For anyone that has spent time on a snowmobile, whether it was for a single ride or countless miles, one of the most important things to remember is to be on the lookout for other sleds. Just about everyone I know has had, or has heard of, a “close encounter” of the crashing kind. Usually it involves another machine. Sometimes, even when everyone involved is driving carefully and playing by the rules - due to narrow trails or limited visibility - these incidents can happen.
But our snowmobile trails are not used just by snowmobiles, they are used by many others. From wildlife to livestock, animals roam the trails. I’ve come across landowner’s livestock that have gotten loose, including cows and sheep. I’ve also seen deer, dogs, foxes, coyotes and moose, to name a few. People are out there, too. I have seen snowshoers, cross country skiers and even some mountain bikers, all riding on the trails. Encounters such as these can go one of two ways, one being a good memory, the other being bad.
Usually wildlife will hear you approaching and move out of the trail. The others, the two-legged kind, often get to the side, unless the iPod is turned up too loud. I have lots of personal stories I could share, but today I would like to talk about just one.
I was notified of a landowner who had a “bad encounter” with a snowmobilier. The trail involved goes through this farmer’s front yard. While out with his dogs, he had a sled come flying through. The landowner said he hand- gestured them to slow down. Unfortunately the rider of the sled then hand-gestured back.
We made the trip up to see the landowner and were glad to find he found the whole thing quite comical, but was wondering what we could do differently. He explained how he liked seeing the snowmobiles go by, how his daughter loves to wave at them and have them wave back. He mentioned how he uses the trails to access his land during the snow season and was wondering about some options. We talked about posting more signs and getting the word out to club members about his concerns. He went on to explain that not only did his dogs stay loose in the yard, but sometimes his kids were out, too.
I got to see his biggest concern when he introduced us to “his girls,” a beautiful pair of white draft horses used to gather maple syrup. They were quite excited for the upcoming sugar season and he explained how they work near and on the trails around the farm. He then excused himself as “the girls” were quite anxious and needed to burn off some energy.
My girlfriend and I watched in awe as with just some slight verbal commands and the light leads, he led them around the yard with ease through 18 inches of snow. I don’t know who was having more fun, him or the horses. When he got back he was a little more out of breath than “the girls.” We made plans to get the signs up with the hopes everyone would use a little more caution through his place and maybe on all the trails.
So next time you’re out riding, please remember, we are not alone out there. If you happen to see “the girls” or his daughter in the window, don’t forget to wave, and keep the rubber side down.
Photos by Camilla Thatcher and Jeanne Cassavant
By Brad Stafford
Originally posted in Massachusetts on the Trails with S.A.M. November 2012