Every sledder has a story.

The nights are long during snowmobile season. Day excursions often turn into a ride home shrouded in the dark.

Have you ever happened upon Yellowknife River sooner than you thought you would on the ride back from, say, Prelude Lake?

The only sensation worse than the sight of unexpected open water is the feeling of it filling your boots. Too many outdoor enthusiasts have died doing what they love because of mishaps like this: a berm stops the sled and the rider keeps going, water swallows them or they’re otherwise thrown from or caught under the vehicle in any number of ways.

A dream ride can turn into a nightmare in a split second.

“There are a lot of unmarked, homemade ice roads and depending on the lighting, it can be hard to see even during the day because of the flat white light,” Shaun Morris said this week. He’s the president of the Great Slave Snowmobile Association (GSSA). “People should always be aware of that and follow the speed limits.

“Obviously, with our recent weather, the ice gets pretty thick up here, but there are still areas where there are active currents and they are notoriously known for having bad ice. You want prepared and if there are any questions about an area with ice, don’t go in that area.”

It goes without saying that not being intoxicated when you set out decreases the chances of any of those things happening, so let’s start there.

Don’t drink or do drugs and ride. Ever.

The next key to survival is proper preparation: perhaps particularly, the right equipment. The City of Yellowknife and the GSSA have produced a handy infographic which includes many of the items you would want to have with you on a ride.

“Have extra clothing, extra fuel, spare parts, like an extra belt and stuff just in case something goes wrong,” Morris said. “Typically, if anything goes wrong, that (belt) will. So you want to make sure you have all the extras that you need.”

Going out for a rip? Do your future self a favour and bring the right tools for the job. Image courtesy of the City of Yellowknife

In the wild west that exists outside city limits, there is no law but that of physics that says you have to wear a helmet. But it’s a good idea. Whether you’re crawling around at a snail’s pace or pinning it to see what your machine is capable of, wearing safety equipment like a helmet gives you the best chance of avoiding injury or death in a collision.

“It’s amazing once you just get outside of Yellowknife because within or near the city, you get a lot of trails with traffic not just from snowmobilers, but they’re multi-use,” Morris said. “So you will run into skiers, fat bikers, walkers, everything. So the trails do get a little rough in town. But once you get away and further outside of the city, you get into some nicer trails and some fresh areas that aren’t as well traveled and it becomes a very beautiful ride.”

International Snowmobile Safety Week runs from Jan. 15 to 23. Following this advice will help you enjoy sledding that week, and all winter.

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