Heads up on those sleds, please?

December 22, 2008

by Aaron Schultz

I debated writing this column for a while for one simple reason: I didn’t want to believe that I had become an old fart.

Well, maybe that is just what I have become, but this past week I witnessed a couple of things that got me shaking my head.

Both events had to do with snowmobiles and took place Tuesday, and the first one wasn’t all that bad, but still left me wondering, what if?

It went like this – I was driving to Lester Prairie from Winsted in the afternoon to get some photos of the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity girls’ basketball game against Nicollet.

The roads weren’t great, as it was snowing, and the snowmobiles were out in force.

Looking ahead of me I noticed a pair of snowmobiles heading my way in the ditch, and one of them came up on the shoulder, then quickly went right back down in the ditch, moving pretty swiftly.

I did slow down a little as it looked as if the sled was going to keep on coming, and hit me head on.

OK, anyone that knows how I drive realizes that I am an old fogey whenever I’m behind the wheel.

Looking back, I guess it wasn’t really all that close, but still, with the driving conditions not all that great, I couldn’t help but wonder.

Should it have been someone in that same situation driving, and not as astute driver as myself, there was a real possibility of a collision if a car maybe didn’t slow down, then got caught in a rut that pulled them onto the shoulder.

And yes, ifs and buts and candy and nuts, etc., etc., but it still got me thinking.

However, in all likelihood, I would have already forgotten about that mild incident if not for what took place a little later that same evening.

Alright, after the LP/HT girls’ game, I headed back to Winsted, recharged my camera, ate a little supper, and headed up to Holy Trinity to catch some of the LP/HT boys’ game against Mayer Lutheran.

It’s been a tough week for the Crusaders as they fell to the Bulldogs Tuesday, and the Saturday before, were beaten by Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted.

Getting away a little from my topic, I just couldn’t resist mentioning that the Crusaders fell to both the Lakers and the Bulldogs.

Growing up in Lester Prairie, Mayer Lutheran was one of my biggest high school rivals.

Alright, back to the point at hand. At halftime of the boys’ game, I left and headed up to HLWW to catch the second half of the Lakers’ girls game against Eden Valley-Watkins.

Unfortunately it was a tough night for the Lakers as they dropped their first game of the season, losing to the Eagles.

After the game, I jumped in my car and headed back to the office, then home for the evening.

This is when the incident that really got my blood boiling occurred.

Just about a block in front of me, on County Road 1 in Winsted, a car turned as a truck waited for it.

After the car turned, the truck continued on its way south on County Road 1.

Well, a trio of snowmobiles were on the east side of the road, and one of the sleds decided he or she didn’t need to wait for the before-mentioned truck and crossed the road.

The truck put on its brakes in order to avoid what surely would have been a bad accident, especially for that person on the snowmobile.

The other two sleds did as the first one should have done, waited for the truck, along with myself, to pass them before crossing the road.

As I looked at the sled that just missed being drilled by that truck waiting for his/her buddies on the other sleds to cross, I was dumbfounded.

If you were going to have to wait for your buddies anyway, what in the heck was the point of giving yourself a near-death experience?

Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I am anti-snowmobiling, because I am not.

True, before last winter, I hadn’t been on a sled since I was a kid.

However, I really enjoyed sledding last year, and hope to do it more in the future.

My point is just to be careful, be smart, and use some common sense.

It is always better to be a little late if you need to be somewhere than not to get there at all.

Also, remember any collision between a snowmobile and a car or truck is not going to be good for the person on the sled.

Below I have included a press release from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources concerning snowmobile safety.

DNR offers tips for safer snowmobiling
From the DNR

With another snowmobile season upon us, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 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 of the road and trail:

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

• Maximum speed in Minnesota is 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 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.

• 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.

• A person under the age of 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 or toll-free 888-MINNDNR (646-6367).