Snow brings snowmobiling and a need for safety first

The other shoe finally dropped on a winter season seemingly determined to avoid snow.

The New Year finally relented on the snowless north and brought with it the first really significant snowfall for this winter season, making happy the hearts of skiers, rabbit hunters and snowmobilers - especially snowmobilers.

It also brought that group of snow time enthusiasts a reminder that as a snowmobile is still classified as a motor vehicle it is subject to the same need for following rules of the trail as much as the road. Job one for snow goers is safety first – fun second.

The rules for safe snowmobiling are not hard to follow – provided you know and understand them. Example – never ride in single file over lakes or ponds. What? A number of years ago one of the most tragic snowmobile events occurred on Houghton Lake. Ice on the lake was slow to freeze thick and solid everywhere; in a foggy atmosphere, a group of snowmobilers, riding single file over the lake, drove, one at a time through an open hole in the ice, dropping into the chilling waters until the tail end riders realized something had happened. Lives were lost in that event, giving some sad examples of why safety rules should be followed.

There are snowmobile safety courses taught for young riders and adults alike who need to learn the lessons these DNR-designed courses teach. Among the rules and advice for safety in operating snowmobiles to be learned, are these:

  • Never operate under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
  • Slow down;
  • Wear safety equipment such as a helmet, eye protection, protective clothing and insulated boots and gloves;
  • Always operate with the flow of traffic and stay as far to the right side of any legal road or trail;
  • Always keep a machine in top mechanical condition;
  • Never ride alone, and always leave a travel plan with someone;
  • Avoid, when possible, operating on frozen bodies of water;
  • Wear a winter flotation suit whenever operating on the frozen surfaces of water;
  • Always be alert and avoid fences and low-strung wires;
  • Only carry passengers when the machine is designed to do so;
  • Ensure that headlights and taillights are on at all times;
  • When approaching an intersection, come to a complete stop, raise up off the seat and look for oncoming traffic;
  • Always check the weather conditions before departure; and
  • Bring a cell phone and other basic safety gear (something to start a fire with, rescue throw rope, self-rescue ice spikes, tow strap, flashlight, compass, blanket, etc.

As to the rules of the road, the same rules that apply to you when driving a car on a roadway apply on the snow trails. Biggest problems are speed faster than safety dictates, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, failure to obey stop or other directional sign, failure to show proper ID on machine or your person on request, trespass on private lands, and littering. Break any of these rules and it can be a little costly when you meet the judge.

Now that we have the snow and as the snow trails will begin to get busy, enjoy the season – you waited long enough for it to get here. There way things have been going weather-wise of late, there may be less of it than you’d hope for. So, as long as we have winter’s snow back with us, use it and enjoy it. Just respect it and the others who will share it with you. Remember snowmobiling’s Rule One: Safety First. Then get outside and have fun.