News Local

Weekend snowmobile incidents cause for concern

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

It's been a cold and snowy winter so far, but it's still not safe enough to be out on most area snowmobile trials.

And that includes the lakes and other water courses in the region.

Five sledders were involved in four incidents over the weekend, including a crash Saturday night in Ramara Township. A 62-year-old Severn Township man suffered life-threatening injuries after the sled he was riding on struck a rock on Lake Couchiching's Ship Island.

The sledder was transported to Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital before being transferred to a Toronto trauma centre for treatment. His condition has since been upgraded to critical but stable.

Despite the vast increase in snowmobile traffic throughout the area recently, none of the trails are 100% open. However, the trails in-and-around Orillia are getting "better and better" all the time, said Rob Love, president of the Orillia and District Snowmobile Club. The recent cold snap has really helped the trail conditions, but many still aren't fully traversable.

"We've had some weak conditions," he said. "With the amount of snow that we got, without the hard ground underneath, it's really made things a little more challenging for some areas."

What poses a greater challenge is that the lakes in the area are not frozen enough to safely handle the weight of a snowmobile. That means some sledders are doing one of two things: they're either travelling in and around trails that aren't quite ready yet, or they're going out on the ice anyway.

"The lake really hasn't frozen over yet," Love said. "It's not really deemed safe, so they shouldn't be out on the lake."

That's the message from the OPP as well, who investigated all four incidents. A news release issued by the provincial police stressed there is no such thing as safe ice. Operators are encouraged to check ice thickness with local ice hut operators and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry before heading out.

It's a lesson two sledders near Penetanguishene learned the hard way Sunday afternoon.

Just before 3 p.m., Southern Georgian Bay OPP were alerted two sleds had gone through the ice approximately 150 metres off shore on McArthur Drive in the area of Tay Point.

The two snowmobile operators were able to make it safely to shore. As of Monday morning, one snowmobile remained fully submerged and the second was partially submerged in the water. A pilon was placed in the area to alert other riders. Neither operator was injured.

That wasn't the case in two more incidents from Saturday, one of which involved a Barrie woman.

In Bracebridge Saturday morning, a sled being driven on Trail D near South Monck Drive struck a hole and rolled, causing the operator to be ejected. The 44-year-old Bracebridge man operating the vehicle was taken to a local hospital with serious injuries.

In Trent Lakes, a 47-year-old Barrie woman was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries after a crash last Saturday afternoon.

The sled she was driving struck a tree after she failed to negotiate a turn, police say. The woman was driving with a group on a trail that was open at the time. The eastern portion of central Ontario had a number of trails completely open over the weekend, according to the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Club's website.

That's a stark contrast to the trails in central Simcoe County.

"There's great spots on the trails, spots that are in really good shape, but we can't open up the whole thing because there's one bad section here, or one bad section at the other end," Love explained. "We haven't been opening up larger sections of trails just because of those couple of small bad areas."

None of the trails are fully open, but Love is hopeful that will change in the next few days.

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