Take care when snowmobiling this winter

The snowmobile season appears to have started a little earlier in the Upper Peninsula than in the past couple years, with ample snow to get out on the trails.

And while snowmobiling can be a fun recreation activity with friends or family, some care is needed to ensure it doesn’t turn dangerous.

Already this past weekend came a report from Alger County of a man killed and a woman injured when their snowmobiles went off a trail curve and crashed into trees near Shingleton. Authorities cited excessive speed and operational inexperience as factors.

For a safer time on the snowmobile, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources recommends:

— Always keep your machine in top mechanical condition.

— Always wear insulated boots and protective clothing, including a helmet, gloves and eye protection. Use waterproof layers and make sure not to leave any loose ends that might catch in moving parts of the machine.

— Never ride alone.

— Always be alert to avoid fences and low-strung wires.

— Never operate on a street or highway.

— Always look for depressions in the snow.

— Keep headlights and tail lights on at all times.

— When approaching an intersection, come to a complete stop, raise off the seat and look for traffic.

— Always check the weather conditions before you depart.

— When possible, avoid crossing frozen bodies of water. Snowmobiling on ice is much more dangerous and extremely unpredictable. The best approach is to stay off ice entirely. Remember the safety motto, “No ice is safe ice.”

If you do decide to venture onto the ice, the Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant advises:

— Carefully evaluate the ice. New clear hard ice is the safest. Ice should be at least 5 inches thick for snowmobiling. Always remember that ice is rarely uniform in thickness and ice over running water is especially unpredictable. Even thick ice can be weak if it is “rotten” — meaning it has frozen and thawed repeatedly, building up thin layers of water within the ice. Snow on top of ice does not make it stronger but rather acts as an insulator warming and weakening ice. Pressure ridges in the ice due to the movement of currents and wind can also make ice unstable.

— Stay off the ice during spring thaw. In late winter and early spring ice thaws rapidly. Ice that was safe one day may be at the breaking point the next.

— Wear a buoyant snowmobile suit to provide extra insulation against icy water and help you float to the surface if you fall in.

— Take navigation instruments with you such as a GPS or a compass if you are going to be traveling on a larger body of water. It can be easy to get disoriented and start moving towards open water rather than land.

— Bring small ice picks and a rope to help aid in pulling yourself or a friend out of the water. Keep the ice picks in an easily accessible place.

— Use extra caution and slower speeds. Remember it is more difficult to stop and maneuver a snowmobile on ice than on land

— Never operate in a single file when crossing frozen bodies of water.

Above all, the DNR stresses that snowmobilers slow down — speed is a contributing factor in nearly all fatal accidents — and don’t drink, as alcohol impairs judgment and slows reaction time.