NEW ULM - Snowmobiles can be a fun, exciting activity the entire family can enjoy.
They can also be dangerous and should be given respect each and every time they are taken out.
In the State of Minnesota, all residents born after Dec. 31, 1976 are required to have a snowmobile safety certificate in their possession. To become certified, students must take and pass a Minnesota snowmobile safety training course. The Youth Snowmobile Safety Course is available to youth ages 11 and up.
Instructor Dan Jacob (right) watches a student on the training course.
"Taking the snowmobile safety course is important because people need to know how to ride safely and be safe while riding," instructor Steven Rykus said. "Also it is mandatory for people that are born on or after December 31 1976."
In years past, in order to obtain the safety certificate, students were required to take a class the met two or more times with at least eight hours minimum of classroom time and it included a riding performance course.
That extensive classroom experience is no longer needed.
Now the class has been condensed to just one day, thanks to a new program the Minnesota DNR has put together. Students get a CD-ROM that they can review at their leisure at home before they go to the class.
"It depends on the students, some do it faster some do it slower," Rykus said. "It takes roughly three or four hours to complete the CD. That's the convenience of it."
There is also an adult snowmobile safety independent study course on CD. The course is available to persons 16 and older. And if you took the class in another state, that certificate is recognized in Minnesota.
When the students show up for the Saturday course, which was held at Hunter's Den Jan. 29, they watch a movie about snowmobiling, a conservation officer speaks to the class and they take a test. After the test is completed, the students head outside for a driving test on the snowmobile.
"When they finishing riding, we sign off on it and they get their temporary certificate," Rykus said.
The test is on things covered by the CD. There are 35, multiple choice questions. And if the students went through the CD they should be able to pass the test.
The CD covers seven units. After finishing each unit, there are a series of test questions that need to be completed before the student can go on to the next unit.
The CD starts with an introduction that talks about the history of snowmobiling in Minnesota and also discusses the importance of volunteers and local clubs to snowmobiling.
The second unit is entitled Know Your Snowmobile. This covers the different parts of a snowmobile and a pre-ride checklist.
The third unit is Safety. It covers trip planning, hand signals, trail signs, ice safety, avalanches and accidents.
Most accidents that happen on a snowmobile happen on the road right away. Either on the shoulder, ditches or on the roadway.
Striking fixed objects is the most common way snowmobile accidents occur. Fixed objects can be automobiles, other snowmobiles, fence posts, trees or animals.
Falling through ice on a snowmobile also contributes to several accidents each year. Don't ride on ice that is less than five inches thick. They may lead to thin ice or open water. New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Ice seldom freezes uniformly, it may be a foot thick in one location and only an inch or two just a few feet away. Insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. Te extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support.
Think in terms of thermometer rather than the calender when deciding to go out on the ice. Just because the ice was fine on Dec. 1 of last year, doesn't mean it will be this year. Don't trust the tracks on lakes and rivers left by snowmobiles.
The fourth unit covers Laws. It talks about basic requirements, legal operation and avoiding violations.
The fifth unit discusses riding the snowmobile. It covers proper riding attire, starting the machine and riding position. It talks about group rides, riding conditions and general riding guidelines.
The sixth unit discussed emergencies. It talks about proper equipment and supplies, what to do if you get stuck, stranded, injured and proper first aid.
And the final unit is dangers to avoid.
When the student completes the CD, they take a multiple choice test with 50 questions taken from different parts of the CD.
The DNR is always looking for volunteers, especially instructors for the clinics and classes they provide. Rykus has been a Volunteer Safety Instructor with the DNR for more than 24 years with Firearms Safety, Archery, 6 -7 years with ATV safety,
"The DNR a couple years ago asked us to get certified for snowmobile because they needed more instructors for the class to help teach so students would have more of an opportunity to get certified so they could ride and be safe while riding," he said.
To become certified, you have to go thru an Instructor clinic for about 3-4 hours to be certified as an Instructor to teach the class. The DNR Regional Training Officer holds the training clinic to be certified as an instructor.
"They go over what we need to know and what we need to do to conduct the classes," Rykus said. "They go thru a background check on everyone going thru the clinic to become instructors. When you become certified as an Instructor then you must help or put on a class once every two years or you become inactive then you must get re-certified (go thru an Instructor clinic) again if you want to teach classes again."
The most recent snowmobile safety class Rykus put on was his second, he plans to provide the class once a year.
He will be providing other classes throughout the year starting with a Turkey Clinic at Twin Rivers March 26. He will put on a Fire Arm Safety classes at the Hunters Den the first weekend in April. He wil also offer an ATV safety class May 21.
For more information on upcoming classes go to www.dnr.state.mn.us