While it started out as a means of transportation for snowy Canadian winters, snowmobiling has become a popular recreational activity. As of 2006 there were 700,000 registered snowmobiles in Canada, and more than 160,000 km of snowmobile trails to enjoy. Whether you participate yourself, or see riders out on local trails and around town, it is clear that snowmobiling is a prominent winter activity in this area.
Recreational snowmobiling is a way to be physically active in the winter and enjoy the great outdoors in a social setting. Most modern machines have hand and seat heaters which, along with wind-proof and moisture-wicking clothing, snowmobile suits and helmets, keep riders warm and dry on even the coldest days. The Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (www.ofsc.on.ca) is a great source of information, facilities and services to help new and experienced riders get out on their local trails.
Like any activity, exercising appropriate care allows most people to enjoy snowmobiling safely. Snowmobiling is, however, the greatest cause of winter recreation-related injuries seen in specialized trauma units in Canada. Snowmobiling accounts for as many of these injuries as skiing and snowboarding combined. The majority of injuries seen in snowmobile incidents are musculoskeletal in nature, and over half of these are to the upper and lower limbs. Injuries to the knee and lower leg are frequently seen, due to the fact the legs are the most lateral structure on a sled and are almost completely exposed. Head trauma and drowning are the primary causes of fatalities. The most common mechanism of injury is collisions with other vehicles or objects such as trees, with other injuries occurring from loss of sled control or falling off the snowmobile. Nearly one third of all injuries occur as a result of a snowmobile hitting “bumps” such as a mound of snow or covered rock. While machines can weigh as much as 270 kgs and travel at speeds over 140 km/h, it is human, rather than mechanical factors that account for virtually all modern snowmobile injuries. For example:
Clearly these human risk factors are largely preventable by individual drivers. To aid in prevention, provincial laws include regulations for minimum driver age, snowmobile registration, wearing of helmets, speed limits and use of public roadways. These laws are further enforced in Ontario with the help of qualified snowmobile club members in the Snowmobile Trail Officer Patrol (STOP) program.
Avoiding snowmobiling injuries is best accomplished by remaining sober while operating a snowmobile, wearing an approved safety helmet, and driving at a speed and manner that allows for the avoidance of fixed objects. By preventing many of the risk factors associated with snowmobiling, riders who exhibit good judgement and avoid unnecessary risks will continue to enjoy a fun and safe winter out on the trails.