OSWEGO — Snowmobiling is back in Oswego County, and law enforcement officials and club members urge those taking part to follow all safety precautions.
Trails in New York State opened earlier this week and officials caution riders that the beginning of the season typically does not mean to just run out and start your engines.
“We remind snowmobilers to take extra caution in the beginning of the season with snow having the potential to bury hazards,” Dominic Jacangelo, the executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association (NYSSA), said in a press release.
The New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSPRH) releases an annual report about snowmobiling incidents from the prior year. NYSPRH reported that across the state since 2016, the number of accidents has decreased, but the number of fatalities has not.
In the 2016-17 season, there were 183 accidents with 24 deaths. In 2017-18, there were 160 accidents with seven deaths.
There were 157 accidents with 21 fatalities in 2018-19.
In Oswego County there are nine organizations preparing the trails for safe rides during this season.
Teana Goudy is the membership secretary and a groomer operator for the Pulaski-Boylston Snowmobile Club, Inc. (PBSC).
A snow groomer is a large vehicle that compacts snow and maintains the quality of the trails.
Goudy said the PBSC has been busy clearing and preparing more than 100 miles of trails located throughout northern Oswego County.
“(Our trails run from) Selkirk Park, to Redfield and up to Winona State Forest,” Goudy said.
Within the area the club manages, Goudy said she handles trails between Altmar and Boylston. She said all the trails have been prepared and more than 600 signs throughout the trails have been updated. These signs indicate hazards on the trails, turn markers and destination signs. She said she has been keeping up with the snow and ensuring the trails are ready.
“We make the trails pretty and check for safety issues. Once there is snow on the ground, it becomes a 24-hour operation,” Goudy said.
This year PBSC has had to focus on fixing some of the trails’ bridges and replacing culverts in time for the season. Culverts are the tunnels that carry running water underneath roads and trails.
Throughout the state, the NYSSA said there are more than 8,000 miles of trails.
Part of the team that maintains those trails is Jim Rolf, the statewide trail coordinator for NYSSA. He has more than four decades of experience operating snowmobiles. He offered some tips for safe snowmobiling, and said two of the most important things people could do before they go on the trails is to take an online safety course and know the trails.
“An online safety course, especially if they are new to the sport or are returning after years away, is a huge benefit to snowmobilers,” Rolf said.
An in-person, NYSSA-approved safety course is required for ages 10-18 to ride in New York State. It teaches riders how to use a snowmobile and factors essential to operate a snowmobile safely.
“Snowmobiling is unique. It’s very similar to the rules of the road,” Rolf said. “The course is similar to what you would see in a defensive driving course, only keyed to snowmobiling and trails.”
While the NYSSA does not run the safety courses, Rolf said several in-person courses are offered that follow COVID-19 guidelines throughout the state.
Goudy said that the PBSC does offer safety classes for all riders.
“We offer safety classes. We already have completed a few this season,” Goudy said. “I recommended a gentleman who came to me to take the course. He ended up taking it alongside his nephew.”
One of the other most important things is to know the trails before going on your ride. Rolf said in Oswego County, there are more than 300 miles of public trails. Area snowmobile clubs maintain the trails throughout the county. According to Rolf, all nine of the county’s clubs are trail maintenance clubs.
“The best way to know the trails is to join the local clubs, become involved or volunteer on the trails,” Rolf said.
Essential tips for riders hitting the snow to remember include obeying state snowmobiling laws, riding with others, and not riding under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Rolf said that trails could be challenging and riding them requires peak concentration at all times.
Rolf said that the county clubs dictate the trail’s availability. “If a trail is closed, it is closed for a reason,” he said.
A representative from the Oswego County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) also suggested riders take a safety course.
“The main thing is they take a safety course before riding. They also want to make sure their equipment is well maintained,” the OCSD representative said.
Throughout the winter and peak times where people would be snowmobiling, the sheriff's department patrols the trails to help community members and assist organized events when they start back up again.
If anyone has any questions about trails throughout the county, they are encouraged to reach out to local clubs throughout their region. To contact the Pulaski-Boylston Snowmobile Club Inc. or the other eight clubs in Oswego County, their contact information can be found at https://membership.nysnowmobiler.com/regions/34.