Speeders giving fellow snowmachiners bad rap

Posted: Friday, January 05, 2007

After a slow start, snow has finally blanketed the Kenai Peninsula in a thick layer of white and paved the way for a seasonal breed of motorists.

Snowmachiners are flying across fields, jumping over berms and having a blast as they explore the wilderness. But when snowmachiners travel near roads and through urban and residential areas, poor etiquette can tarnish their image among automobile drivers and homeowners.

Experienced snowmachiners say slowing down and exercising greater caution can go a long way toward improving snowmachiners’ public image and making snowmachining safer.

Snowmachiners, for example, could ease residential complaints if they resist the urge to “spin the track” when crossing driveways, said Howard Davis, Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers treasurer.

Davis said even as a fellow snowmachiner, he is sometimes irked by snowmachiners who make a mess of the end of his driveway.

“Take this last snowfall we just had,” he said. “They made about 10 trips across my driveway. And every time they go across the berm they spin the track and I have to plow my driveway again. ... It’s very easy to slip the track with these high-powered machines and there goes about 15 to 20 gallons of snow into the driveway.”

Davis said he has heard many homeowners make the same complaint and urged snowmachiners to slow down while crossing driveways.

Snowmachiners also should be cautious at driveways to avoid collisions with automobiles pulling into the road, said Les Crane, Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers president.

Snow berms that build up at the ends of driveways block snowmachiners’ and automobile drivers’ vision, creating a collision hazard, he said.

“Again it’s just going to come down to speed and paying very close attention to make sure their aren’t any cars coming out of those driveways,” he said.

In addition to slowing down when crossing driveways, Davis said snowmachiners should also be aware of their headlights when driving near roads so as not to blind automobile drivers.

“A lot of them are going very fast and the terrain is very rough and they’re bouncing so their lights are flashing up and down, and up and down,” he said.

He said snowmachiners can at least reduce the hazard of blinding automobile drivers by switching their lights to low beams when driving near roads.

As another safety precaution, Crane said snowmachiners shouldn’t be too hasty when crossing roads. He said snowmachiners should make sure their is plenty of stopping distance between themselves and approaching vehicles in case the snowmachine should break down while crossing or something else should happen to prevent them from quickly reaching the other side of the road.

Davis and Crane also said riding on road shoulders is dangerous. It’s also against the law, said Kenai Police Sgt. Gus Sandahl.

Snowmachines must stay at least three feet away from roads when not crossing, he said.

In Kenai, Sandahl added, laws require anyone under 18 riding a snowmachine to wear a helmet.

Additionally, Kenai municipal code limits snowmachiners to 10 mph or less when riding in close proximity to pedestrians, business and residential right of ways, parking lots, sidewalks and paths and trails designed for pedestrian use.

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