Common sense key to safety

Posted: Friday, February 23, 2001

Snowmachine safety is mostly common sense and courtesy, said Doug Blossom, president of the Caribou Cabin Hoppers Snow-machine Club, which maintains trails in the Caribou Hills.

"You have to drive slow on the groomed trails. Do your speeding in the open, try to stay on the right side, and be courteous to everyone, whether it's snowmachiners, skijorers or skiers " he said.

To avoid collisions, the club recommends traveling groomed trails at no more than 30 or 35 miles per hour.

"That's a nice speed. You can get there in a hurry and you don't tear up the trail. We have the trails wide enough and marked well enough that you're safe. It's people who go fast that have trouble on the corners," he said. "We don't promote races. We promote family outings. We try to make everything fun and safe."

Blossom also recommended being prepared for breakdowns and changing weather.

"Never go by yourself," he said. "Have plenty of warm clothes, food, and if possible, carry a cell phone. You need enough tools to change the spark plugs and belts. It's nice to have some liquid to drink, and don't forget the helmet. It wouldn't hurt to carry a hatchet so you can cut some firewood. Bring fire starter."

In remote areas, he said, it is a good idea to carry a sleeping bag in case of trouble.

Watch the weather when traveling above the tree line, advised snowmachiner Steve Tarries. It is amazing how quickly it can change, he said. Blowing snow and white-outs can make it difficult to find the way home, he said, and flat light can make it difficult to see on open terrain.

"You'll be riding along and hit a dip and your face hits the windshield," he said.

Pat O'Leary, a recreation planner for the U.S. Forest Service in Seward, said a compass can be handy in a white-out. Or, consider carrying a GPS receiver, which uses satellite signals to pinpoint your position.

Anyone who leaves the flatlands should take an avalanche awareness class, he said, and mountain travelers should carry avalanche beacons plus probes and shovels to locate buried companions. The weather this winter has made the slopes particularly dangerous.

"It's set up pretty prime right now, because we have a lot of ice up high," he said.

On top of that, there is heavy snow. While many slides already have come down, he said, "places that haven't slid yet are prime for sliding."

Avoiding avalanche-prone areas such as the Crescent Creek Trail, the north end of the Johnson Pass Trail and the slopes surrounding Summit and Turnagain Pass, he said.

"In all of this country, if you start riding on the slopes, you have to worry about avalanche danger," he said.

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