Experts, law enforcement urge snowmobiles to take extra caution

As families gather for the holidays, snowmobile enthusiasts will be making the most of what little snow there is Manitoba, but experts still advise caution despite the warmer conditions. Morgan Modjeski reports.

As people gather for the holidays, many families will be headed out on their snowmobiles in full force, but experts and law enforcement are advising members of the public to take extra caution when embracing the long-standing winter tradition.

The snowpack in the province has been slow to arrive, but officials with the Snowmobilers of Manitoba – or SnoMan – say they’re already doing the prep work needed on its trail network of 13,000 kilometres.

But they say even with trails closed, snowmobilers taking advantage of what little snow we have, need to be careful, especially new riders.

“We’ve seen with the pandemic, a lot more people are hitting the trails. We had a 16 per cent increase in snowmobile sales and that was the highest since the year 2000,” said Yvonne Rideout, a well-known leader in the community and the longest-serving executive director in SnoMan’s history.

She says there have been huge advancements in the sport, saying people need to take care when they’re on a sled. 

“People need to ride within their ability, we can’t stress that enough.” 

Since 2013, there have been a total of 58 deaths recorded on snowmobiles in the province, with numbers fluctuating from year to year, but peaking at a max of nine deaths in both 2018 and 2020. So far this year in 2023 – likely during the previous season –  three deaths have been recorded. 

Sgt. Paul Manaigre with the Manitoba RCMP says every year, officers are called to remote parts of the province to assist snowmobilers who have been involved in a collision and he says many times, alcohol and or speed, are factors. 

“It keeps us busy,” said Sgt. Manaigre. “The machine gets away from them and then they’re colliding with obstacles – trees for the most part.” 

He says the national police force in Manitoba receives between 150 to 200 complaints concerning snowmobilers every year, and amongst those calls are roughly 30 to 50 non-fatal collisions, which have been compounded in recent seasons by the power of the modern snow machine. 

“The technology behind these machines today is phenomenal, the speeds you can reach in seconds, and we will see a lot of that in these collisions. Driver inattention, driver error. They got up to a speed they couldn’t control and as soon as you start losing control of the snowmobile, it’s going to take you where it wants,” said Manaigre.

Manaigre says while going off trail into the trees is obviously a concern, he says snowmobilers also need to be cautious while travelling on backroads and the like, saying while the area may be remote, it doesn’t always mean you’re alone, as other motor vehicles could always be present. 

Both Rideout and Manaigre say it is critical good habits around the use of these machines be instilled early – saying while it’s a terrific family activity – it’s one that has to be done responsibly, saying first-time riders should take the SnoMan online safety course before they even think about getting on a sled, stressing both the SnoMans’ 53 member clubs and RCMP will be on the lookout for snowbound scofflaws. 

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