Snowmobilers Lament a Winter of Discontent

Article excerpt

Byline: Burt Constable

The difference between life and death is just a few inches.

Specifically, the more inches of snow left in this winter, the more likely we are to have deadly snowmobile accidents.

"Our accident rate is up," says Dave Cassens, the safety education administrator with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

So far this winter, we've had lots of snow and 60 snowmobile accidents with two fatalities, Cassens says. Last year, Illinois had less snow and only 36 accidents, but five fatalities.

Nationally, this is turning out to be the most dangerous winter in snowmobiling history.

"I'm sad to say that is exactly right," begins Bill Schumann, president of the Illinois Association of Snowmobile Clubs, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. And the grim statistics usually don't include snowmobilers who drown after falling through the ice, he adds

A longtime leader in the fight to crack down on unsafe snowmobilers, Schumann says part of the reason for the increase in accidents is just simple math.

"Snowmobiling has taken off unbelievably," Schumann says. "It's nothing to see a snowmobile family with four, five or six sleds out there."

Barring a snowy March, Illinois (home to at least 60,000 snowmobiles), will fall short of the record 89 snowmobile accidents in the winter of 1979-80 and the record 10 fatalities of 1980-81. But Illinoisans represent a problem because, as a mere "snow border" state with a shorter snowmobile season, some snowmobilers aren't very experienced.

"People in Illinois tend to out-ride their learned abilities," Cassens explains.

"The machines are too big, too fast," he adds. And they can be deceptively fast.

"The machines are so efficient because of technology, the rides have been smoother," Cassens says. …