.

Buy stock and stay on the trails

Like any vehicle, snowmobiles have an environmental impact—albeit a small one. Part of being a responsible snowmobiler is understanding that impact and working to control it. Be mindful of what you can do to safeguard the nature you enjoy while you’re riding your sled.

It boils down to a few simple guidelines. First, don’t modify your sled to be louder or tinker with the exhaust. Second, stay on the trails and don’t go off the beaten path into uncharted wilderness. Finally, use common sense!

There’s a lot to love about snowmobiling and it’s one of the best ways to get up close and personal with nature during the winter season. Just be mindful of your responsibility to the environment.

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