Snowmobile association hoping plentiful snow keeps riders on trails and off lakes

Union Leader Correspondent
December 11. 2017 8:42PM
Mechanics Nathan Wilson, top, and Jon Plante work on a snowmobile at HK Powersports Hooksett on Monday. The first snowfalls of the season have preparation work in high gear for snowmobile dealers across the state. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

As winter weather begins in earnest, Fish and Game officials and snowmobile groups are facing up to the annual issue of ice safety.

Fish and Game’s take, said Capt. Dave Walsh, is that “no ice is safe and it’s always potentially dangerous.”

Last Feb. 11, two men from Massachusetts died after their snowmobiles crashed through the ice into Lake Winnipesaukee in Moultonborough; a New York youth riding with his father died when his sled sank through ice off Rattlesnake Island near Alton.

While skimming on open water is illegal, riding a snowmobile at speed on frozen lakes and ponds is not. Walsh said the only laws that deal with the operation of a snowmobile on ice pertain to proximity to fishermen and skaters.

A 20-year veteran of Fish and Game, Walsh said that some New Hampshire Snowmobile Association clubs are altering their trails to move them farther away from bodies of water.

Walsh said he and his counterparts from other states regularly discuss snowmobile safety “but as far as the ice goes, we’re all pretty much doing the same thing.”

That includes promoting the wearing of a “float coat,” which won’t prevent a sled from breaking through the ice, but will keep the rider above water longer. Walsh expects to talk about the coats with snowmobile dealers next week.

“We also try to link people” with the department’s ice safety message both at the new dealer and snowmobile-rental levels, he said.
State and snowmobile club officials are mounting a campaign to convince riders to stay off bodies of water this winter. “No ice is safe,” said Fish and Game’s Capt. Dave Walsh. (UNION LEADER FILE)

“I’m confident that the message is getting out,” said Walsh, “but the problem is we have so many people coming up into the sport that we can’t take a rest” from delivering that message.

Dan Gould, the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association’s executive director, said his group and Fish and Game work closely together to promote safety.

Both the NHSA’s longtime publication, Sno Traveler, and its website will now include regular sections on safety, including ice safety.

The Dec. 24 issue of Sno Traveler will feature an article by Dennis A. Etchells, Jr., the OHRV/Snowmobile Program assistant, in which Etchells echoes the recommendation of wearing a float coat, but also advises that riders carry ice picks.

Before heading out, Etchells urges snowmobilers who might be traveling near water to “call a local snowmobile club or a fishing bait shop and ask if they know how thick the ice is. Bait shops know this from the ice fishermen and women who are drilling.”

Gould said NHSA is hoping for a “fantastic winter.”

“We know that when snow stays on the trails, snowmobiles tend to stay on the trails, so heavy snowfall and cold weather keep people on the trails and off the ice,” he said.


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