Snowmobile trail conditions vary throughout Minnesota but, in areas where there’s good snow, riders have been getting out with gusto. Snowmobile tracks are common sights in road ditches, on trails and atop the ice. This year’s busy start to the riding season continues a surge in recent years of people riding snowmobiles to enjoy Minnesota’s outdoors.
Gov. Tim Walz has declared Jan. 15-23 to be Snowmobiling Safety Awareness Week, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers remind all riders to brush up on safety and prioritize safe rides. So far this year, two snowmobile riders have lost their lives and there have been multiple close calls, including several snowmobile riders who have fallen through the ice. During the past eight snowmobile seasons, more than seven riders, on average, have lost their lives each year.
“We’re continuing to see new people get into the sport of snowmobiling and discover the unique way riding the trails connects them with nature,” said Bruce Lawrence, DNR Enforcement Division recreational vehicle coordinator. “With more than 22,000 miles of snowmobile trails in Minnesota, opportunities abound. As long as riders make good decisions when they’re out riding, snowmobiling is something they can do the rest of their lives.”
Lawrence offers the following tips to ensure a safe ride:
- Stay on marked trails. Minnesota’s snowmobile clubs work hard to maintain good riding condition on the state’s trails. Riders who stay on groomed trails are less likely to strike an obstacle or trespass onto private property. In some parts of the state, wet conditions where trails go through low areas or across lakes mean trails aren’t yet groomed. Riders should check trail conditions (mndnr.gov/snow_depth) before heading out.
- Leave the booze at home. Riding under the influence 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 happen when a speeding snowmobiler loses control or strikes an object.
- 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.
- 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.
Additional safety tips can be found on the snowmobile safety tips page of the DNR website (mndnr.gov/snowmobiling/safety.html).