Speeding snowmachiners endanger themselves, others, sport's reputation

Going fast can be risky business

Posted: Sunday, February 25, 2001

Just slow it down, for crying out loud.

What makes snowmachine users think they can speed around at breakneck speeds, rocketing their sleds into the air and flying across and on roads without a care for other motorists? The last time I looked, no one was making snowmobile suits that stopped an idiot from getting killed.

Would you drive your car like this? Would you let your kids drive like that? I sure hope not; if so, you should give me a call before you go anywhere from now on.

I know, there are responsible snowmachine operators out there. I know you obey all of the rules and regulations right to the last one, but I also know about the darker half that thinks it is OK to be reckless on the nice, white snow that blankets the Kenai Peninsula right now.

I just can't believe how some people treat their machines. Take, for instance, my neighbor's son. He and his friends pile huge amounts of snow into two separate ramps before jumping them with their machines, doing extreme sport stunts while in the air.

It's usually on the weekend, before I head into work around 3 or 4 in the afternoon that I see these kids doing this. Not that my road has a whole heck of a lot of traffic or anything, just the occasional vehicle going or coming -- but that's not the point.

It isn't that I am worried about my neighbor landing on the roof of my Blazer or even screeching out in front of me on the road. From what I have seen, he is very responsible. I just worry about the pure possibility of such an occurrence.

Almost every workday I travel the stretch of Kalifornsky Beach Road from the VIP Subdivision to Soldotna before coming back to Kenai via the Kenai Spur Highway. Let me tell you, it isn't just the kids acting like fools on their snowmachines.

I drive an average of about 55 mph, the normal speed limit, and it just blows my mind how many snowmachines pass me on trails that run along the side of the road. Yeah, that's right --passing me. They pass me in a jumble of noise combined with a blur of man and machine, leaving me watching their taillights like I was walking.

This isn't just during daylight hours either. I am talking about 11 p.m. when I am on my way home from work some nights.

Almost every day when I am doing my job I see a report of a moose and motor vehicle accident -- some with injuries and some, thankfully, without. Imagine, if you will, the pure damage that would be caused if a snowmachine and a moose collided. Just think about where the operator's head would connect with the massive beast and then tell me what kind of irreparable damage it would do, and not just to the machine.

To be fair, I have witnessed snowmachine users acting very responsibly while operating their sleds. Just the other day my wife and I commented on a man we saw teaching a young boy how to ride correctly. As the two came up to the highway, the older took the lead on his Arctic Cat with the young boy behind him on his mini-snowmachine. They both checked the traffic before proceeding across the lanes at a reasonable and safe speed.

I watched the other day as a group of kids were crossing the road to Robinson's Mini-Mart to get gas. I, being the assuming fool I am sometimes, expected this pack of six or seven kids on their fancy Cats and Ski Doos to just rip and tear across the road, each seeing who could get to the gas pumps first.

To my surprise, they didn't. Nah, they took it nice and easy, one at a time. I don't think the oldest was over 19 years old, yet they acted more mature then the much older man and woman that I saw tear across two lanes of traffic while I was picking up my wife from work. Stopping didn't seem to be a factor to them, nor did the safety of themselves or the drivers in the vehicles on the road. It just doesn't make sense to me.

To all of the safe and responsible snowmachine owners and operators out there, and I know you're out there, I just want to say thank you. You make the sport fun and exciting without adding the element of risk and foolishness to it. I don't mind the way you ride, though you may see me cringe now and again. It's like my dad used to say -- I trust you, I just don't trust everybody else.

Don't worry, I haven't forgot the rest of you, the reckless (need I say foolish?) ones. I just ask that you slow it down -- you're ruining it for everybody else.

Sam Eggleston is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. (clarion@alaska.net)

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