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Gary Shaw: It’s snowmobile time, check the ice first

Walk on the Wild Side
Walk on the Wild Side - SaltWire Network

LABRADOR WEST, N.L.

There is some snow on the ground and there is little doubt that the lights have been on in the shed at home and in many sheds at the cabin. Tool kits, spark plug wrenches, new plugs installed and a new belt put in place, and a spare under the seat are all part of the snowmobile season start. A maintenance program that people can’t wait to get at. The snow has arrived early this year and people will be on it early.

Trailers are all checked over, wheel bearings, safety chains and lights are all gone over with a fine-toothed comb. The sled sleighs are all checked out for tight fitting Teflon runners and good sleigh pins and at least one spare in the kit with the extra spark plugs.

Gas cans are checked, nozzles and caps and air nozzles are checked to be sure they are safe and tight for the often-bouncy journey they will undoubtedly have to endure to be sure they won’t slobber any fuel out before it ends up in the tank.

Extra oil and a funnel with a few rags in a heavy plastic bag is secured and ready for use with the least amount of slobbered oil as is possible.

A safety and first aid kit is essential. A flashlight with extra batteries, matches, fire starter, an axe, small saw, snowshoes, flares and a waterproof bag with some dry underclothes, pants and sweater are necessary. Any of this “stuff” could end up saving your life.

Whether you are out trapping, hunting or going ice fishing when the season opens, on a week’s trip or just out for a “three hour cruise” on a nice afternoon, go prepared for the worse case scenario.

Take the time required to teach the young ones among us who are going out on these excursions with us and more importantly, without us. Always have everyone prepared and geared up to spend the night in the country unsupported that was not planned. Lives can depend on this.

The anticipation that all snowmobilers have with the imminent arrival of the first snowfalls, and the long season that lies ahead, puts everyone in a fever pitch to get out and get going. All of the preparation mentioned above and many other specific inclusions depending on the extra needs of all of the many trips that are planned are all part of the music that we dance too, to finally get out and on the snow heading to whatever destination that we have planned.

All of this preparation is a given and none of it will matter if we leave out the most important part of our winter snowmobile travels. Everyone who has done any traveling on the Big Land by snowmobile knows this simple fact. There is hardly anywhere you can be going by snowmobile that you don’t have to cross water. Don’t rush the start of the season; make sure the ice is good to go before you head out on it. Labrador is covered with brooks, rivers, ponds, lakes and bog systems that are full of water. There is little doubt that its really cold here and there is certainly sustained opportunities for Mother Nature to make lots of ice.

That being said, there are also many opportunities for bad ice to exist no matter how cold it gets. There are lots of areas with moving water year round, it can’t get cold enough, for long enough, to make safe ice in some of these areas.

This year’s water conditions in some places, also presents another challenge. The water level in many systems has remained abnormally high this year right through to freeze up. The danger will arise when this freeze occurs and then the water drops in its level. You can easily have three or four feet of air between the ice and the water level. These conditions can create a dangerous scenario when the ice alone can’t support a sled and its load. A drop down three or four feet and having you and your snowmobile landing in ice cold water could easily have catastrophic consequences for not only the rider but those who may be trying to initiate a rescue.

The message and the responsibility is simple, make sure you have all the safety items required with on your trips, but just as importantly, take the time to do whatever is necessary to make sure you are on good ice, your lives may very well depend on it.      

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