A Seemingly Dangerous Year For Snowmobiling - HCS Snowmobile Forums

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Old 05-04-2017, 10:02 AM   #1 (permalink)
wjt
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Exclamation A Seemingly Dangerous Year For Snowmobiling

On the face of it, 2017 seemed like a dangerous year for snowmobiling.

The winter saw a higher than usual number of deaths during peak season and a total number of accidents that could hit 80 when all reports are completed.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story for a form of recreation that makes up a large part of the state’s economy, and a vital one in the North Country.

“It’s not an unusually higher number of accidents for us this year,” said Maj. John Wimsatt, of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s law enforcement division. “Two years ago, during another snowy winter, we were hovering around 80, so the number of accidents is not particularly alarming. But certainly the number of fatalities this year that had something to do with snowmobiling is much higher than normal.”

While New Hampshire typically sees three to four snowmobile-related fatalities in any given year, this year, when the numbers are final, there will be eight or nine, said Wimsatt.

Not all, however, were the result of crashes.

“Three were from snowmobiles that broke through the ice and there were a couple of heart attacks from people trying to pull snowmobiles that got stuck,” he said.

The number of accidents, too, was mostly in line for a winter that saw 47,211 snowmobile registrations, which is a good year and average in terms of registrations, but below the approximately 60,000 number in the mid- to late-2000s, he said.

“Economic factors affect snowmobile registrations, but one of the biggest factors is the amount of snow,” said Wimsatt.

This year had the white stuff.

2016 didn’t, and the number of registrations was comparatively down more than 50 percent, at 22,880.

The winter of 2015 saw 48,246 registrations, 2014 saw 46,297, and 2013 had 41,563. Those followed the winter of 2012, which saw just 25,043 registrations, also one of the state’s worst, said Wimsatt.

That’s a lot of people each winter on the state’s 7,700 miles of trails.

“It’s obviously very snow-driven,” he said.

And that snow drives state revenue.

Registration for a New Hampshire resident who is an active member of a snowmobile club is $66, or $96 for a non-club member.

Out-of-state registrations cost $86 for a club member of $116 for a non-club member.

Public Safety Campaigns

“We’ve made considerable strides in reducing our fatality rate through the years,” said Wimsatt. “In the mid-1990s and early 2000s we had has many as a dozen a year.”

But in the 1990s, the administration of then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen partnered with NHFG to assemble a task force to strengthen enforcement.

“That tightened up laws related to DUI, whether it was a snowmobile, boat or ATV,” said Wimsatt. “It was a good piece of legislation that helped curb alcohol-related fatalities and the good news is alcohol-related accidents and fatalities have decreased over time.”

Overall, so have accidents of all causes.

In 2005, for instance, there were a reported 118 snowmobile crashes. Three years later, there were 108.

2012, reflecting the low number of registrations, there were 26 reported accidents, followed by 88 in 2014 and 86 in 2015.

“It’s a downward trend, which is great,” said Wimsatt. “It’s a good indication we are not increasing our accidents, but there is still plenty of work to do.”

While alcohol-related accidents still occur, speed, inattention and experience have become major contributing factors to today’s accidents, he said.

To curb them, NHFG will soon launch another public safety campaign.

“We have seen a good deal of accidents related to the rental industry,” said Wimsatt. “We are putting together a video to help encourage people to take a positive step toward safety when operating a rental machine because that industry is growing significantly … We already started filming it and hope to have it in place for next winter.”

A change in demographics as well as economics also point to who is likely to get in a crash.

Registrations took a dip during the Great Recession, when many who could afford snowmobiling were those who had discretionary income, and they were generally older, he said.

“The sport has changed a little bit,” said Wimsatt. “The average cost of a new snowmobile ranges between $7,000 and $13,000. There is a good, strong used market as well. It can be considered by some to be an expensive sport.”

The primary age bracket of those that were getting into accidents had been the 20 to 29 bracket, but the ages increased beginning from about 2007.

“In 2015, it was a tie between the 30 to 39 and 40 to 49 bracket and 50-plus,” said Wimsatt. “The 50-plus bracket has increased steadily since 2012. We think that’s because machines cost a fair amount of money and the people purchasing them tend to be in the older demographics.”

In contrast, the number of accidents involving minors is relatively small, with 12 reported in 2015.

“Statistically, it’s still a very safe form of recreation,” he said.

Volunteers

“Today’s modern machines tend to be high-performance machines, capable of high speeds,” said Wimsatt. “We see a lot of people driving at speeds not prudent for existing conditions. The clubs and state do what they can to make sure trails are as safe possible, but Mother Nature rules the day.”

Inclement weather, the kind the northern part of the state sees regularly during the cold months, can lead to icing on trails and water bars opening up.

“In 2015, 67 of the accidents were in Coos County, and all the rest of the counties combined had 12 or less,” said Wimsatt. “That’s where the majority of the riding is, where the trails are faster and well-groomed. It’s a critical part of the economy, particularly in Coos County.”

In that economy, everyone participates, including generous landowners who provide 85 percent of the trails and the local snowmobile clubs that groom and maintain them, he said.

According to a 2011 Plymouth State University study on the economic impact of snowmobiling on the state, the sport delivers an estimated $600 million annually to New Hampshire, and spending by snowmobilers makes up about 0.3 of the gross state product and more than 5.2 percent of all traveler spending in the state.

It’s unique to see such a large economy driven by a grassroots volunteer base, without which the trails would rapidly fall into disrepair, he aid.

“The 110 snowmobile clubs in the state do the hard work at a volunteer level to make this industry work,” said Wimsatt.
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