Snowmobile accidents over the weekend that included two fatalities prompted state officials to warn riders about dangerous conditions caused by erratic weather.
“Many areas were down to an icy base that is now covered with new snow,” Sgt. Alex Lopashanski of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said in a statement. “Riders should be conscious of the fact that with traffic the surface of the trail will erode and produce icy conditions that can be difficult to navigate.”
State and snowmobile experts — alluding to record high temperatures in New England a week ago — also advise against driving across frozen bodies of water.
On Sunday night, a 56-year-old South Hampton man died after breaking through the ice on his snowmobile on a “treacherous area” of Moosehead Lake in Rockwood, Maine, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Authorities pulled Steven K. Allard from the water where he broke through the ice several hundred yards from shore about 10:15 p.m. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead at CA Dean Hospital in Greenville.
In New Hampshire, about a half-dozen snowmobile crashes were reported Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including a fatal single snowmobile crash just before noon Saturday in Stratford. Robert Leblanc, 55, of East Greenwich, R.I., died from extensive injuries sustained in the crash, according to the Fish and Game Department.
Speed was considered a contributing factor in the death of Leblanc, who was wearing a helmet.
The state has a 45 mph speed limit unless a slower speed, often enforced by radar, is posted.
“Speed and inexperience seem to be the two really primary reasons these crashes occur,” said Col. Kevin Jordan of the Fish and Game Department.
About 10 a.m. Friday, Peter Gagne, owner of Northern Extreme Snowmobile Rentals in Bartlett, came across Taylor Benard, 46, of Rochester, lying on a trail in Albany. Benard crashed about an hour before in an area with no cellphone service; it was 5 degrees.
“With the combination of weather conditions and the injuries he had sustained, it is not clear what the outcome would have been had Peter not found Taylor when he did,” according to a Fish and Game news release.
In Bartlett, Jayna Terris, 43, of Oakdale, Conn., couldn’t negotiate a left turn shortly after 3 p.m. on Sunday, resulting in injuries to her hip and upper torso. Her 11-year-old daughter, who was riding as a passenger on Meadow Brook Trail, was uninjured.
Terris was taken to Memorial Hospital in North Conway.
Trail conditions currently resemble those found early in the season. Recent, dramatic weather changes have rendered terrain unpredictable.
“This is not the snow cover we normally have by the middle of January,” Jordan said.
Dan Gould, executive director of the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association, said the state is off to a slow snowmobile season.
“Right now, snow cover varies from area to area,” he said.
Allard and his wife, Tiffany, were snowmobiling on two separate sleds about 9 p.m. Sunday.
“When they got back to the shoreline where the trail meets the lake, Steven Allard left and looped around toward the mouth of the Moose River when he broke through the ice,” according to a news release.
Maine Game Wardens, Rockwood Fire and Rescue, and U.S. Border Patrol responded.
Maine Warden Service Sgt. Bill Chandler reminded snowmobilers to stay aware of their surroundings, warning that ice conditions can change quickly.
“This section of the lake, where the Moose River flows into Moosehead Lake, always has poor ice, and that is why there are marked trails on the lake so that snowmobilers can avoid the bad ice in this area,” he said in a statement.
The New Hampshire Snowmobile Association works with Fish and Game to promote safety classes across the state.
“(On a) trail, unlike a paved highway, there are a lot of obstacles. There can be a fallen tree. There can be animals,” Gould said. “You need to use caution.”
The association and New Hampshire Fish and Game advise snowmobilers to avoid frozen bodies of water.
“There are so many factors in ice, between weather, springs underneath and currents,” Gould said. Most trails avoid crossing bodies of water.
“It is a very unpredictable surface,” Fish and Game’s Jordan said. “The department recommends at least 8 inches of ice before you travel out with an OHRV or snow machine or any kind of vehicle. Winters like this, where we haven’t had real long periods of extended cold weather, these ice surfaces become even more unpredictable.”
Ice should be a minimum 6 inches thick before being walked on.
“With erratic temperatures, some areas of ice may look safe, but may not be. We are urging people to check the ice thickness before going out onto any frozen water body,” Jordan said.
Jordan called the deaths tragic.
“One death is too many,” he said. “That is something we want to prevent every chance we get.”