Snowmobile enthusiast Chris DeJoy says it’s all good fun, but you have use caution.
“I think a lot of people jump on a snowmobile don’t realize how dangerous it can be,” he said.
This winter the lakes have been especially dangerous. Up north, on Lake Winnipesaukee , three snowmobilers broke through the ice and died in a single weekend. One victim was a 15-year-old boy.
Other incidents have been concentrated in New York State. Nearly a dozen people died on the lakes. Among them were Edward and Steve Sattler.
The brothers lived just outside Buffalo. They were leading a family snowmobiling trip at a cabin up in the Adirondacks.
“We were all going up roughly a week after they went up, was the plan,” said Ryan Sattler, Edward’s 28-year-old son.
At a coffee shop, he recalled how those plans changed suddenly. Just a few weeks after their deaths, a look of shock still glazed his eyes.
When the Sattlers brothers went missing. Ryan and his family rushed up to the cabin near Raquette Pond. There were search crews, state officials, helicopters, air boats, teams of divers. And, while all this was going on, the family waited.
“The waiting part was horrible to be honest,” Ryan said. “I think at some point I just wanted to go do something. I can’t sit here anymore because you sit and that gives you lots of time to think and that’s not necessarily a good thing in that situation.”
And, when the waiting was over.
“They told us they found debris in the water, they wouldn’t give us specifics as to what the debris was and the helicopter landed which logically we were thinking if the helicopter landed they must have a degree of certainty.”
The family still has no idea how the men ended up in the water. They suspect the brothers were disoriented by Adirondack snow squalls.
The Sattlers had over 40 years of snowmobiling experience. It’s a part of their legacy. Ryan says his family has discussed whether they should continue snowmobiling.
“It’s something that we all enjoy doing together very much,” he said. “And, I don’t think they’d want us to stop snowmobiling.”
Chris Fallon, who works with the New York parks department snowmobile unit, says the increase in deaths this winter is partly “attributable to it has not been a cold winter and a lot of times the ice has not been safe.”
And, sometimes speed is to blame.
Mark Tremblay is another snowmobile enthusiast from New Hampshire. He has some safety advice for snowmobiling on lakes.
“If you’re near any kind of questionable ice or you haven’t talked to an ice fisherman to find out if the ice is more than six inches thick, you don’t go,” he said. “Don’t go.”
Experts also say to adjust your speed weather conditions, and use visual clues such as color and snow cover to help determine the thickness of the ice. Stay on the trails, ask anglers and law enforcement about that day’s ice cover, and absolutely avoid drinking and riding.