MAPLE GROVE, Minn. (WCCO) – With a blanket of fresh snow covering parts of Minnesota, snowmobilers were out in force this weekend.
Law enforcement reported multiple crashes, including a possible impaired driving accident in Chisago County near Rush City early Saturday morning. Later that morning in Becker County, sheriff’s deputies reported that a 45-year-old Moorhead man was airlifted to a hospital in Fargo after an accident in Eagle View Township around 11 a.m. The extent of his injuries is unknown at this time. They noted that he was wearing a helmet. Earlier in January, two teenagers died after a snowmobile accident near Aitkin, marking the first two fatalities of the Minnesota snowmobile season.
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The Department of Natural Resources is urging snowmobilers to brush up on how to ride safely.
At Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove, father and son Jeff and Alex Gagnon from Champlin spent the afternoon hiking the trails. They bring extra equipment for towing in case one of their snowmobiles breaks down. This is just one of many safety measures they take before leaving.
“Certainly fill up with oil, make sure you have enough gas and make sure your suspension is in good working order, nothing is broken,” said Jeff Gagnon.
Jeff Gagnon said he took over the business after moving to Minnesota years ago. Now her 14-year-old son, Alex, is also certified.
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As Minnesotans enjoy 22,000 miles of snowmobile trails, the DNR hopes people become familiar with safety precautions. On average, they said more than seven people die in snowmobile accidents each season. Many more are injured in crashes, often fueled by alcohol or speed.
“We continue to see new people getting into the sport of snowmobiling and discovering the unique way riding the trails connects them to nature,” said Bruce Lawrence, Recreational Vehicles Coordinator for the Enforcement Division of the MNR law. “With over 22,000 miles of snowmobile trails in Minnesota, opportunities abound. As long as snowmobilers make good decisions when riding, snowmobiling is something they can do for the rest of their lives.
Lawrence offers the following tips for safe driving:
- Stay on marked trails. Minnesota snowmobile clubs work hard to maintain good riding conditions on state trails. Cyclists who stay on maintained trails are less likely to hit an obstacle or enter private property. In some parts of the state, wet conditions where trails cross low lying areas or cross lakes mean the trails are not yet groomed. Runners must check trail conditions Before leaving.
- Leave the booze at home. Driving under the influence is one of the top two factors in crashes and plays a role in around 60% of those that are fatal.
- Watch the speed. Going too fast is the other main factor in accidents. Many serious and fatal accidents occur when a speeding snowmobiler loses control or hits an object.
- Be careful on the ice. In recent years, nearly all deaths on the ice have involved people who were driving a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle when they fell. There must be at least 5-7 inches of clear new ice to support the weight of a snowmobile and rider.
- Take a snowmobile safety course. It is mandatory for anyone born after 1976 and recommended for everyone. People with a snowmobile safety certificate are less likely to be involved in serious or fatal accidents.
Governor Tim Walz has declared January 15-23 Snowmobile Safety Awareness Week.
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