Safe on the snow
Being a Minnesotan means having to find activities to help pass the cold snowy months. While some are content to spend their time hunkered down by the woodstove with a good book or other indoor activity, many eagerly await the arrival of snow and cold because they mean dusting off the snowmobile and heading for the trails.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, snowmobile enthusiasts have over 22,000 miles of groomed trails to explore, including many hundreds of miles in St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties.
Snowmobiling can be a great outdoor sport for people of all ages, but it is not without risks. In fact, since 1967, when the DNR began collecting data, 652 people have lost their lives in snowmobile related incidents and 4,178 injuries have been reported.
Last year there were 6 fatalities including one in Lake County. There were also and 40 injuries. In all but one case alcohol was involved, according to the DNR website. Warren Miller, who is teaching an upcoming DNR snowmobile safety certification class, agrees that alcohol is a leading factor in fatalities and injuries and adds that excessive speed is also a contributor.
"A snowmobile with a 600 cc engine can exceed 100 miles per hour," he said. That can spell trouble and danger especially when a snowmobiler is young and lacks experience handling a powerful machine. The snowmobile safety classes are designed to provide the information new riders need to be safer in the snow.
Miller has been teaching the safety classes for about 15 years and is a member and past president of the Voyageur Snowmobile Club. He, along with co-instructors Rick Mickelson and Bob and Mike Lackour use a curriculum designed by the DNR and each instructor has his own area of expertise--Mickelson teaches winter survival skills and the Lackours teach the basics of snowmobile repair.
"They do maintenance as far as showing kids how to change a belt or spark plugs," Miller said.
A range of other topics are also covered including laws pertaining to snowmobilers, reading signs, and safely crossing roads and highways. Miller said that a DNR officer is invited for the first night of class to talk to students about dangers and fatalities.
Snowmobile safety classes are required by law for all snowmobilers born after Dec. 31, 1976. Five of the six two-hour sessions will be held at the Lake Bank and Harbor Insurance conference room from 6-8 p.m. starting Monday, Nov. 26. The final class will be a driving test at the Lake County Fair Grounds starting at 8 a.m. Dec. 15. Participants must be 12 or turning 12 by April.
To make the class more convenient for Minnesota residents who cannot attend at the scheduled times, Miller said the course is also offered on compact disc. The CD covers the same material as the traditional class, but students are only required to attend onsite classes for the purposes of taking the written test and the driving exam. Regardless of how students choose to take the class ,however, the goal is the same.
"We want kids to become safe and responsible snowmobilers. We share the trails and we don't want them hurting themselves or us," said Miller.
For more information about the snowmobile safety certification class or to register, call Warren Miller at home (834-5923) at work (834-8645) or on his cell phone (830-0983). Class size is limited so call soon. Cost for the class is $5.