Nfld. & Labrador

Sled Case: Why this avid snowmobiler is wearing a helmet this winter

The older that snowmobile riders are, the more likely it is to see them wearing fur hats and hoods as the only means of protection, writes columnist Jay Legere.
Many people know they ought to wear helmets when they ride snowmobiles, but they choose not to anyway. (Jay Legere/CBC)

I don’t wear a helmet when I ride my snowmobile; never have. OK, maybe once in a while I’ll put one on if I know I’ll be going faster than normal, but it’s very rare. 

I didn’t have a snowmobile when I was growing up in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, but I spent hundreds of hours sitting on the back while my buddies pinned the throttle, looking for the next jump.

Back then, helmets on our heads were as scarce as teeth on a hen.

Fast-forward 25 years and it’s clear that is that the older the riders are, the more likely it is to see them wearing fur hats and hoods as the only means of protection. 

It’s not like helmets are a new thing. They’ve been available to snowmobilers for decades. 

Rob Pilgrim says the loss of peripheral vision is a key reason why he dislikes wearing a helmet. (Jay Legere/CBC)

They are proven to keep us warm. They are proven to protect our heads. 

And, they are proven to save lives. 

Yet, there seems to be this aversion that many veteran snowmobilers have to grabbing one and putting it on. 

“For me it’s peripheral vision," said Rob Pilgrim, a snowmobile enthusiast here in Labrador who spent years working in the industry as a design engineer.

"If I’m knocking in a new track in a new area that I’m not familiar with and I’m trying to read topography or trying to negotiate a real tight section of woods, I do find that I am disadvantaged with a helmet on."

Even Greg Wheeler, the president of the Grand River Snowmobile Club in central Labrador, doesn’t wear one all the time. Ironic, considering his club insists that if you use its trails, you need to be wearing a helmet.

"A lot of the guys now [say], 'I am just going here to the cabin, or I’m just going to go out for a little hunt or go for a little ride. I’ve been doing it for years, nothing is going to happen,' " he told me. 

But are these truly good enough reasons not to wear helmets? 

'Famous last words'

Not according to Michel Prud'homme.

Michel Prud'homme: 'You have to teach people why it is important for you, why it's important for your kids.' (Michel Prud'homme)

"Snowmobiles (are) associated with the highest rate of serious injury of any other winter sport," said Prud'homme, who works with the Canada Safety Council and teaches snowmobile safety courses all over the country.

"You have to teach people why it is important for you, why it's important for your kids. A lot of people say I've never worn one, nothing happens to me, I know what I'm doing. Which are unfortunately, sometimes, famous last words."

In most cases, older riders are all about getting to their destination in a responsible way. 

In fact, they're the one who have an excess of safety gear to keep them alive in case they break down. 

But what good is a caribou skin or a Coleman stove if they fall off their sleds and crack their skulls? 

Service NL is responsible for snowmobile safety laws in this province. Here’s how a department official defines the helmet laws: “There is no specific legislation for wearing helmets while using snowmobiles. However, we encourage their use and recommend that helmets used should be safety-certified, the right size and in good condition.” 

The big factor for me

That leaves many riders, including me, no reason to feel guilty about our helmet-less ways. 

There is, however, one thing that does: my family. 

As much as I hate the feeling of a helmet on my head, as much as I hate how it restricts my field of view, as much as I hate a foggy visor, I have to set an example for my children. 

So, this year, I vow to wear my helmet more often. 

I’d prefer if I was pressured by law enforcement, but I need to smarten up and realize that the danger of dying is more incentive than the danger of getting a ticket. 

It really is a no-brainer.

About Sled Case 

We've launched a new feature today, about the joys and thrills to be found on the snowmobile trails. Check with us over the next few Fridays, as Labrador Morning producer Jay Legere takes us on an adventure. 

About the Author

Jay Legere is a social media presenter in Yellowknife, N.W.T.

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