Snowmobile skipping grows in N.B.

The dangerous and unregulated sport of snowmobile water skipping is gaining popularity in New Brunswick and across North America.
Losing control and crashing is one of the risks of snowmobile skipping, as this driver in Dorset, Ont., discovered. (YouTube)

The dangerous and unregulated sport of snowmobile water skipping is gaining popularity in New Brunswick and across North America.

It involves driving the heavy machines, designed for snow, on waterways.

Dave Forestell witnessed the sport for the first time last weekend at Bates Landing, where he was waiting for the Belleisle cable ferry with his family.

Dave Forestell says he held his breath when he saw a snowmobiler travel across open water. (CBC)

They saw a snowmobiler travelling at high speed across the frozen Belleisle Bay, heading straight toward the open water.

"We were getting concerned he wasn't going to slow down in time," recalled Forestell.

"And then, all of a sudden he just sort of inched back towards the back of the seat in the snowmobile, kept going, maybe even faster, went over the open water, came out again on top of the ice on the other side, then did a fist-pump in the air - in celebration, so to speak - and then kept on going," he said.

"We sort of had our mouths open and it happened within seconds so I was glad my daughter and my wife were there to see it because I might not have believed that it had actually happened.

"We were amazed."

The broken up ice around the Bellisle cable ferry where the snowmobiler crossed. (CBC)

The risks of snowmobile skipping include sinking, or losing control and crashing.

Another concern among some snowmobilers is that they might follow another snowmobiler's tracks and come upon open water completely unprepared — particularly at night or during a snowstorm when visibility is reduced.

Nevertheless, RCMP Sgt. Claude Tremblay, the regional manager for traffic services, said there is currently no law against crossing open water with a snowmobile.

Meanwhile, the sport is catching on among die-hard enthusiasts right across North America.

There are countless videos of their stunts posted on YouTube, including one shot in Minto where the driver crosses without incident.

In another video from Dorset, Ont., the driver slams into a bridge, but doesn't appear to be seriously hurt.

Kevin Johnston says he's never had a problem skipping and that the key is not to slow down. (CBC)

"The biggest thing people have trouble with is they panic and stop, or try to avoid it and that's where you're going to sink,' said Kevin Johnston, who grew up driving snowmobiles in Belleisle.

The 40-year-old said he tried skipping for the first time a few years ago and was quickly hooked.

"Just one afternoon I thought I'd try it. When I did it the once, I did it five or six times. The more you do it the more fun it gets," he said.

"All your friends think you're crazy, especially the older fellas, but I just wanted to do it. Just thought it would be something, you know, I'd like to try."

Johnston said he's never had any problems and doesn't know anyone else who has sunk.

He has even tested the limits, he said. "You can go down to 40 to 50 miles per hour, but I wouldn't go any slower than that.

"If you lose your speed, that's when you'll probably sink."