RCMP, snowmobile group push safety message in wake of 'shocking' string of deaths

A recent string of fatal snowmobile crashes has prompted the RCMP and the group that represents Manitoba snowmobilers to push the message of safety among riders as the season draws to a close.

6 fatalities involving snowmobiles in Manitoba in 7 weeks, according to RCMP

A STARS air ambulance at the scene of a fatal snowmobile crash north of Lac du Bonnet on Saturday. A Winnipeg man, 33, died after losing control of his snowmobile on a trail. (CBC)

A recent string of fatal snowmobile crashes has prompted the RCMP and the group that represents Manitoba snowmobilers to push the message of safety among riders as the season draws to a close.

According to RCMP, there have been six fatal crashes involving snowmobiles in the province since late January. 

"The commonality that I seem to be coming across as I write these is basically speed seems to be always a factor," said Sgt. Paul Manaigre, a spokesperson for Manitoba RCMP.

A lot more snowmobiles have been out on trails across the province lately because of the fresh snow, he said.

Manaigre said the number of deaths in the province so far this year matches 2017's total of six deaths, and follows four snowmobile fatalities in 2016. 

"I think what's shocking is the … timeframe," he said. "We've lost these six lives in a matter of seven weeks." 

2 fatalities in 1 weekend 

The latest happened on Sunday, when a 29-year-old man from the rural municipality of Oakview died after the snowmobile he was riding near Rivers, Man., plummeted over an embankment and fell 20 metres to a frozen river.

RCMP said the man was wearing a helmet and it's not known yet if speed or alcohol were factors. 

On Saturday, a 33-year-old man from Winnipeg died after his snowmobile lost control, veered off a path and collided with a tree in the rural municipality of Alexander, north of Lac du Bonnet, Man. 

The man was pronounced dead at the scene. Police say he was also wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, RCMP said. 

"The machines that they produce nowadays can fly down trails," said Manaigre. "The person's experience and not knowing the terrain or the area they're riding in seem to be some of the factors that produce collisions." 

Poster campaign in works 

Yvonne Rideout, executive director of Snoman Inc. — the snowmobiling association that maintains Manitoba's snowmobile trails and represents snowmobilers in the province — said her organization is also pushing the safety message.

"It only takes a split second for something to go wrong," she said.

"Speed does not always take you to your destination."

Rideout said the group is currently in the midst of developing a poster campaign on speed to roll out in shelters, clubhouses and other places in time for next season.

It follows a similar campaign on alcohol consumption developed two seasons ago.

"That campaign ended up being effective in that there was a big reduction on the amount of people that would consume alcoholic beverages in shelters [during rides]," said Rideout. "It also has that concept of peer pressure as well." 

Manaigre said some detachments in Manitoba have access to snowmobiles and officers will patrol trails to make sure riders are staying safe. But the onus, he said, is on riders to know the terrain and ride to conditions. 

"The primary message I want to get out is for people to know their limits on these snow machines and ride within them," he said. "You've got to be able to know what you're comfortable with and ride within your limitations."