MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Department of Natural Resources says that fatal crashes involving snowmobiles have been on the rise in Minnesota over the last few years, and are warning drivers to exercise caution.

It’s the start to a long winter weekend and Scott Kohls is unloading his sleds and hitting the Luce Line trail. Snowmobilers like Kohls are getting an early present this season with ample snow cover on many of the state’s trails.

“To me it gets you outside and you meet different people. You see the smaller towns and other parts of the state,” Kohls said.

Snowmobiling is a winter pastime rich with tradition. It’s easy to understand how December’s snow condition has snowmobilers like Kohls eager to fire up machines and hop on.

“From my standpoint, it’s great people just wanting to have a good time and enjoying being outside,” he said.

But our early start to the season and the upcoming holiday break has the Department of Natural Resources reminding riders to enjoy it safely. State conservation officers fear that more riding will bring the risks of more fatalities.

Last season, the winter of 2018-19 saw 10 people lose their lives while snowmobiling. In the winter of 2017-18 five snowmobilers died, compared to three in 2015-16.

“We’ve seen some concerning trends so far this year in the early snowmobile season with three fatalities so far,” conservation officer Arnaud Kpachavi said.

Conservation officers say the key to safer riding is to avoid alcohol, remain on marked trails and slow down. The statewide trail speed limit is 50 miles per hour.

“Almost all of the crashes, whether an injury or a non-injury crash, almost always involves excessive speed,” Kpachavi added.

That becomes even more important at night, when speed created an added danger: outrunning your headlights. It means a snowmobile cannot be stopped with the range that the headlights illuminate.

“We want to remind riders to stay safe out there,” Kpachavi said.

Finally, riding on frozen lakes adds another possible danger. It takes a minimum of five to seven inches of clear, solid ice to safely support the weight of a snowmobile or ATV.

Remember, this winter wonderland’s only temporary, so slow down and enjoy it.

Bill Hudson

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