In the midst of the holiday season, conservation officers from the Department of Natural Resources remind all snowmobile riders to make safety their priority as the number of fatal crashes around the state has trended upward the past few years.

Three riders have died so far this winter, including a Prior Lake man who died Nov. 30 after his snowmobile hit a tree on the Paul Bunyan Trail in Pequot Lakes, and there have been other close calls, including snowmobiles that have gone through the ice and an instance in which a person was hit while walking on the ice.

Last winter, 10 riders lost their lives in snowmobile-related crashes, five died the year before and three people died in 2015-16.

“We want people enjoying the Minnesota winter, but we want them to do it safely,” Bruce Lawrence, recreational vehicle coordinator with the DNR’s Enforcement Division, said in a news release.

Two snowmobile mishaps were reported last weekend in the lakes area:

  • The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office reported two snowmobiles went through the water near the channel between Rush Lake and Whitefish Lake at 8:01 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21.

Crosslake police and sheriff's deputies responded. Before deputies arrived, it was reported the two riders made it out of the water and onto shore. North Ambulance transported Todd Cory Wille, 51, Pine River, for non-life threatening injuries. Ben Mason Wille, 17, Ham Lake, was transported to his cabin.

  • The sheriff's office reported Cinthia Marie Jordan, 38, Merrifield, was injured when the snowmobile she was operating crashed just before 8:30 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, off Crow Wing County Road 127, just west of County Highway 3, near Merrifield.

Jordan, who was wearing a Motocross type helmet, was riding the ditch on County Road 127 when the crash occurred. The snowmobile hit a plowed road approach, and she was thrown off the snowmobile and landed on the asphalt. She hit her head on the blacktop, breaking a piece of the helmet off, which cut her forehead. The sheriff’s office reported North Ambulance transported Jordan to Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd. The Nisswa Fire Department assisted at the scene.

Snow cover throughout Minnesota, including on many of the 22,000 miles of trails that traverse the state (varying local conditions mean not all are yet groomed), have led to a surge in the number of people taking advantage of a fun and unique way to enjoy Minnesota’s outdoors.

“Passing along your passion for the outdoors is one of the greatest gifts you can give another person,” Lawrence said. “By modeling safe behavior, you can ensure that passion lives on in youngsters and new snowmobile riders.”

Lawrence offers the following tips to ensure a safe ride:

  • Stay on marked trails. The state’s snowmobile clubs work hard to keep trails in good riding condition. Riders who stay on groomed trails are less likely to strike an obstacle or trespass onto private property. In parts of the state, wet conditions where trails go through low areas or across lakes mean trails aren’t yet groomed. Riders should plan ahead and check trail conditions before heading out.
  • Leave the booze at home. Drinking and riding is one of two main factors in crashes, and plays a role in about 60% of those that are fatal.
  • Watch the speed. Going too fast is the other main factor in crashes. Many serious and fatal crashes occur when a speeding snowmobiler loses control or strikes an object.
  • Be careful on the ice. During the past two winters, every through-the-ice fatality but one has involved people who were riding a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle when they fell through. There must be at least 5 to 7 inches of new, clear ice to support the weight of a snowmobile and rider.
  • Take a snowmobile safety course. It’s required of anyone born after 1976 and recommended for everyone. People with snowmobile safety certification are less likely to be involved in serious or fatal crashes.

Additional safety tips can be found here: mndnr.gov/snowmobiling/safety.html.