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STARS, Alberta Snowmobilers Association partner on safety

Nov. 27, 2014, Calgary - Every winter, snowmobile enthusiast Joel Wasnidge finds himself atop the continental divide near Golden, B.C., mesmerized by the spectacular views, looking down at nothing but mountain peaks and fluffy cloud, looking up at nothing but open sky.


November 27, 2014
By The Calgary Herald

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It’s a difficult, full-day trek, winding through steep, at-times
risky terrain. But thanks to a wealth of safety knowledge, a team of
experienced riders and a high-powered snowmobile, it’s a risk Wasnidge
can take.

“It’s beautiful, so beautiful. And I’m not prepared to
give it up,” says Wasnidge, director at large for the Alberta Snowmobile
Association.

But as snowmobiles become more powerful than ever —
tripling their horsepower and doubling their speed over the last 25
years — Wasnidge worries about those who venture where they shouldn’t,
only because their machines can.

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The Alberta Snowmobile
Association is partnering with STARS Air Ambulance to promote awareness
around snowmobile safety this winter in hopes of reducing the number of
deaths and injuries related to the growing sport.

But both groups agree that as the machines increase in power and speed, so can the risk of driving them.

Decades
ago, snowmobiles cost about $4,000, were mainly used for hunting and
sported a 55-h.p. motor that could hit a maximum of 90 km/h. Today, the
high-tech machines can tackle the most complex terrain and have become
toys of extreme adventuring for some, with up to 180 h.p., able to climb
vertical cliffs and travel as fast as 140 km/h on flatter surfaces.

“It’s
about mass times velocity and the potential for injury with these
machines now is huge,” agreed Chad Hegge, flight paramedic with STARS.

“They are so powerful, and so fast. We need a hyperawareness around safety.”

In
the aftermath of a horrific avalanche near Fernie, B.C. in December
2008 when eight snowmobilers died, Alberta and B.C. have since seen a
total of 31 snowmobile fatalities between 2009 and 2014, due to
avalanches alone, according to the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

But Wasnidge stresses snowmobiling deaths and injuries can also occur on flat terrain.

“You
can be faced with barbed wire, boulders hidden under snow. You can be
going too fast, and run into all kinds of obstacles, from trees to
fences.”

But he stresses that risk is always reduced, no matter how powerful the machine, with good sense and safety training.

“It
isn’t really about the machine, it’s about whose riding it, and I can’t
stress enough how important it is to have common sense.”

The
Alberta Snowmobile Association is asking that all snowmobilers enrol in
the Safe Rider program, now available in schools, or in adult
classrooms.

Wasnidge also suggests snowmobilers planning to head into the backcountry also take an avalanche awareness course.

Safety,
he adds, begins “with your morning cup of coffee,” when you tell
someone about your trip, where you’re going and when you plan on
returning.

“Then you go through an entire checklist,” he adds,
including double-checking all avalanche and safety gear, fully-charged
batteries, extra clothing, and extra food.

“And never, ever go out alone,” he said, adding that groups of riders should always have some one who is experienced.


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