ORONO, Minn. — A healthy dose of early season snow has Minnesota snowmobilers chomping at the bit, getting out on the trails to stretch out riding time that is often too brief.
While opportunity is a good thing, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says it brings with it a downside: Three snowmobilers have already died this year in crashes, continuing an upward trend of fatalities that the DNR wants to stop.
“We want people enjoying the Minnesota winter, but we want them to do it safely,” said Bruce Lawrence, recreational vehicle coordinator with the DNR’s Enforcement Division.
Last winter 10 snowmobilers died in fatal crashes. The year before it was five, and in the winter of 2015-16 it was just three. The numbers are definitely heading in the wrong direction.
Along with this winter's three fatal incidents, the DNR has recorded a number of close calls including sleds that have fallen through thin ice and one instance where a snowmobiler struck someone who was walking on the ice. DNR officials understand people are anxious to get out and ride some of Minnesota's 22,000 miles of trails, some of which have not yet been groomed. They just want riders to do it safely, and return home in one piece.
“Passing along your passion for the outdoors is one of the greatest gifts you can give another person,” he said. “By modeling safe behavior, you can ensure that passion lives on in youngsters and new snowmobile riders.”
Among the suggestions the DNR is offering to keep snowmobilers safe:
- Stay on marked trails. The state’s snowmobile clubs work hard to keep trails in good riding condition. Riders who stay on groomed trails are less likely to strike an obstacle or trespass onto private property. In parts of the state, wet conditions where trails go through low areas or across lakes mean trails aren’t yet groomed. Riders should plan ahead and check trail conditions before heading out.
- Leave the booze at home. Drinking and riding is one of two main factors in crashes, and plays a role in about 60 percent of those that are fatal.
- Watch the speed. Going too fast is the other main factor in crashes. Many serious and fatal crashes occur when a speeding snowmobiler loses control or strikes an object.
- Be careful on the ice. During the past two winters, every through-the-ice fatality but one has involved people who were riding a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle when they fell through. There must be at least 5 to 7 inches of new, clear ice to support the weight of a snowmobile and rider.
- Take a snowmobile safety course. It’s required of anyone born after 1976 and recommended for everyone. People with snowmobile safety certification are less likely to be involved in serious or fatal crashes.
For more information on safe riding check out the DNR website.