While driving around the back country the other night Instructor John and I came across one of the many groomed snowmobile trails that grace the eastern Ontario landscape.
It struck us how truly remote this trail was and how few snowmobiles had travelled through on that evening. That realization sparked a conversation about snowmobile enthusiasts and their often lack of knowledge or preparation for winter survival.
If you break it down, there are few other winter outdoor activities that take you long distances across often desolate, uninhabited, unlit, and through unknown environmental conditions. Not to mention the fact that snowmobile trails will regularly travel on or across waterways.
These waterways, whether creeks, rivers, ponds or lakes, are notorious for claiming the lives of snowmobilers every year in this great country. However, regardless of how many warnings are provided these outdoor enthusiasts still load up there sleds on the trailer and travel to areas with grand plans of multi day excursions that will take them into the beautiful and remote Canadian winter wilderness.
Are they prepared?
In my experience - NO. These enthusiasts spend amazing amounts of money on their snowmobile, their matching clothing and heated, anti-fog helmets with two way radio systems. However, unlike our cars, there is no trunk. There is no area to support equipment storage and the areas that do exist surely don't contain enough survival essentials.
When I think of snowmobiling I truly believe that these folks are at the greatest risk of cold water submersion, mechanical failure, accidents, injury, illness, hypothermia, becoming disoriented and lost. All of these serious winter wilderness emergencies while being in remote areas without the ability to contact emergency services.
So it begs the question - what training do they have. If you ask the question you will often receive answers debating the need for training. Something to the effect of "I've been sledding for 20 years and I've never broken down, never been hurt, never broken through the ice."
Now put yourself in a room with these same people and listen to the war stories being told. Crazy experiences and death defying adventures that usually start or end in "I can't believe I'm still alive."
I think it's time for snowmobile associations and the Provincial governments to step up and start suggesting snowmobile enthusiasts attend and complete winter survival training designed specific for their winter pastime.
How many of those who have lost their lives from drowning, cold water submersion, hypothermia, exposure, dehydration, etc. would be still alive if they had been prepared with the knowledge, skills and mindset to survive those winter emergencies.
I know that's a strong statement but I will debate with anyone the importance and possible live saving implications that good training and good preparation can have on you and your family.
If you snowmobile and don't believe that winter survival training is important, do me a favour - when you're out on your next 3 day snowmobile excursion, count the number of water crossings you make, the number of miles you travel without seeing another snowmobile, the miles between evidence of civilization, the amount of times that cell phone loses reception ( useless when wet or cold ) and the amount of times you take your mitts off and state "Man it's cold out here.", or even how many times you 'almost' ran out of gas.
You will then realize how truly crazy it is to travel into those conditions without true winter survival and emergency preparedness training.
Sadly, a winter survival emergency on a back country snowmobile trail will claim a life this year. Don't let it be yours !