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Breaking Trail: Safety Starts With You

By John Prusak

Trail 3 in Keweenaw Peninsula

Few people like to read about trail safety, and whenever there’s a close call it’s always easy to think it was “the other guy’s fault.” But, as noted in this Breaking Trail column that first appeared in the January 2018 issue of Snow Goer, creating safer trails often start with the person in the mirror.  

This month’s column is going to be all about politics, religion and hot button issues like social security funding, sex education in schools, tax policy and whether the next generation is really worth a damn. OK, I lied, it’s not about any of that – it’s about something that some people consider far worse to read about: trail safety!

I’ve always been reticent to write about safety for several reasons. For one, it’s hard to do without sounding preachy or negative. Second, few snowmobilers riders like to be told how to ride – our egos tell us that we’re doing it is right and everybody else is wrong. Finally, writing a column about safety seems like the sure path to a jinx – I envision folks standing around at my wake staring at my urn saying something like, “Wow, just three months ago he wrote this column about safety, and now THIS happens.”

Yet several people recently shared personal stories that goaded me into covering the topic. I met a family in New York who told me about the head-on accident their loved one was involved in when meeting a corner-cutting rider. Another man in Wisconsin pleaded for more trail safety coverage, citing close-calls that he and his son had experienced plus a head-on accident that involved his brother. And, in our reader survey last spring, many people cited safety topics when asked for their story ideas.

Talking about safety has become less of a faux pas in the West, where avalanche safety information is available seemingly everywhere and avalanche deaths by snowmobilers are trending downward (though we must stay forever diligent). However, Since this column was printed, the West had a particularly bad winter, with 11 avalanche deaths in the U.S. in the winter of 2017-18, reversing recent trends. Canadian stats weren’t readily available. I’ve seen top-notch, professional riders in the West train, re-train and practice their terrain reading, beacon usage, probing and shoveling skills time and again, but when is the last time you and your riding buddies gathered to talk about trail safety? Probably never?

Editor John T. Prusak

Maybe it’s because so many things related to trail safety are common sense – staying right, slowing down, riding sober, always anticipating that somebody’s going to be coming at you in every corner, not overdriving your headlights, keeping a safe following distance, only taking trail breaks on straightaways and pulling far right, etc.

We all know this stuff, right? Then why is it that each of us has – at the very least – stories of close calls? You know, that time you met an oncoming sled that was going too fast and on the wrong side of the trail; the occasion when you rounded a corner and parked sleds were blocking the path ahead; that night when you surprisingly hit open water when crossing an unknown lake. And many folks have more impactful, personal stories – the occasion when they got too hot into a corner and crashed into a tree; a gnarly accident they came across when somebody was seriously injured; the surprise encounter with a groomer; the former riding buddy who was seriously injured or killed after leaving the bar and hitting a fixed object.

It’s easy to always blame “the other guy” when close calls occur, but it starts with the man in the mirror. If each of us is consistently doing the right thing, all of us will be safer, we’ll have more fun and we’ll get to see our friends and families again.

Being a “good snowmobiler” doesn’t mean you can go faster, fly farther or ride harder than your buddies. The best snowmobilers are the ones who are in control and bring their machine and bodies home every night in pristine condition.

Next winter, redouble your effort to be a good snowmobiler.

Editor’s Note: Every issue of Snow Goer magazine includes in-depth sled reports and comparisons, aftermarket gear and accessories reviews, riding destination articles, do-it-yourself repair information, snowmobile technology and more! Subscribe to Snow Goer now to receive issues delivered to your door 7 times per year for a low cost.

One comment

  1. Harold A. Butschke

    Hi John, you have a very good and informative mag. I enjoy reading every issue and learn something from it each month. I have been a Snowmobile Safety Instructor since 1974. My helpers and I teach two classes each year. The Snowmobile Safety classes are a God Send for our sport. We teach the students how to operate safely. We can’t control what they do as the grow up. They have been taught how to do it the right way. We stress joining a Club so that you ride with people that know how to do it safely.
    I think that an article about trail safety in your mag once in a while would be a good idea!
    Harold

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