DNR offers tips for safe snowmobiling

Published 8:55 am Tuesday, December 23, 2008

With another snowmobile season upon us, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is encouraging snowmobilers to get this season off to a smooth and safe start.

“We want people to take advantage of the snowmobiling opportunities that exist in Minnesota,” said Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR Enforcement Education Program coordinator. “However, this sport can be very dangerous when safety rules are ignored.”

DNR officials say riding snowmobiles can be an enjoyable form of outdoor recreation when following the rules:

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Take a safety training course; to legally ride a snowmobile, residents born after Dec. 31, 1976 need a valid snowmobile safety certificate.

Obey the maximum speed in Minnesota of 50 mph; many times trail conditions or riding at night require slower speeds.

Stay away from alcohol; it’s a major factor in most accidents.

Be cautious of hidden dangers, especially when operating in a road.

Give right-of-way; this includes silt fences, soil stockpiles, pieces of unused concrete culverts, wooden survey stakes and steel right of way markers may remain during the winter months after construction activity ceases; watch for sedimentation ponds, brush piles and scattered rocks and boulders that may be obscured by fallen snow.

Ice is seldom the same thickness over a single body of water. It can be two feet thick in one place and one inch thick a few yards away due to currents, springs, rotting vegetation or school of rough fish. You need to check the ice at least every 150 feet, especially early in the season or any situation where the thickness varies widely.

The recommended minimum thicknesses for new clear ice are:

4 inches for ice fishing and small group activities.

5 inches for snowmobiles and ATVs.

8 to 10 inches for small to medium cars, and pickups.

White ice, sometimes called “snow ice,” is only about one-half as strong as new clear ice so the above thicknesses should be doubled.

Vehicles weighing about 1 ton such as cars, pickups or SUVs should be parked at least 50 feet apart and moved every two hours to prevent sinking. It’s not a bad idea to make a hole next to the car. If water starts to overflow the top of the hole, the ice is sinking and it’s time to move the vehicle.

Always use a tape measure to tell the thickness. Don’t go by where the drill breaks through.

Slow down, especially at night, over-riding your headlight is another major cause of accidents.

Display current snowmobile registration.

Stay off the roadway, shoulder, and slope of state and county highways.

Operate your snowmobile in the same direction as highway traffic when riding one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise.

Stay off the median of four-lane highways.

Come to a complete stop and look both ways before crossing a public roadway.

Cross public roadways at a 90-degree angle.

Check local ordinances on when and where you may ride.

Stay on marked trails; the future of our trail system depends on it.

Recall a person under 14, without a snowmobile safety certificate, may operate a snowmobile when supervised or accompanied by a parent, legal guardian or other person 18 years of age or older designated by the parent or guardian.

Remember, ice is never safe.

Never ride alone.

Make sure your machine is in proper operating condition.

Join a snowmobile club.

For a copy of DNR’s 2008-2009 Minnesota Snowmobile Safety Laws, Rules, and Regulations handbook, call (651) 296-6157.