Normally after a good weekend of riding we would post some good pictures from the trail, but I had the misfortune of seeing the one thing no snowmobiler wants to see or be a part of: a snowmobile accident. I decided to go out for a quick ride and rendezvous with some friends on a nearby lake and just a few minutes down the trail I crossed a road and there was a rider on the other side. He stopped me and told me to be careful because there was a rider up the trail who had hit a tree and broke his leg and they were waiting for the paramedics to arrive. Just then the first of the emergency personnel arrived and I gave him a ride out to the crash site. When we arrived at the scene we found the crash victim laying on the ground with his buddy close by and his sled off to the side of the trail. In typical snowmobiler fashion he was more worried about the condition of his sled then the fact that there was a bone sticking out of his leg and was more mad that his season was over than the fact that his leg was broken. When the EMS guy asked him what happened I heard the familiar words “I was going too fast.” The guy was mad at himself for “being an idiot” as he put it. The EMS guy said something to him that was very pertinent, “Well, look at it this way, the good news is we can fix your leg and fix your sled, but we can’t fix death, so it could be worse.”
The thing is, it could be worse and for a few snowmobilers every year the worst happens. Snowmobiles, like any motorized vehicle, are dangerous, and the fact that we are riding on ice and snow in conditions that are ever changing makes snowmobiling a riskier proposition than many other forms of recreation. Add to that that snow tends to conceal objects buried under it and you get another combination for disaster. For the most part, however, nearly all snowmobile crashes can be avoided by being aware of three simple things.
EXCESSIVE SPEED: By far the #1 most common factor in snowmobile accidents is excessive speed. When you are going too fast it makes it extremely difficult to avoid unforeseen objects or hazards that pop up on an unfamiliar trail, field or lake. We all know someone who was flying across a lake on what they thought would be a nice safe flat surface only to be launched into the air by an ice road or pressure ridge that cropped up out of nowhere. This exact thing happened to me years ago on my way to my sister’s house. She lived on a small private lake that was a blast to ride on. I drove to her house, stayed for a while and then hopped on my sled to go back home. I was flying across the lake like I had done dozens of times before and then suddenly there was an ice road that someone had plowed in the hour that I had been visiting my sister. I pulled up on my sled and jumped it about thirty feet and landed in a nice puff of deep powder. Needless to say I was lucky. I’ve seen other riders make this same mistake and go tumbling head over heels and destroy their sleds in the process. Excessive speed on the trail is the cause of nearly all head on collisions every year. Going too fast into a corner can result in you drifting to the other side of the trail and hitting someone. Excessive speed also accounts for the majority of all single sled trail crashes. An icy corner can make you lose control or if you are going to fast you can miss a corner all together and wind up in the trees. The thing about trees is that they don’t move. In the decades old battle of snowmobile vs. tree the trees have won 100% of the time.
OBJECTS HIDDEN UNDER THE SNOW: One of the unique problems snowmobilers face is that snow conceals dangerous obstacles under its magnificent beautiful powder. This problem faces every rider from the woods to the mountains. Every year riders are killed or seriously injured by hitting hidden culverts, creek beds, rocks, stumps and barbed wire fences. I have a motto that I follow now and it can be used anywhere- “If you don’t know, go slow.” I came up with this after riding through a beautiful unfamiliar field years ago and suddenly riding right off a steep drop off that resulted in a shattered wrist. Since then whenever I come across unfamiliar terrain I go slow enough to avoid any such hazards. Even if you hit a rock or a stump, at a slow speed you dramatically reduce your odds of a severe injury. This rule of thumb is especially pertinent on an unfamiliar trail where there could be a hairpin turn or fallen tree that you ride up on with no idea that it is coming. Going slow gives you enough time to react and avoid disaster.
ALCOHOL: This one is a no brainer. Alcohol plays a major role in snowmobile accidents every year. This is one I never quite understood, you are riding on a powerful motorized vehicle on ice and snow usually in extreme weather conditions through the woods on a narrow trail surrounded by trees (that as mentioned earlier don’t like to move) and yet some people think combining all that with alcohol is a good plan. Alcohol related crashes involving snowmobiles almost always result in serious injury or death. The rule of thumb here is just don’t do it.
If you follow these three simple rules you can avoid wrecking your sled or worse yet wrecking yourself and you will be able to enjoy the beauty and awesome adrenaline rush of riding the trails for years to come.