Fewer fatal snowmobile accidents have been reported on the trails so far this winter compared to the winter of 2007-08, a trend that representatives from the state and snowmobile groups attribute to more people taking operator training courses and the deep snowpack.
From December through the end of January, seven fatal snowmobile accidents were reported across the state compared to 12 in the same period during the 2007-08 winter, said Daniel Keefe, a spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
There were 26 fatal snowmobile accidents during the 2007-08 winter, one of the highest totals since the winter of 2002-03 when there were 31 fatal accidents.
“There certainly has been a lot of snow this winter and people have been out there [on their snowmobiles],” Keefe said. The state parks office keeps records on snowmobile accidents, including fatal accidents, and administers snowmobile safety programs.
No fatal accidents have been reported in the Capital Region, so far. However, a 36-year-old Delmar man, Kevin Corkery Riegel, died in a snowmobile accident Jan. 14 in the Old Forge area of Herkimer County, according to state records.
Keefe said he thinks one reason that the fatal accidents have decreased this winter is because of the snowmobile safety training courses, especially for young people, offered by the state parks office.
“We feel at this point that people have been getting the message and operating in a safe manner,” Keefe said.
The courses are taught by experienced snowmobilers and are usually sponsored by snowmobile clubs, agricultural extension offices, law enforcement agencies or similar groups, and are usually available in fall and early winter. A state certification is issued after completion of the course, according to the parks office Web site.
Youths ages 14 through 17 years old may operate a snowmobile without adult or other supervision if they have completed a snowmobile safety training course. Without training, they may operate a snowmobile only if accompanied by someone at least age 18.
From ages 10 through 13, youths may operate a snowmobile if they have completed a state-recognized snowmobile safety training course and are accompanied by a person who is at least 18 years old. Children less than 10 years old or less than age 14 without a safety certificate may operate a snowmobile only on lands owned or leased by their parent or guardian. A list of upcoming courses is available on the parks office Web site.
The two main reasons for fatal snowmobile accidents are speeding or driving drunk, Keefe said.
Rob Palmateer, president of the Galway Trailmasters snowmobile club in Saratoga County, said this winter has been a great one for snowmobiling.
He said the club, which maintains 16 miles of snowmobile trails from the town of Charlton to Lake Desolation in Greenfield, has had its three grooming machines out in full force since the third week in December.
“Everything froze up solid,” Palmateer said. “The more snow cover the better.”
Palmateer said deep snow covers up rocks and fills in holes, making it easier to groom safer trails.
The state uses money raised through its annual, mandatory snowmobile registrations to pay 200 snowmobile clubs across the state to groom sections of trails.
Keefe said the number of snowmobile registrations this winter is about the same as the number issued in 2007-08. He said about 120,000 snowmobile registrations have been issued so far this winter as compared to 128,000 issued through the entire winter of 2007-08.
Palmateer said the Galway Trailmasters snowmobile club has seen its membership increase this winter by 30 percent to nearly 200 members.
One advantage for people in joining a snowmobile club is that the annual registration drops from $100 to $45 if they are a club member.
“Attendance at our meetings is up,” Palmateer said about his club.
He said a nearly 80-mile snowmobile trail loop is maintained by snowmobile clubs in Charlton, Galway, Greenfield and the Sacandaga Club. He said local snowmobilers can use these groomed trails rather than traveling up into the Adirondacks for trail riding.
“We’ve had no mishaps,” Palmateer said about his club.
Mike Menneto of Menneto Powersports on Route 9 in Clifton Park said snowmobile sales started very slowly in November. But as snowstorm after snowstorm developed ideal snowmobile conditions, people have started buying new snow machines.
Menneto said he has sold more snowmobiles this winter than last.
“Floor traffic is down, but the people coming in are coming in to buy,” he said.
He said the more energy-efficient snowmobiles that use less gas, are quieter and generate fewer harmful emissions are selling the best this winter.