Staying safe on your snowmachine during the long Alaska winter

The Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles defines a snowmachine as a mechanized vehicle running on skis, belts, skids, treads or low-pressure tires that is designed primarily for use on the ice or snow. Many Alaskans (and the countless tourists that visit the state each year) just know them as a great way to spend time outdoors enjoying all that Alaska has to offer.

As fun as snowmachines (also known as "snowmobiles" and "snow vehicles" in other states) can be, though, since they move at high speed through wooded areas, over frozen bodies of water and across the wilderness, they have the potential to cause serious injury. Now that winter is in full swing, it is important for those enjoying the great outdoors on snowmachines to proceed with the common sense and caution to stay safe.

Tips for safe operation

Staying safe while riding a snowmobile is crucial in Alaska, especially given how harsh the climate can be in the depths of winter. Responsible operators will exercise caution and take protective measures to protect themselves and other riders, including:

  • Never drinking or using drugs while riding
  • Wearing protective gear like water/wind-resistant clothing, goggles, gloves, boots and helmets
  • Not exceeding a safe operating speed
  • Hitting the trails prepared for changing weather and trail conditions
  • Being aware of others on the trails, particularly other snowmobilers, skiers and dog teams

Accidents happen

Even if you are adequately prepared for a snowmobile excursion and take proper precautions, snowmachine accidents still happen with alarming frequency. There are an average of nearly 20,000 snowmobile accidents each year, many of them involving minors under the age of 16, and more having alcohol as a contributing factor. Given that snowmobiles can operate at near-highway speeds and that riders don't enjoy the protections offered by a car, when snowmobile accidents occur, the injuries can be devastating. Snowmachine crashes can result in:

  • Traumatic brain injuries (much more likely if a rider or operator isn't wearing a helmet)
  • Broken bones
  • Crush injuries caused by the snowmobile rolling over
  • Spinal cord trauma
  • Hypothermia/exposure/frostbite

Accidents do happen, but some snowmobile accidents can be prevented with safe operation and proper maintenance. If you or a loved one has been injured in a snowmobile accident caused by operator negligence or defective components, speak with an experienced Alaska personal injury attorney to learn more about your legal rights and possible options you may have to recover compensation for your injuries.