How To Start a Fire With a Snowmobile

Suppose you just did something really stupid – like going snowmobiling and forgetting your survival gear in the truck. Your sled breaks down, or you get stuck, and you need to start a fire for signalling, warmth and light for what promises to be a long night out. Here is how to start a fire with a snowmobile.

by Leon Pantenburg

Where I live in Central Oregon, snowmobiling is a major winter sport. And with good reason – there are multiple snow parks close to Bend and when the snow is deep in the high country, an adventurer can go for miles. The Mount Bachelor trail system alone stretches for over 250 miles into acres of open snow fields and old growth Ponderosa pines. And talk about some views…

The magnificent views may make you forget to prepare for blizzards and potential bad weather. (Oregon Snowmobile Association photo)

The magnificent views may make you forget to prepare for blizzards and potential bad weather. (Oregon Snowmobile Association photo)

But the danger, according to some members of the local search and rescue team, is that many tourists underestimate the potential danger. Inexperienced visitors may think that because they can see the mountains from the deck of their rental unit, there is no danger. Or because it is a beautiful, sunny day at the trailhead, there is no reason to pack survival gear. After all, they might have rented a snowmobile, and only intend to take a quick ride…

Even experienced snowmobilers can make this mistake. In November, 2006, veteran snowmobiler Roger Rouse, 53, of Bend, died of hypothermia in Deschutes National Forest, about 10 miles west of Bend. He and his son had intended to only be out for a morning ride when a fierce snowstorm overwhelmed them. (To read the complete story, click here.)

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In another instance, four snowmobiler’s got lost and stuck in the Deschutes National Forest near Bend, OR. They had a lighter but no fire starter. They burned the contents of their wallets, including money and credit cards, the titles of the snowmobiles and a nylon rope in a vain attempt to start a fire. (That’s where I got the idea for the wallet-sized survival fire starter.)

So let’s suppose a worst case scenario: You’re riding on your snowmobile and it breaks down. Darkness is approaching and it looks like you’ll have to settle in for the night. You have no way to build a fire, and nothing but your snowmobile.

Here’s one method to use the machine to start a fire. Let’s assume you have a spark plug wrench and possibly a spare spark plug.

  • Gather firewood.
  • Remove the spark plug, and re-attach it to the plug wire.
  • Take a piece of cloth, sock or glove, wrap it around a stick, and dip it in the gas tank. Shut the gas cap.
  • Place the spark plug against the engine block so a circuit can be completed, and put the end of the spark plug next to the gasoline soaked cloth.
  • Crank the engine: A spark should hit the gasoline, and start a flame. After that, you should be able to start a fire.

If you carry spare spark plugs, you don’t have to remove the one from the engine. If you don’t have a spark plug wrench, you’re really in trouble.

But the best advice is to take along your ten essentials and other survival gear. Then, your breakdown will develop into an inconvenient night out, versus a desperate survival situation.

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What to take with you snowmobiling:
* A winter first-aid kit.
* Matches and fire starter in a waterproof canister.
* Extra food and water.
* Extra clothing, including a wool or synthetic sweater, gloves and rain shell.
* Plastic whistle.
* Map and compass, and, if possible, a GPS receiver.
* Flashlight with extra batteries and bulbs.
* Emergency reflective rescue blanket.
* Pocketknife.
* Avalanche cord or transceiver and breakdown probes when in avalanche country.
* Mobile phone or radio transceiver for back-country emergency communication.
* How to stay calm in an emergency.
* How to do basic maintenance and adjustments of your equipment, particularly snowmobiles.
* When to use good judgment to avoid risks and hazards.
* Know where you are at all times.

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