Snowmobile accidents continue to claim lives The dangers of ice and snow are always compounded when mixed with an element of speed. Sadly, the current season has recently been plagued with four fatalities in just nine days, according to records at the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP). The fatalities occurred in Lewis and Oneida counties in the southern Adirondacks. There are about 11,000 miles of snowmobile trails in New York and over 130,000 registered snowmobiles. Increased outreach and educational initiatives have combined with more effective grooming practices and safety standards in recent years to bring about a steady reduction in the number of snowmobile fatalities. A total of 10 snowmobiling fatalities were reported across New York last year, down from the 14 deaths that were reported during the 2008-09 season. The deadliest sledding season occurred in the 2002-03 season when 31 riders died. The recent string of snowmobile fatalities in Oneida County has raised the total number of people killed in snowmobile accidents to six fatalities statewide, only a month and a half into the new season. The total may soon increase with news that indicates a snowmobiler is still missing and believed drowned on the St. Lawrence River near Hogansburg after his sled went through the ice last weekend. On Wednesday, police had called off the search. His sled was discovered in the river by members of the Hogansburg Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department Dive Team, but by Tuesday the dive team had discontinued the search for a body due to the very swift current under the ice. I spoke with Jim McCulley, President of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, for some insight on this season’s rising toll. “It’s already been a long season down there, they’ve had enough snow to open the trails (in Oneida County) since December,” McCulley said. “I’m curious to know how many of these accidents involved sleds going through the ice. “You’ve got to remember, sleds are getting faster and you’re driving a vehicle which offers very little protection, just like a motorcycle. You’re going to get thrown, and most trails are wooded.” McCulley cited a list of dangers that included a combination of speed, limited protection, loud exhaust pipes, visibility issues and the lack of a requirement for sleds to have mandatory mirrors. “Have you ever tried to look behind you to see what was coming, when you’re wearing a full face helmet?” asked McCulley. “It’s a lot easier if you’ve got mirrors, but they aren’t considered mandatory equipment.” Regarding alcohol use, which many consider synonymous with the sport, an industry spokesperson explained, “It’s unfortunate that some people believe it is acceptable to drink and ride. But you have to realize, most trails don’t go to museums or playgrounds. They stop at restaurants, where people go to warm up. Quite often they ask riders to eat in the bar, not in the dining room with the regular dinner crowd. It happens.” Modern sleds, which can achieve speeds in excess of 100 mph with the press of a throttle, can be dangerous for even the unimpaired. As most people know, alcohol use impairs judgment, coordination, vision and reaction time. McCulley was in agreement with everyone I spoke with on the topic, when he explained, “More frequent law enforcement would eliminate a lot of this behavior. There are simply are not enough DWI checks at night. Without the enforcement, it will never stop.”
Northern Challenge Fishing Derby returns to Tupper The Northern Challenge Ice Fishing Derby has been scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 5. Sponsored by the Tupper Lake Rod, Gun and Sports Club and the Adirondack Regional Federal Credit Union, the Northern Challenge is possibly the region’s largest and richest fishing derby and one of the area’s most popular winter events. It draws a large crowd of hardwater enthusiasts and numerous spectators, who enjoy the camaraderie of the family-friendly event. Throughout the day, participants compete for over $33,000 in cash and prizes, which include two 2011 four wheelers. The event features the largest total payout of all the Adirondack-based hardwater derbies, with hourly awards for the largest northern pike. It is hosted on Lake Simon, just off Route 30 at the Tupper Lake Rod, Gun, and Sports Club. Pre-registration is advised, at a cost of $35 per angler. A current New York fishing license is required for all participants. State ice fishing regulations apply for this catch-and-release event. Participants are advised the state Department of Environmental Conservation will be on site checking for licenses and helmets on ATVs and snowsleds. For further information, visit tupperlakerodgunsportsclub.bravehost.com.