The holiday season is slowing down but winter and outside activities are in full swing. While snowmobiling is a popular activity, officials advise both caution and responsibility while riding.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), three riders have died this winter in Minnesota so far, and 10 died in snowmobile-related crashes last winter. When it comes to staying safe while riding a snowmobile, the DNR recommends staying on marked trails, riding sober, watching your speed, paying attention while on the ice as well as dressing for the weather and survival and taking a snowmobile safety course.

There are approximately 22,000 miles of trails across the state; however, the conditions of the trails vary and the DNR advises all riders to use caution while on the trails. According to Ross Bingham, a member of the Westonka Snoblazers, most injuries and death from a snowmobile accident are due to being ejected from the machine at excessive speeds.

“A rider can lose control of a machine simply by riding across an ice patch on a trail. Riders should take caution and slow down when traversing lakes due to unseen obstacles under the snow,’ Bingham said also adding that an obstacle a rider could encounter is a frozen ice cone ice fishermen drill holes in the ice that create frozen ice cones that can cause damage if hit.

Bingham advises to never ride alone, ride on the right side of the trail only and stay on the trails. Speeding through the trails or when crossing lakes is a common occurrence; however, reducing speeds, especially at night, is important.

“When riding after dark, speeds should be reduced to under 40 mph. Also, there are usually deer and other animals on the trails, day and night. If hit, [it] would cause the rider to get ejected,” he said.

According to Sgt. Rick Waldon of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the snowmobile speed limit in Minnesota is 50 mph.

Waldon offered a few tips, including making sure all equipment is operational and in working order, wearing a helmet, carrying a first aid kit, checking the thickness of ice and confirming ice conditions.

“In Hennepin County, we average about eight snowmobile accidents each year. Most of them are snowmobiles [going] through the ice on Lake Minnetonka,” he said.

Anyone born after Dec. 31, 1976, must have a valid snowmobile safety certificate to legally operate a snowmobile in Minnesota. Classroom and online courses are offered by the DNR.

There are two certification options for children ages 11 to 15. Taking a traditional course is one option. The course includes a minimum of eight hours in the classroom through a course that meets two or more times and completing riding performance course.

The second option is completing an online course. With this choice, the student must also attend a one-day classroom review and riding performance course. Students ages 16 and older can complete an online course or a youth snowmobile certification class.

According to the DNR, “the adult course is designed to show the student the most common causes for snowmobile accidents in Minnesota, and how to avoid becoming an accident statistic. Upon successful completion of the Online Snowmobile Safety Course, the student will complete self-certification procedures to print their Snowmobile Certificate.”

The Westonka Snoblazers are hosting a youth training field day with the Hennepin county Water Patrol on Saturday, Feb. 22 in Spring park. The DNR is sponsoring the program. Bingham is available for questions at 612-817-1997.

The Snoblazers meet the first Tuesday of every month October through April. They are a public group and all are welcome to attend.

Snowmobile course information can be found at the DNR website, dnr.state.mn.us/safety/vehicle/snowmobile/index.html

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