by Dawn Ballou, Editor, Pinedale Online
March 7, 2005
In the past several weeks there have been three fatalities of snowmobilers in our area. The Sublette County Sheriff’s Office released news of the death of a Lander man on Sunday, March 6th, while snowmobiling on the Horse Creek trail in the Wyoming Range. The Lander man, Robert Hobscheid, age 67, was sledding about 15 miles up the Horse Creek trail towards Blind Bull. The official cause of death is pending an autopsy. Unofficial and unconfirmed reports suggest the accident may have been the result of a possible medical condition rather than a sledding accident.
In early February a 30-year old Utah man was killed while sledding with friends in the Hoback Ranches area of Bondurant. He suffered massive head and internal injuries from the crash. A 23-year old Pennsylvania man was killed in the Union Pass area of the Upper Green on February 28th while snowmobiling with friends on the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail. He died when the sled on which he was riding went over a jump and collided with a crashed sled in front of him. Reports indicated he sustained serious injuries to his chest when he hit the handlebars of his sled in the collision.
None of these snowmobiling accidents were related, and there is no one thing that can be pointed to as a cause for any of these accidents. Two of the deaths were the result of the impact from the snowmobile crash. The third might have been caused by a medical condition that occurred while snowmobiling, resulting in the crash, but that is unconfirmed. Our deepest sympathies go out to these families.
We are getting into late season snowmobiling conditions here in western Wyoming. There is still a lot of snow in the high country, but we have not had fresh snow in quite some time. The snow is getting a hard crust on it, and we’ve heard several reports from people commenting about their snowmobiles flipping when their skis broke through the crust and caught on the hard pack layer underneath. Combine these snow conditions with speed and it can be a recipe for disaster.
With our warm days, the snow is beginning to melt out underneath the surface leaving gaps unseen from the surface. A snowmachine going across these areas can drop several feet when the snow gives way, onto a rock or whatever might lay underneath. The folks at the local Forest Service office commented that snow conditions can vary greatly even during the course of the same day, being excellent in the morning and then “rotten” snow conditions that give way under the weight of a snowmachine later in the afternoon. We heard of a sledder who recently got a broken leg after being thrown from his snowmachine when the ski broke through the top layer of light snow and caught on the hard pack berm underneath.
We strongly encourage anyone sledding now to be aware of the snow conditions for the area they will be sledding. The Forest Service “advises caution because of the deteriorated snow conditions”. More and more sledders are wearing chest protectors to give them more protection if they get thrown off their machines or hit the handlebars. A quality snowmobiling helmet is a must. Know your abilities and don’t ride beyond your skill level. Driving too fast for conditions, operator inexperience, and unstable snow conditions can combine quickly into a dangerous sledding situation. Please maintain a safe speed when sledding and know your abilities, and the skill level of those in your party, for a safe snowmobiling outing.