DNR urges safe, sober snowmobiling ahead of busy weekend

Snowmobile trail on the frozen forest river
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - The weekend is shaping up to provide near-perfect conditions for snowmobilers to hit the trails across Northeast Wisconsin.

But after five fatal snowmobile crashes last weekend alone, the DNR is issuing cautions and safety reminders, especially when alcohol is mixed with snowmobiling.

DNR conservation Warden James Moore, who oversees Kewaunee County, expects snowmobile trails all across our area to be filled with sleds starting Friday night.

"I would think so. With the weather the way it's been, we've had a large amount of snowfall and the trails haven't been open that much in past years, so I'm expecting that there would be a good turnout this weekend," says Moore.

With the likelihood snowmobilers who haven't spent a lot of time on their sleds recently may be on the trails, too, Moore is reminding people to play it safe, especially after dark.

Several years ago, a 55 mile per hour speed limit at night was implemented, trying to reduce crashes.

"Even before you get to 55, you may be out-driving your headlights," cautions Moore. "Speed can definitely increase the danger factor, and especially on the trails, you want to make sure they're operating on the extreme most right side of the trail, especially on the curves."

There's also the concern over mixing alcohol with this popular winter pastime.

The same .08 legal limit that applies to cars applies to snowmobiles because it involves the same impairment.

"Especially with the alcohol use, it can contribute greatly to your inability to react to what you may encounter," says Moore.

Already in the first six weeks of the year, 10 people have died in snowmobile crashes across the state.

While they're still under investigation, the DNR reports at least three involved alcohol.

Last year, 19 people died. Alcohol is so far suspected in at least 12 of those crashes, including several where blood tests show the driver was more than twice the legal limit.

The year before that, DNR statistics revealed the same problem: The vast majority of fatal crashes involved alcohol.

Combining cabin fever, new snow and the chance to ride close to home has wardens urging everyone to be smart, prepared and careful in the coming days.

"Even if it's a trail that you're familiar with, you want to use caution, because there are always changing trail conditions," adds Moore.

He says the wind may cause drifting snow in some areas or bare spots in other parts of trails.

On top of safety gear, including helmets, Moore suggests people heading out on frozen lakes or rivers carry ice picks with them.

"You may see some crashes that are head on. It could be an incident where a ski may clip another ski because they're not on the most right side of the trail with another oncoming sled. You want to make sure you're wearing the appropriate safety gear including your helmet, gloves, any kind of thermal clothing that may be appropriate, and a phone for emergencies," adds Moore.