Snowmobiling Safety 101

By KBJR News 1

November 30, 2010 Updated Nov 30, 2010 at 9:49 AM CDT

As the snowmobiling season sets to officially kick off this week, authorities want riders to take the necessary precautions so everyone on the trails stays safe.

It's a sound that beckons many people out in to the winter wonderland.

"It is a very big industry in Minnesota. There has kind of been a resurgence of snowmobile activity in the last few years," said Captain Ken Soring with the MN DNR Enforcement Division.

Captain Soring says unfortunately some of the numbers that show the activities growth, aren't good ones.

"One of the biggest things we see with snowmobile crashes, especially the fatals, is the use of alcohol," said Soring.

Of the 19 fatal snowmobiling accidents that occurred in Minnesota last season, 13 of them involved alcohol.

With the growing popularity of the sport of snocross, Soring says speed can be just as dangerous as alcohol use.

"At night at 50 MPH, by the time a person sees an obstacle, has time to react and slow the snowmobile down, they've gone half the distance of a football field, just in the second, or second in a half, it took to react," said Soring.

Make sure riding is done in designated areas, is another way authorities say riders can stay safe this season.

With more than 20,000 miles of snowmobiling trails throughout the state of Minnesota, riders are encouraged to stay on those trails and out of dangerous road ditches.

"Ditch riding is probably one of the most unsafe places to ride. Ditches aren't designed for snowmobile traffic; they are designed to move water off the road surface," said Lieutenant David Olson with the MN DNR Enforcement Division.

Lieutenant Olson says volunteers across the state take care of trails in an effort to keep them not only enjoyable for riders, but safer too.

"The clubs that monitor the trail and maintain the trail are out there and if there is a hazard they take care of it right away, where as the road ditches, they aren't designed for snowmobile traffic even though they are a very popular place to ride," said Olson.

Unsafe water crossings can be extremely dangerous to riders.

Olson and Soring say many lakes in the northland have a heavy snow layer for the latest storms and actually cause the ice on top to sag, making travel unsafe.

Taking time to check riding conditions as well as sled conditions authorities say is the best way to stay safe and have a good time this snowmobiling season.

Officials say the trails will be opening the first day of the season December 1st , and snow dependent, will run until the last day in March.