Snowmobile rider driving past a heart in the snow

December 7, 2021

On the trail of snowmobile training courses

5 min read


More Canadians than ever are taking up the joys of snowmobiling. And the biggest requirement to enjoying this fun, wintertime hobby is learning how to do it responsibly, using common sense, and practicing essential skills.Experts agree that a snowmobile training course can provide everything you and your family need to engage in this popular pastime safely.

So you‘ve decided this is the year you are finally going to get yourself a snowmobile! You are not the only one. With travel being what it is these days, many people are looking for new and fascinating ways to enjoy the Canadian winters.

If you and your family are primed to hit the trails this season, it’s time to think about snowmobile training courses. Do you need them? Are they all the same in Ontario? What, exactly, are the legal requirements?

Let’s get down to the bottom of this before we all head out on the trails this winter…

What is a motorized snow vehicle operator’s license, and do I need one?

A Motorized Snow Vehicle Operator’s Licence, or MSVOL, is a certificate proving that you have successfully passed the Ontario Snowmobile Safety Course. This course is exclusively offered by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) under the authority of the Ministry of Transportation.

An MSVOL is NOT required if you already have a valid driver’s licence. Still, it might be a good idea to brush up on some of the rules and etiquette of snowmobiling anyway.

An MSVOL is required if you are between the ages of 12 and 16, or you are older than 16 but still have not obtained a regular driver’s licence.

Basically the snowmobiling rules are:

  • You must be at least 12 years old
  • You must carry a valid driver’s licence (Ontario or another recognized jurisdiction) or an MSVOL
  • You must register the snowmobile with the Ministry of Transportation
  • You must have insurance

If you do not have an MSVOL or regular driver’s licence, you can only operate a snowmobile on private property.

How do I get an MSVOL?

These days, getting your MSVOL is rather simple. Since the start of the pandemic, the OFSC has put the entire safety training course online, so now you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home.

  1. Study the online safety course. It’s all narrated, interactive and animated. In short, it’s easy to understand, especially for your 12 year old!
  2. Pass the short quiz at the end of each unit. A passing grade is 80%. If you don’t pass it the first time, you can keep redoing the unit until you do.
  3. Pass the exam at the end of the course. You must get at least 80% to pass. You have two attempts to pass it before you must begin the course again from the beginning.

After you have passed the final exam, you can print a copy of your MSVOL right away and you are good to go. They will send you a permanent card in the mail.

The cost is a one-time fee of $40, which includes the course plus all attempts at passing the quizzes and exam.

The course is developed and hosted by Fresh Air Educators, which works with government agencies and organizations across the country to develop educational materials and applications for a wide range of outdoor activities. Their goal is to make education and certification safe and easily accessible.

According to Michael Dean, Senior Account Manager at Fresh Air Educators, The online course is a great way for students to learn about snowmobile safety through fully narrated animations and illustrations, which means you aren’t just reading, but listening, watching and engaging to learn more and have fun doing it.

I have a valid driver’s licence, should I take the online safety course anyway?

The important thing about the online safety course for you and your family is that it encompasses every aspect of ownership and safety. It has been designed to educate snowmobilers about safety and ethics, as well as to inform them of the responsibilities they have not only to themselves but to other riders and the environment.

There is certainly lots of safety information in the course, says Dean, but also great general knowledge about snowmobiles that is necessary for youth and those that are new to the sport. There are a lot of aspects to snowmobiling that can easily get overlooked. Most people are anxious to get out riding on the trails, but don’t always take the time to plan for a safe trip back home.

Though taken online, the course is surprisingly extensive, and can prepare you for every aspect of driving a snowmobile safely, training you in a diverse set of topics, including:

  • Laws and Regulations
  • Parts Terminology and Maintenance
  • Trip Planning
  • Trailering
  • Riding Skills and Etiquette
  • Keys to Survival

What about a more hands-on course? Or is the online course sufficient?

While the online course is quite extensive, you might consider taking a more hands-on approach to snowmobile safety by getting some extra training with a certified instructor, especially if you or your family are new to sledding.

Ideally anyone that is new to the sport has a friend or family member that is showing them the ropes. explains Dean, The online course is a great first step but continued education is always important. If they are completely new and have any hesitations at all, then an in-person follow-up course would be recommended.

Because driving a snowmobile is considered more in line with driving an ATV than, say, a motorcycle, and due to the reality of pandemic precautions, there aren’t many places offering hands-on training in Ontario at this time.

One exception is an 7-8 hour course offered by the Canada Safety Council. They have certified instructors located throughout Ontario, and will even start training students as young as 6 years old!

This kind of course will add more practical training to the online version offered by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, but you will not obtain an MSVOL at the end of the training sessions, so the online course is still more essential for you and your family.

What you will do is gain more immediate familiarity with the vehicle, such as techniques for turning, negotiating hilly areas, swerving effectively and riding over obstacles. Plus you will get more in depth knowledge of:

  • The snowmobile itself, including its capabilities, limitations and proper maintenance
  • The wide array of operating conditions, and how to recognise them
  • The local laws in your area, or the area you will be sledding in
  • The etiquette around snowmobiling and proper judgement calls
  • Survival techniques

This will certainly give you and your family a better foundation on the many elements of snowmobiling, and help to keep you safe on the trails as you enjoy your new hobby.

And according to renowned snowmobile expert Craig Nicholson – aka The Intrepid Snowmobiler, a little hands-on training just makes good sense…

While only the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs has the authorisation to issue a MSVOL,” says Nicholson, “It never hurts to have some extra training!

Does the Canada Safety Council course provide equipment, or will I need my own?

This depends on the instructor and where he/she is located. Some instructors working for the Canada Safety Council can provide the snowmobile, though most will not. Others are located at resorts that can sometimes rent you one. This will all depend on the instructor.

In any case, due to pandemic restrictions, at the time of writing, everyone must have their own equipment, including their own helmet!

Finally, what kind of insurance do I need?

While it is legal to drive your snowmobile on private property without insurance, if you want to go out on Ontario’s 30,000 km of trails, you are going to need an insurance policy that contains:

  • Third party liability coverage
  • Accident benefits coverage
  • Direct Compensation – property damage coverage
  • Uninsured automobile coverage

And as with your car insurance, it is always a good idea to add collision and comprehensive coverage as well.

You can purchase snowmobile insurance as a stand alone policy or you can bundle it with your car and home insurance for a 20% discount.

Premiums start at just a few hundred dollars a year. Though they can set you back a thousand or more for young snowmobilers with less than stellar driving records.

Just remember that if you have your children included in your policy, their sledding record affects your insurance rates. So in the end, getting them the best training will help keep those rates low!

Call Mitch at 1-800-731-2228, and let’s get you out on those trails today!

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