We've received a lot of snow so far this winter, which is great news for all outdoor enthusiasts, especially snowmobilers. However, perhaps some riders are a little too excited as they've hit the trails with reckless abandon.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources held a press conference Thursday to stress the importance of snowmobile safety as snowmobile deaths continue to mount this season and there is still plenty of time left in this season.
According to the DNR, while they don't yet have official reports for all snowmobile fatalities, preliminary reports indicate six riders have already died in crashes this season. For perspective, that’s the same number as the entire 2021-2022 snowmobile season and double the number of the 2020-2021 season. Eleven snowmobile riders died in 2019-2020 and 10 died in 2018-2019.
“Opportunities to ride snowmobiles are entirely dependent upon the weather, and in years when there’s a lot of snow, like this year, we see an uptick in riders,” said Capt. Jon Paurus, DNR Enforcement education program coordinator. “It’s imperative that anyone who plans to head out makes good decisions and keeps safety at the top of their mind.”
With that in mind, the DNR provided snowmobile drivers with the following reminders to ensure a safe ride for all:
- Stay on marked trails. Minnesota’s snowmobile clubs work hard to maintain good riding conditions on the state’s trails. Riders who stay on groomed trails are less likely to strike an obstacle or trespass onto private property. (Civil penalties for snowmobile trespass have doubled this year.) Riders can check trail conditions on the DNR website before heading out.
- Don’t ride impaired. Drinking and riding is a primary cause of crashes and plays a role in about 60% of those that are fatal.
- Watch your speed and stay to the right. Going too fast is another main cause of crashes. Many serious and fatal crashes occur when a speeding snowmobiler loses control or strikes an object. When meeting another snowmobile, always slow down and stay to the right.
- Be careful on the ice. In recent years, nearly every through-the-ice fatality 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. Check the ice thickness as you go.
- 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.
Tragically, we've already lost six snowmobilers in the state of Minnesota alone this season. Let's hope the current snowmobile season ends safely for everyone in the Northland.