Snowmobiling Basic tips by Willis Clyde

I have been an avid snowmobiler for over 30 years and take for granted some of the things that are so easy to do on a sled now. If you want to be able to go anywhere on a snowmobile, then it is mandatory that you learn these basic tips. Trail riding to me is boring. And I also dislike the style of “ Point and shoot”, which means to find an open mountain side and climb straight up and loop at the top and come straight back down. To me, it is all about side hilling especially in quakies and Pines. When you master the art of side hilling then it opens up a whole new world of snowmobiling and you can go places on your sled that you never dreamed possible.
Back in the 90s when when we were riding along the road we would always find an opening on the uphill side and we would turn up the hillside and just before getting stuck, we would turn out and safely come back down to the road. We would never drop down the road on a steepdownhill side because if we got stuck then it would sometimes almost be impossible to get the sled back up onto the road. Now, when I am snowmobiling I always leave the trail or road and drop off into the steepest nastiest downhill canyons and ravines that I can find, because I know that I can always get out, and I also know that 90% all the snowmobilers will not go there. So I can be assured that I will always find some nice untracked fresh powder.
In the 90s a long track on a snowmobile was 136 inches and now my Polaris has a 174 inch track. The sleds continue to get lighter, more power, and longer tracks and deeper lugs every year. However, These improvements still won’t allow you to go into the untracked steep country if you do not have the technical skills.
Here are a few tips that hopefully will help you improve your riding skills.


  1. Learn how to do a donut on flat ground. If you can do a donut then it will get you out of a lot of nasty situations and it will help you learn how to side hill. Get on some flat terrain and give your snowmobile a good amount of throttle while at the same time tipping the snowmobile on its side by pushing down on the handlebars with one hand and pulling up on them with the other. You can also use your outside leg to pull up on your machine while hooking your foot underneath the Bar on the front side of the running board. If you start to tip over to the inside then you need to give more throttle and turn the skis inward. If you have a hard time keeping your edge then you are not tipping the snowmobile enough and you usually need to turn the skis in the opposite direction of the donut so that it can allow the snowmobile to break over easier. Basically what you need to learn to do is to find the sweet spot or the balance point where are you can go around in a circle with only one ski in the snow and the other one in the air. Usually many riders cannot find the sweet spot because they do not tip the snowmobile on its side enough because they are afraid that they will tip it over. But you need to fail several times and overcompensate and tip your snowmobile over before you will ever find that balance point. If you keep tipping over again and again then eventually you will find the balance point. But the biggest problem that most sleders have is that they do not tip the sled enough because they are afraid of tipping over so they never find the sweet spot. Doing a doughnut helps me out in so many situations. For example, there are many times when I am riding on a ridge and I look down on a steep north face with the trees near the bottom, with sheer powder and there is not one track on it because no one dares to drop down. But I always drop off in these areas and Chew up the powder because I can always lay my snowmobile on its side and do a donut and climb back up to the top.
  2. Side hilling. Some people say that they can side hill but then when you watch them they can only do it if they are going on an uphill direction at a slight angle. But most of them cannot side hill straight across a mountain and especially they cannot hold a side hill while descending a slope. If you can do a donut then you can side hill because you are basically riding the snowmobile with only one ski in the snow. To learn how to side hill, I suggest that you give yourself an opportunity for success and start out the easy way. Travel up a slope on a slight angle and give some throttle so that you can bring the downhill ski in the air. The most important thing to do is to find the balance point or sweet spot to where you can easily maintain that position. If your arms are getting tired then you don’t have enough tilt. Once again, it is more important to over correct than to under correct. When you find the sweet spot you virtually need little to no arm pressure because you are basically just balancing. The steeper the slope, the more tilt is necessary. I recommend that you learn to side hill at a slow speed. Anybody can side hill by full throttling their machine and forcing their downhill ski into the air. However they can only hold this position for a few seconds and then they lose their edge and have to turn out and go back downhill. It is not about speed and it is all about balance and the sweet spot. If you overcorrect and tip your snowmobile over to the uphill side then that is a good problem to have because you are at least going past your balance point. However if you never tip over and over correct then you usually never find the correct balance point and will be fighting the weight of your snowmobile on the slope constantly and never master side Hilling. Once you feel comfortable side hilling on an angle going uphill, next try side hill at the more horizontal angle or more straight across the hill. This is more difficult. The only difference now is that you will need more tilt on your snowmobile to find the sweet spot to maintain that balanced position. once again, do not go fast! If you go to fast then you’re just using the speed of your machine to try to keep you in balance and it’s dangerous if you hit a rough spot in the snow which can flip you over and down the hill with your sled on top of you. Trust me, i’ve been there and done that.
  3. While sidehilling straight across the hill at a slow speed, if you are fighting the slope and having a hard time maintaining the edge then turn your skis slightly towards the downhill slope because that will help your snowmobile break over the ski in the snow and help you maintain your edge easier. Likewise if you feel like you’re over correcting and going to Tip over to the uphill side, then turn your skis slightly into the hill and it will correct you from overcompensating on your tilt. While side hilling straight across a hill, you should be able to stop at any time and maintain the side Hilling position and keep your sled on the hill with the downhill ski in the air. Now practice stopping and going at a very slow speed while walking your snowmobile across the hill with 1 foot on the running board and the other foot in the snow. This is an excellent skill to have when you need to go up and rescue somebody and get them unstuck or also when you are trying to go at a very slow speed through some very thick trees.
  4. When you are comfortable side Hilling horizontally across the hill now you are ready for a downhill side hill. The same thing applies with this technique other than you need to go extremely slow and you need to get more tilt on your sled. The stepper the hill, the slower you need to go. Occasionally the hill becomes so steep that you need to use no throttle at all and on the steepest terrain you will need to intermittently use your brake. I love to drop off of a steep slope with powder and then lay my snowmobile on its side and feather it around and gradually bring it up hill and then before I reach the top I lay it on its side and drop back down the hill and repeat this over and over until I have chewed up all the powder on that slope. When first learning these techniques, practice them on a hillside without any trees and practice staying near the bottom of the hill in case you roll your sled it will not get demolished.
  5. It is also much easier to side hill and do a doughnut if you are in powder because it’s much easier for your ski to dip down into the snow. It is much more difficult to do these techniques on hard packed snow. But it is vitally important to learn how to do it on all snow conditions. Many riders have totaled their snowmobiles in the spring time when the snow is so hard because they don’t know how to safely side hill on steep mountain sides on hard packed conditions. When riding on a road or a trail I like to get my snowmobile on an edge and ride up the entire road for a half mile or farther while balancing on one ski. This is extremely difficult to learn but if you can do it then you can side hill in any snow conditions and on any slope.
  6. In conclusion, most importantly remember to go slow and stay under control. If you are fighting the slope and your arms are getting tired, then you simply need more tilt! Or you can just do as my son Riley says “when in doubt throttle out,” or as my nephew Jordan Clyde says, “ pin it to win it!”
  7. I hope this article is helpful to some of you riders that are just starting out. I enjoyed sharing some of my years of knowledge with you, but most of all I love the fact that I will get paid $25 for writing this article and putting it in my Passion Biz online magazine.
  8. Finally, call me anytime and come ride with us. We have an organization called ASSA Which stands for American step side Hillers association. To become a member you need to side hill approximately 400 yards on the south slope of bald Mountain. It requires uphill, straight across, and downhill technical side hilling. If you don’t make it in some areas then you end up in the trees. And if you go down the trees too far then you come to the Cliffs. If you don’t believe me, just ask Dr. Stanton McDonald!

Downhill Sidehilling