The snowsled contradiction

The first story, by Northwoods Sporting Journal writer Jess Libby, recounts her memorable winter snowsledding northern Maine on trail conditions that have never been better. She writes: “My best day of riding that weekend started off with below zero temps and warmed up into the 20s. There’s something to be said for bright blue skies, warm sunshine and completely white scenery. The beauty of being on a snowmobile riding through open fields, looking ahead at your friends and seeing the snowdust flying up around them is just breathtaking. My heart was happy and I felt blessed to take it all in. Stopping at the lookouts to take pictures and talk about how beautiful everything has really made me appreciate the little things in life.”

The second story, by Northwoods Sporting Journal’s snowmobile writer Rod Fraser, paints a glaringly contrasting picture. He writes: “This snowmobile season has proven to be deadlier than last year, and that I find to be both heartbreaking and unacceptable. There were seven snowmobiling fatalities in 2018, and as of this writing, we have already had nine fatalities in 2019 and we still have time to go before the end of the riding season. According to Warden Service and news reports contributing factors in these accidents were excessive speed, inexperience and, in some cases, alcohol consumption.”

If you are a snowmobile enthusiast, or have someone you care about who is, think about this. There have been eight — count them — eight other stories this winter very much like this press release from the Maine Warden Service that reports Maine’s ninth snowsled fatality:

Female snowmobiler killed in Wayne

The Maine Warden Service is investigating Maine’s ninth fatal snowmobile crash. Martha Carroll, age 56, of Brighton, Mass., was killed when the snowmobile she was operating crashed into the trees at a high rate of speed on the west shore of Wilson Pond in Wayne at approximately 5:45 p.m. March 2. Carroll was operating her boyfriend’s 2002 Polaris 700 snowmobile on Wilson Pond and wearing a ski-type helmet at the time of the crash. The initial investigation indicates that inexperience, speed and alcohol all appear to be factors in the crash.

The emphasis in the last sentence was not in the press release. I put it there. Snowmobile writer Rod Fraser, quoted above, wrote this about alcohol and snowsledding: “Studies have shown that increasing blood alcohol content (BAC) is also associated with a decreased reaction time. One study pointed to an average decreased reaction time of just over a tenth of a second, associated with a BAC level of 0.08, the legal limit in the United States. That means that when cruising at 70 miles per hour, a drunk driver would travel for an additional 12 feet before reacting to a hazard!

Folks, these snowsled fatalities really are not accidents. There is a cause and an effect. The same sad, sorry script is repeating itself over and over. Snowsledders, talk to yourselves and those you run with. Sledding, as Jess Libby lyricizes about above, is supposed to be an enjoyable, exhilarating and uplifting experience.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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