Almost all of the snowsledders who ride in New York rely on the state's more than 10,300 miles of public snowmobile trails for their riding enjoyment. Many out-of-state snowmobile enthusiasts consider New York to be among the best places in the world for snowmobiling.
More than 200 snowmobile clubs are involved in the maintenance of this vast network of trails, with more than 55 municipal sponsors providing some of the maintenance funding. The trail system crosses lands under the jurisdiction of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Canal Corporation, the U.S. Forest Service, local government, and many private landowners who have generously opened their property to snowmobiling, with insurance coverage provided by the state snowmobile program.
When you register a snowmobile in New York state, all but $10 of the registration fee goes into the Snowmobile Trail Development and Maintenance Fund, which supports the creation and upkeep of our public snowmobile trails, as well as snowmobile safety education programs and enforcement of state snowmobile laws.
Unfortunately, snowmobiling does not come without risks. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 1,300 people are injured or killed every year in snowmobile accidents in this country. Among those are the 300 and 400 snowmobile accidents that occur, on average, every year, in New York. OPRHP figures show that during the 2009 to 2010 snowsled season, 294 accidents, resulting in 237 injuries and 14 fatalities, were reported. Riding too fast for weather and/or trail conditions, was listed as the most common cause of the majority of those accidents. As I write this article, I am aware of two snowsledding accidents that occurred within a 24 hour period recently, in Lewis County. I do not know the details, but do know that the accidents were unrelated, and that in both instances, the operators were killed.
Even the most experienced snowmobilers can make mistakes, and all trail riders, from beginners to old hands, must recognize that things can go wrong. Nonetheless, it is expected that anyone using the state trail system develop certain necessary skills and the right attitude, before hitting the trails.
New York state has long been a leader in snowmobile education, offering safety training courses for snowmobilers age 10 and up. Successful completion of a snowmobile safety course results in the award of a state Snowmobile Safety Certificate. The state mandates that operators age 10 through 17 possess a certificate before they can legally operate a snowmobile on public trails. Even with a certificate, youth ages 10 through 13 must be in the company of a person who is at least 18 years of age.
The purpose of the snowmobile safety training course is to encourage snowsled operators to become familiar with basic snowmobile safety, responsibilities, ethics, laws and mechanical functions. Students learn how to safely and responsibly operate a snowmobile, how to keep their sleds operational, and how to take care of and protect themselves and others, and the environment.
For nearly a decade, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County has taken an active role in assuring that children in our region are given the opportunity to safely enjoy this exciting winter sport by sponsoring New York state recognized youth snowmobile safety courses, which emphasize safe and responsible snowmobile operation.
Now it's your turn. We believe that individual members of local snowmobile clubs associated with the New York State Snowmobile Association, as well as persons representing dealerships, businesses supported by snowmobilers, and the local law enforcement community, all need to consider becoming certified volunteer snowmobile safety training and certification course instructors. This is an excellent opportunity to pass on your love for snowmobiling, by teaching youth, as well as adults, practical, safe, responsible, and ethical use of our trails, the environment and our natural resources, and to introduce them to some fundamental winter survival skills. The alternatives should be obvious; illegal riders, irresponsible rider behavior, unethical riding, congested and/or closed trails, accidents, and an increased number of injuries and fatalities.
To become a state certified instructor you must be at least 18 years old, have no convictions or pending charges relating to certain offenses, successfully complete an approved snowmobile safety course, submit a completed Prospective Instructor Application Form, and be able to demonstrate an ability to instruct, by currently holding a state Teachers Certificate, by teaching other professional courses, or by assisting in the instruction of another state certified snowmobile course.
Please help Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County sustain and promote safe riding and improve the image and acceptance of snowmobiling throughout the region and the state by becoming a certified volunteer snowmobile safety course instructor. As the saying goes, 'Safe Riders! You make Snowmobiling Safe.'
For more information, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County or the Snowmobile Unit of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation at 518-474-0446.