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Local snowmobile clubs and law enforcement urge riders to sled safely following deadly week on the trails


Two more people died in a snowmobile accident Thursday afternoon, bringing the total number of snowmobile-related deaths this season to 11.

The Vilas County Sheriff’s Office says in the latest accident they were both riding on a trail in the Town of Cloverland when they crashed.

The names of the men are being held until families have been notified.

In response to the high number of recent snowmobile-related deaths in the area, local law enforcement is urging riders to be safe.

Of the nine snowmobile-related deaths in Wisconsin since the first of the year, five of them were in Vilas County.

“The people that are going out there, this is what they’re getting into, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a traumatic event on each first responder that is heading out there, especially when they know they live up here and they and their family are out on the trails as well,” said Vilas County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Patrick Schmidt.

Five of the nine deaths so far this year have been because a snowmobiler hit a tree.

In each of the previous two years, collision with a fixed object is the most common fatal accident type.

Schmidt says, while not true in all cases, many times aggressive driving and people not being familiar with the snowmobile their riding is a factor.

“So many people are used to the kind of the old style sleds where it was a cable-driven throttle. Now the newer sleds, it’s all digital. In the old days you could feel when you’re squeezing that throttle, you’re going to get more throttle out of it,” said Schmidt. “Now you grab a handful of throttle and you’re taking off like a rocket ship. That’s the main difference in the sled themselves. They’re also much faster than they used to be.”

It’s not just fatal accidents police and EMS are responding to.

According to the Wisconsin DNR, there were 115 snowmobile crashes in 2021 that did not result in death but 101 of them did result in injuries.

Schmidt says those injuries can be severe.

“When you put a body up against an immovable object like an oak tree, you’re going to get some injuries. These machines are extremely heavy. They’re light to get on and ride, but when that thing rolls over and crushes your leg or your arm or your hip or your chest, you’re going to have some injury. That’s why it’s so important to be familiar with your machine,” he said.

First responders, the Wisconsin DNR, and local snowmobile clubs have put out safety messages this week urging snowmobilers to focus on safety.

This includes taking a snowmobile course, slowing down, and riding within your abilities.

“Just be safe. You drive out there like your kids are in front or behind you. You take on that mentality that this is supposed to be an enjoyable thing in the Northwoods. It’s not a race track out there,” said Schmidt.

The DNR is also reminding snowmobilers not to drink and drive.

Blood alcohol levels are still pending on most of the fatal accidents this season.

In 2021, alcohol was involved in 9 out of the 13 deaths. All but one had a BAC over the legal driving limit.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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