Novice Island sledders learn the ropes

Scott Willis instructs a full house of young snowmobilers on the dos and don’ts of snowmobiling, teaching them the rules of the road and how to stay safe on the trails. photo by Michael Erskine

LITTLE CURRENT—Nearly 50 students spent Wednesday, January 3 at the Little Current Recreation Centre with their attention focussed on snowmobiling driving instructor Scott Willis as he took them through the intricacies of safe sledding.

“That’s the important thing we want people to take away from this,” said Mr. Willis, “how to come home safe after a day on the trails.”

Mr. Willis described the turnout for his class as “great. It’s probably in part due to there not having been any group on the Island for three years.”

The instructor decided to become a snowmobile driving instructor after seeking a course for his own child. “I looked into it and couldn’t find anyone to do it locally,” he said. “So I took the course for the Ministry of Transport licence.”

The January 3 course was Mr. Willis’s first and was conducted under the guidance of master instructor Dean Gates. “He watches the first one,” said Mr. Willis. “He only came up two times, just to make sure I stressed a couple of points, dotting the i and crossing the t as it were on some things that needed to be stressed.”

The class ran from 9 am to 4 pm, with two three-hour sections and now that Mr. Willis is an instructor there will likely be courses held two to three times a season. “I am hoping to do one in February,” he said. The date for the next course is not set yet. “It will be advertised so just watch the paper.”

In order to take the course a student must be at least 12-years-old, and most of those attending the course at the recreation centre appeared to be between 12 and 16, but a couple of adults had also registered. The course is mandatory in order to operate a snowmachine on the trails.

“It is important to know that unless you are over 16, you can’t cross roads with a snowmachine,” he said. “So, between the ages of 12- and 15-years-old, you can’t cross roads.”

There are a lot of rules involved in the operation of a snowmachine, noted Mr. Willis. “A large part of this course is explaining to the young people that these aren’t just ‘mom and dad’s’ rules. There are serious consequences if you don’t follow them.”

The morning session is a classroom session going over those MTO rules and regulations, while the afternoon was described as a more hands on session. The students learn the importance of proper attire, hand signals and “what you need to do to get home safe.” Included in the afternoon session are such practical things as safely changing spark plugs and fan belts while on the trail.

Mr. Willis is also a licenced Class G licence instructor.

“It’s important to know that all of the people at the course have their vulnerable sector police checks,” said Mr. Willis.

The course costs $40 and is operated under the auspices of the Manitoulin Snowdusters.