Snowdusters urge caution on the trails

Following six snowmobile deaths in Ontario

ONTARIO–Six recent snowmobile deaths have led the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) to strongly urge snowmobilers to stop taking unnecessary risks while riding. 

The latest series of incidents brings the number of snowmobile fatalities this winter to 13 compared to eight deaths at this point last season. While lack of snow was a factor in last winter’s lower numbers, the constant over the past two seasons is the causal factors leading to the deaths, a press release from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) states.

OPP investigators are linking the fatalities to riding on unsafe ice, speeding, loss of control, alcohol use and driver inattention, confirming that driver behaviours continue to cause otherwise preventable snowmobile deaths.

In one incident just over a week ago, an 11-year-old girl died after the snowmobile she was driving collided with a transport truck as she attempted to cross a major highway in Iroquois Falls. Another collision claimed the life of one driver and left another in critical condition after two snowmobiles crashed head-on. Last weekend, members of the OPP Underwater Search and Recovery Unit brought to shore the lifeless body of a male driver from a lake, making this the third incident of the season during which a snowmobiler died while riding on unsafe ice.

“The vast majority of these incidents are not random ‘accidents’ that can happen to just any snowmobiler,” says OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair, Provincial Commander, Traffic Safety and Operational Support. “Somewhere along the way, a risk was taken or an error in judgement was made. Sadly, tragedies occurred at an alarming rate over the past two weeks and the only way to prevent them is for every snowmobiler to eliminate all forms of risk when riding.”

“As with all recreational activities, there are always risks,” adds Lisa Stackhouse, manager, Participation and Partnership Development for the OFSC. “These latest incidents serve as tragic reminders that making smart choices while snowmobiling helps ensure that your journey will be as safe as it is enjoyable.”

On Manitoulin, the Manitoulin Snowdusters Snowmobile Club is also concerned with the high number of fatalities associated with the sport of snowmobiling this season.

It tends to give the sport a bad name, as if it is an inherently dangerous activity that should be avoided,” says Manitoulin Snowdusters spokesperson Brad Middleton. “That is not the case at all.”

“As the information released by the police indicates, most of the fatalities could have been avoided,” Mr. Middleton continues. “Those deaths took place due to carelessness on the part of the snowmobile driver or because the driver engaged in unacceptable risks (eg. travelling on thin ice). It was particularly heartbreaking to see the little girl killed in the snowmobile accident near Iroquois Falls on the weekend of February 4-5 while trying to cross a major highway.”

“Almost all the deaths have one thing in common—they occurred at a location other than on a groomed OFSC trail,” he continues. “If you buy a trail permit, and use the official trail system here in Ontario, your chances of being killed or seriously injured are almost nil.”

“The Manitoulin Snowdusters are particularly proud of our safety record,” Mr. Middleton adds. Since the Manitoulin Snowdusters became affiliated with the OFSC governing body in 1991 and the trail system was installed on the Island, there have been no fatal injuries due to snowmobiling on Manitoulin.

Contrast that to the decade before. In the 1980s, there were at least four deaths relating to the operation of snowmobiles on Manitoulin.

“That is why it is so important for all snowmobilers to get behind the local snowmobile club so we can continue to offer an infrastructure that is both safe and extensive for our sport,” Mr. Middleton states. “That is also why we seek the cooperation of private landowners to grant land use permission to enable a trail system that promotes safety.”

Mr. Middleton also reminds parents that the legal age for driving a snowmobile—other than on private property—is 12-years-old and even then young people are required to take a driver training course and be issued a snowmobile driver’s licence.

The snowmobile driver’s licence course has not been offered on Manitoulin yet this winter but according to the Snowdusters, a course may be arranged for youth in late March.