A group of snowmobilers head up a trail on the Marshall Conservation Land off West Side Road in Conway in February. (TERRY LEAVITT PHOTO)

CONWAY — According to the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association, the Granite State has over 7,000 miles of snowmobile trails, and this year, it seems like all of them are being used by outdoor recreation fans.

The association and state Fish and Department want everyone to enjoy their time out on their sleds but also to remind people that safety is paramount.

If it seems likes there are more snowmobilers out and about, that’s correct, and Sgt. Alex Lopashanski of state Fish and Game, believes "the COVID-19 effect" plays a big part.

Just as we saw last summer and fall with record numbers boating and hiking, more and more people are looking to get outdoors.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of new people coming to the sport,” Lopashanski, who lives in Albany, said by phone on Wednesday.

Fish and Game has responded to several accidents this winter.

“The good thing,” Lopashanski said, “although it does seem like we’re responding to more accidents, there have been some bad injuries but there hasn’t been a fatality.”

He added: “The problem with snowmobiles opposed to other vehicles if there is not a lot of room for error. There are a lot of powerful machines but there is no seatbelt or airbag if you crash. The force is almost entirely applied to the body.”

A snowmobile is defined as “a vehicle with skis, belts, or cleats that is designed for riding on snow and ice.”

According to Fish and Game, “State law requires that all operators 12 years of age and over must possess either a valid motor vehicle driver’s license or must have successfully completed an approved OHRV or snowmobile safety education class when operating off their own property.”

There are snowmobile safety course that certify children 12 and older. There is no charge to take the courses, and parents are also encouraged to stay during class time.

Founded in 1969, the NHSA, “is an association of independently incorporated snowmobile clubs, working together as a unified voice to speak for the sport of snowmobiling and to promote it as a safe family recreation. The NHSA is made up of all segments of the snowmobiling community including clubs, club members, distributors, dealers and contributors.

“New Hampshire has a wide variety of terrain for snowmobiling,” the NHSA website states. “The southern part of the state has rolling countryside. Moving north to the Lakes Region enjoy wide vistas across the ice. Further north is the majestic White Mountains with a long and plentiful snow season. The trails open around mid-December. There are also numerous snowmobile rental businesses, most of which are located in the White Mountains region.”

According to the website Offroad-ed, “forerunners of the snowmobile existed as early as the 1800s, and versions of the snowmobile have been around since as early as 1910.”

There is a basic snowmobile safety code. According to Offroad-ed, riders are asked to adhere to the following:

• Do not consume alcohol or take drugs prior to or during your snowmobile trip. Doing so increases your chances of being injured or killed.

• Slow down and don't cut to the inside of the trail corners — it's dangerous and illegal.

• If you snowmobile at night, don't override your lights.

• Always use the buddy system. Never ride off alone or unaccompanied.

• Whenever possible, avoid the ice. Drowning causes many snowmobile fatalities.

• Wear sensible, protective clothing designed for snowmobiling.

• Use a full-size helmet, goggles or visor to prevent injuries from twigs, stones, ice chips and flying debris.

• Never wear any loose clothing, which could get caught in moving parts of the snowmobile.

• Know the terrain where you are going to ride. If it is unfamiliar to you, ask someone who has traveled over it before.

• Know the weather forecast, especially the ice and snow conditions in the area. Check on the wind chill temperatures and the chances for snow and freezing rain.

• Be sure your snowmobile is in top-notch mechanical condition at the beginning of the winter season and throughout the months of use.

• Familiarize yourself with the snowmobile you are driving by reading in detail the manual accompanying the snowmobile.

• Do not pursue domestic or wild animals. No true sportsman would stoop to such conduct. If you see a violation of this rule, report it to the nearest law enforcement officer.”

"A snowmobile trip can be a lot of fun, but it’s important to make safety a priority, too,” the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association website states. “Being prepared and making smart choices can go a long way toward safe, good times out on the snow.

“I’d say, anytime you go snowmobiling, no matter what your experience is, that the time to learn about the machine you are going to be on,” said Lopashanski. “They steer different and have different tracks. Regardless of your level of experience take the time, and then enjoy yourself.”

A snowmobile trip can be a lot of fun, but it’s important to make safety a priority, too,” according to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association’s website. “Being prepared and making smart choices can go a long way toward safe, good times out on the snow.”

The ISMA offers these seven safety tips:

1. Do preventative maintenance: “Make sure your snowmobile is in proper working order before each ride. Follow the guidelines in your owner’s manual and ask your local snowmobile organization about any safety or maintenance programs it may offer. The Safe Riders Snowmobile Awareness Safety Program, which ISMA sponsors, offers a pre-ride checklist to help you get started.”

2. Wear proper attire: “Be prepared for changing weather conditions by dressing in layers, with windproof gear on the outside. You can remove or add layers as needed. In addition, wear warm gloves and help protect your head and your vision with a safety-certified helmet, sun protection goggles and a visor.”

3. Bring a friend: “Use the buddy system. You never know when it may prove helpful to have another person with you out on the trails.”

4. Follow rules of the road: “Use caution when crossing any road. Coming to a complete stop, ensuring no vehicles are coming from any direction and crossing at a right angle may help you travel safely.”

5. Communicate carefully: “It’s a good idea to clearly communicate your plans to others. That includes leaving your planned route with friends or relatives before you head out so they can send for help if you don’t return on schedule. And, once you’re on the trails, be sure to use hand signals to communicate with other nearby snowmobilers and drivers.”

6. Remain alert: “Keep your eyes on the vehicle ahead of you rather than on its taillights. When you watch the taillights, you’re less likely to notice if the snowmobiler in front of you swerves a bit to avoid hitting something. Also, if it’s dark or overcast, be sure to drive slowly enough to see what your headlights reveal.”

7. Avoid frozen water: “Don’t ride your snowmobile over a frozen lake or river. You may risk falling through the ice or having much less traction that you do on snow. In addition, if other snowmobilers enter the ice from another direction, collisions may result.”

Lopashanski said helmets and eye ware are not required for adults but are for riders aged 18 and younger.

“We don’t see a lot of people without a helmet or eye protection,” said Lopashanski, “which a good thing.”

When it comes to riding on frozen bodies of water, Lopashanski, “you need at least 8 inches of solid ice for snowmobile traffic.”

Lopashanski said ice conditions can vary throughout the day.

He reminds riders that the maximum speed limit on trails in the state is 45 mph.

Here are some notable dates in the history of the snowmobile, courtesy of Offroad-ed.

1927 — Carl Eliason patented the feature of his motorized toboggan that defined the first workable, single-track, one-passenger snowmobile.

1937 — J. Armand Bombardier patented a tracked vehicle for traveling over snow.

1940s — An “iron dog” machine went into production. Larger, slower and clumsier than modern snowmobiles, it was used primarily by hunters, trappers and power company service crews.

1959 — J. Armand Bombardier, who had spent decades patenting and perfecting features, launched the Ski-Doo® snowmobile. The lighter, more maneuverable machine was a huge success with the public. Numerous other companies soon rushed their versions into production, giving rise to the sport of snowmobiling.

“Snowmobiles have increased the popularity of outdoor winter recreation. More than three million people in the United States and Canada snowmobile each winter, enjoying more than 230,000 miles of groomed public trails.”

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