Snowmobiling Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean from a Beginners Perspective

The bright sun glared off the white snow as my guide Simon showed me how to start the snowmobile. After this first important lesson he next showed me the throttle and explained the braking. We covered how I was supposed to approach a road crossing and what the proper hand signals were when you passed other snowmobilers. I put on my helmet, cracked the shield a bit just as he suggested, got on the snowmobile, and turned the key for the first time.

The snowmobile roared to life and made my whole body shake with the vibration of the engine. I tried to gently press the throttle as Simon taught me. I jerked forward. All of a sudden, I was transported back to being a teenager learning how to drive; understanding the sensitivity of the accelerator and brake. I pressed the throttle again and the snowmobile took off as my head jerked back with the sudden acceleration and before I knew it, I had Simon in my sights and a big smile on my face.Tous les articles

Why go Snowmobiling in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean

With an average of 275 inches of snow that lasts approximately 5 months, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean is the perfect place to do a winter vacation and learn how to snowmobile.

Quebec is the Birthplace of Snowmobiling

The first snowmobile was actually invented in 1959 by Joseph Armand Bombardier of Valcourt, Québec. He created it as a faster, more powerful alternative to dog sledding. He originally named it Ski-Dog, but a typographical error in a Bombardier brochure changed the name Ski-Dog to Ski-Doo. And that’s why most people from Quebec call a snowmobile a Ski-Doo regardless of the brand.

Snowmobiling Culture

Snowmobiling is a huge part of the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean winter culture. They have 3,300 km of trails all maintained and groomed by clubs in the region. You don’t have to go far in a town to see snowmobiles parked everywhere – at hotels, bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. Often there were more snowmobiles than cars in the parking lots. It’s the preferred way to get around in the snow-covered region.
I went on a 2-day snowmobile outing with Simon from OrganisAction – Québec. After my initial beginner instruction, we set off for L’Anse Saint-Jean. We would ride 60 miles from Chicoutimi to L’Anse Saint-Jean under sunny skies. The entire first day was a learning experience and I loved every moment as we glided through the woods, along the riverbanks, and eventually out to the fjord for incredible views. When I saw the L’Anse Saint-Jean Fjord for the first time it was a jaw dropping moment. I stayed overnight at Chalets sur le Fjord with my snow mobile parked outside, just like the locals!

I woke up to 7 new inches of powder the next day! The day of fresh powder on the trails was even better than the first. I started to get the hang of being on the snow mobile more the 2nd day and eventually found myself going faster and faster trying to keep up with Simon. I learned I loved to go fast, but that wasn’t the only thing I learned.

Surprising Things I Learned as a Beginning Snowmobiler

It’s Not as Cold as You Think

I was initially worried about being on a snow mobile all day out in the bitter cold and snow. I wondered how in the world I would stay warm outside all day riding. What I quickly learned is the people who manufacture snowmobiles have thought of everything. Snowmobiles today are just like cars; every little thing has been tweaked and perfected to make it as comfortable as possible for hours and hours of driving.

The handles had warmers on them, there were boot warmers where you put your feet, and they even had a heated throttle for your thumb! You could easily control the temperatures so that there was never a time that my hands or toes were cold.

The gear also plays a big part in staying warm. You don’t have to run out and invest in arctic gear immediately when you first start snowmobiling – instead you can rent it! I not only rented a snow mobile, but also all of the gear I needed right down to my balaclava and boots. I wore snow bibs, big boots, an arctic coat, mittens, and I also had a great helmet that was designed to not let cold air seep in.

Thanks to all of the high-quality gear and the innovative design of the snowmobiles, I never got cold – not once.

A Guide is Essential

A snowmobile guide is like a GPS – they bring you where you want to go. They are also a form of security. If anything happens to you or machine, they can help and are prepared for that.
As I kept Simon in my sights, I thought about how nice it was to simply follow him for two days and not have to worry about maps or reading signs. Since he was a local, he knew all of the trails, places to get fuel, or stop for a great view.
However, the biggest bonus to having a guide for me is that it allowed me to go faster than I ever would have been able to on my own. As long as I kept Simon in my sights, I was able to see the upcoming turns and curves which allowed me to be more fearless and cautious while anticipating my next move. If I wouldn’t have had him leading the way, I would have had to go much slower in order to make sure I could see all of the turns coming up.
He was also there to answer questions, take pictures, and teach me more about the snowmobiling culture and etiquette.

Yes, There is Such a Thing as Snowmobiling Etiquette

One of the first things Simon taught me were the standard hand signals. Since snowmobilers normally travel in groups, it’s really helpful to understand how many are in the group following each other and what the end of the group is. This tends to keep the trails safer. To communicate this, the first person who passes you will hold up fingers for how many people are still coming behind him/her. That way you have an idea of the oncoming traffic. Then the last person in the group will hold up a fist when they pass indicating they are the last person. At first, I was surprised that hand signals were necessary, but it turned out to be really useful on the trails.

The Trails Are Like an Expressway

With 3,300 km of trails, there has to be some rules else it would be pure chaos. The trails pretty much mimic the rules of the road. You drive on the right side and watch for speed limit signs as well as signs with directions and stops. As I traveled along these perfectly groomed trails, I marveled at how much work it must be every year to put them together and keep them groomed. A road system has the government to maintain it, but I learned that all of the trails are maintained and groomed by the snowmobile clubs in the region, much of it on a volunteer basis.

In addition, this extensive ‘road’ system also has amenities like lodging, food, and bars along the way. In fact, just like an expressway, there was even advertising for those amenities on the trails.

It’s a Workout

When you watch people snowmobile it looks quite simple and easy. However, I learned it wasn’t quite like driving a car. A car turns easily thanks to power steering, but to turn this massive machine, you had to put some muscle into it. In fact, the more you put your whole body into the turn and practically hung off the side like a pro motorcycle rider, the better the snowmobile maneuvered.
Thanks to all of that muscle I used, I was pretty worn out when the day was done, and my shoulders and arms were sorer than I ever expected the next morning!

More Snow = More Fun

When I woke up the 2nd day to 7 inches of new powder, I didn’t know what to think. As I took off following Simon after breakfast, I quickly learned that fresh powder = more fun! I felt like the fresh powder made it even easier to turn and handle curves. Plus – it’s just darn prettier too.

So bring on the snow! You don’t have to be intimidated if you are a beginning snowmobiler, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean is the perfect place to start on a multi-day or half day trip.

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