By Jenn Watt
Published Jan. 17, 2107
Over the weekend, police in the Bracebridge area spent Saturday evening and Sunday searching for a missing snowmobiler near Sopher’s Landing in Gravenhurst. Around 8 p.m. witnesses say they saw a sled travelling along the lake toward open water and then disappearing from sight. A huge search effort was launched including the OPP, two fire departments and the armed forces, which sent a RCAF helicopter and personnel.
On Jan. 11, Peterborough police responded to two snowmobiles that went through the ice on Stony Lake. Rescue teams were able to pull one man to safety, who was sent to hospital. The thin ice conditions hampered rescue attempts for the other man, who was located the next day deceased.
Four days before those two incidents, OPP responded to a flurry of snowmobile accidents throughout the central region on Jan. 7 and 8 – three of them involved riders hitting trees and rocks and the other involved going through the ice.
The Haliburton County Snowmobile Association keeps their website updated about trail conditions. As of Monday, no lakes had been staked and none were considered safe. Go to hcsa.ca/trails to see current conditions.
The warnings of the local club should be heeded by anyone coming through the area. Every year, dozens of people in Ontario are killed or badly injured on their snowmobiles because of thin ice, poor trail conditions or by making bad decisions like drinking and driving.
According to OPP information provided last winter, middle aged men are most likely to run into trouble while on a snowmobile (87 per cent of fatalities in the 2014-2015 season were men and 58 per cent were between the ages of 35 and 54), but accidents can happen to anyone and help often can’t arrive quickly enough.
More than half of fatalities included alcohol; more than half included speeding and more than half happened after dark or at dusk.
This isn’t to harp on those safe riders who take their time, drive safely while exploring Ontario. Those brightly coloured machines parked in our towns bring needed visitors to the region during a slower season and give many people a reason to love the cold winter days.
But risk taking has major consequences for snowmobile riders.
Each year, this newspaper carries stories of people losing their lives while riding. Many times those tragedies could be avoided.
If you ride, please be safe. Check in with the local club to assess trail and lake conditions, keep to OFSC trails, drive sober and stay aware of your surroundings.
Your family, friends and community will thank you.