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Snowmobile Safety

Snowmobile Safety

CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 JON COTE

I grew up in central Maine, so you can imagine winter sports were an integral part of my life. With nearly six months a year of snow, I learned at a young age that snowmobiling could be a great way to get rid of those winter blues. I also learned the importance of wearing the proper personal protective equipment and being prepared for the unexpected.

I have been snowmobiling for about 30 years and made hundreds of rides without a major accident. Unfortunately, I know some people — and have heard about many more — that weren’t so lucky. Like any other activity we choose to participate in, we must integrate risk management into snowmobiling to help ensure a safe outcome.

First and foremost we must wear our PPE — with the most important item being a helmet. The helmet must be warm, comfortable and, as with motorcycle helmets, approved by the Department of Transportation. Don’t be afraid to spend a little money on a quality helmet. After all, isn’t your life worth it?

Next on the list is appropriate clothing, which includes everything from boots, gloves and outerwear to undergarments. A person should dress in layers, which will allow for the ever-changing weather. I have experienced temperature fluctuations as much as 50 degrees in one day. Also, one minute it can be sunny without a cloud in the sky, and the next thing you know it’s nearly blizzard conditions. Your outer clothing, to include gloves/mittens and boots, must be windproof, waterproof and comfortable. Nothing will ruin a day of snowmobiling quicker than being cold, wet and miserable.

The next thing you must do is let a responsible adult know where you are going as well as your departure and return times. This is crucial in case some unplanned event happens. That way, people will know where to start looking for you. In addition, I strongly recommend always snowmobiling with a buddy. Snowmobiles are mechanical devices, which, like anything else, can break down.

Riding with a buddy is especially important if you plan to take your snowmobile off the beaten path. Too many things can go wrong. Be aware that trail conditions can change throughout the day. People have died because the frozen body of water they crossed early in the morning has now thawed and can’t support the weight of their machine. Yes, you could (and should) carry a cellphone, but don’t count on it to bail you out if you find yourself in trouble. Many areas conducive to snowmobiling do not have cellphone coverage. If something does go wrong, you’ll be glad you have a buddy along to help you.

I believe risk management should be applied to every aspect of a Soldier’s life, whether it be on or off duty. It is our responsibility to ourselves and our families to ensure we do everything possible to stay safe. Safer is always better.

FYI

There are many online resources for information on snowmobiling safety. Here is some additional information to keep you safe on the snow:

  • Wear a helmet and eye protection at all times. Goggles with colored lenses are indispensable on bright days. In addition, amber or yellow lenses are useful on dark days or late in the afternoon.
  • Dress for the ride. The outside of your snowmobiling outfit should have a hood and be windproof and waterproof. Beneath that, dress in layers, making sure the clothing is not too tight. Thermal underwear will help insulate you from the cold. Protect your hands with snowmobiling gloves designed to allow your thumb and fingers to operate the controls. Wear rubber-bottom, leather-top boots or rubber-bottom, nylon-top boots to help keep your feet warm and improve traction. Woolen socks can help keep Jack Frost from nipping at your toes. Avoid loose clothing that could get caught on the snowmobile’s moving parts.
  • Do not let young or inexperienced riders operate snowmobiles without proper training and supervision.
  • Do not use alcohol or other drugs when you ride.
  • Learn your riding skills from an experienced rider or qualified trainer and practice them before going to the mountains.
  • Always maintain a safe distance between riders. Following too closely can lead to collisions and injuries.
  • Ride with other snowmobilers and let someone who is not riding know where you’re going and when you plan on returning.
  • Before riding, review all local snowmobile laws and obey them.
  • Check local weather conditions and dress appropriately.
  • Know the terrain where you will be riding so you’ll be aware of potential hazards.
  • Always use the proper arm and hand signals when riding with others.
  • Always ride safely and responsibly. Know your abilities and those of your snowmobile and don’t exceed them.
  • Make sure your equipment is in top working order before hitting the trails.
  • Carry a map or a GPS receiver to help you navigate the trails. Mark your route on a map and provide it to someone you know.
  • Frequently clear the ice and snow off your snowmobile so it will run properly and others can see your lights.
  • If you’re going into an area where avalanches are a potential threat, get the latest avalanche forecasts and bring the proper gear and equipment.
  • Be prepared for anything and use common sense.

It’s also a good idea to always practice proper etiquette so you and others on the slopes and trails stay safe. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Be considerate of others on the trail and keep to the right.
  • Slow down when passing.
  • Ride only where permitted.
  • Leave gates as you found them.
  • Yield right of way to animals and hikers.
  • Carry out what you carry in.
  • Wave and say “hello” as you pass.
  • Report downed trees and trail maintenance to land managers.
  • Always help those who look in need. One day, that may be you.
  • 1 December 2015
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10213
  • Comments: 0
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