A 54-year old man injured his leg after being thrown from a snowmobile. A woman hi a rock wall snowmobiling on Lake Umbagog. A Franklin woman failed to negotiate a turn along Corridor 19 in Milan. These are just a few of the accident reports from snowmobiling this season.
While it seems like there is a new incident every weekend, snowmobiling accidents are actually lower than last year, even though registrations are up. This year the state is on track to top last years’ snowmobile registrations, said Dennis Etchells, Fish and Game’s OHRV program assistant. Fish and Game’s latest numbers didn’t include February, which is when much of the snow accumulated on the trails.
Assistant Trail Master of the White Mountain Ridge Runners Larry Gomes said he is “pleasantly surprised”, explaining that with more people on the trails, he anticipated more accidents than have actually happened.
In 2010, there were 71 accidents and four deaths. Last year, there were 62 accidents and five deaths. As of March 13, 2014, there has been 44 accidents and three deaths, said Etchells.
This has been a good snow year and because of that, Gomes explained that there are more registrations and people are taking longer trips. In the past, average rides were about 60 to 70 miles – with good cover it has been easy to double that distance, Gomes said. Gomes said he has logged over 1,400 miles this season and while on the trail he has had no close calls or accidents. He said all the riders he’s seen are courteous.
One concern is the user of more rental snowmobiles on the trails Gomes said. Often people renting have less experience and are more prone to accidents.
One-third of the crashes Fish and Game have investigated this year have involved rented machines, John Wimsatt, coordinator of Fish and Game’s Off-Highway Recreational Vehicle (OHRV) Program told the Nashua Telegraph. “The number of accidents involving rented machines is very high,” Wimsatt said.
Trail traffic has been moderate on the weekends Gomes said. With all the used, he has found clubs have been grooming the trails more. The groomers go out almost every day.
The N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation said there are more than 7,000 miles of snowmobile trails lin the state. Local club volunteers maintain the trail system. In Coos County along, the N.H. Snowmobile Association lists 15 snowmobile clubs. In February, the Presidential Range Riders held their annual Sled Fest in Gorham to raise money for their trail maintenance program and promote the local economy. They maintain 75 miles of trails in the White Mountains.
In addition to trail maintenance, clubs participate in other service and charity work. According to snowmobile.org, during the 2012-2013 season, clubs nationwide raised $3 million for charity. Recently, the White Mountain Ridge Runners snowmobile club partnered with the North Country Mushers for a sled dog competition at Jericho Mountain State Park.
The N.H. Snowmobile Association held its annual Ride-In in February at the Town and Country Inn and Resort to raise money for Easter Seal’s Camp Sno-Mo.
The clubs hope to see more riders out enjoying the trails safely. If you are planning on snowmobiling this season, N.H. Fish and Game suggests that you ride within your ability, be prepared for extreme conditions, don’t ride intoxicated, ride at a reasonable speed and test ice first if you are going out on frozen lakes and ponds.N.H. Fish and Game also offers OHRV safety classes. “Snowmobile safety is all about personal responsibility,” said Wimsatt. “Accidents are usually caused by people driving carelessly, too fast, beyond their skill level, or under the influence of alcohol. Combine one of more of those factors with iffy ice and trail conditions, and things can go wrong.
The good snow this year has boosted both registrations and time on the trails this year.