Young snowmobile enthusiasts have a chance to prove their safety know-how and get certified to ride on public trails before winter comes.
The Scott County Sheriff’s Office is offering free snowmobile field training in December for kids ages 11 to 15 at the Regional Training Facility in Jordan. The half-day classes fulfill the second part of the state requirements for snowmobile certification.
“They’re going to learn all the rules of the state of Minnesota of operating a snowmobile and then the hands-on portion that our training would allow them to show the proficiency and understanding of those rules,” Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen said. “Hopefully, that will eliminate accidents happening and people getting injured.”
According to the state Department of Natural Resources, 59 snowmobile crashes occurred last year. Five of those were fatal.
Jon Paurus, education program coordinator for the DNR, said the number of crashes fluctuates every season depending on snow levels. More snow, he said, brings out more snowmobilers and generally leads to more crashes.
To minimize crashes, the DNR has been pushing safety and conducting training across the state to help people learn how to safely operate snowmobiles. State law requires anyone born after Dec. 31, 1976, to get certified before riding on public land.
Scott County’s field training, which will be taught by a recreational safety deputy and a DNR instructor on Dec. 16 and 17 will include learning about snowmobiles, the machines’ different controls, riding at night and speed limits. It will run from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on both days at 17706 Valley View Drive.
Participants can register online at Scott County’s website. They do not have to bring their own snowmobiles, but they are required to bring a helmet and winter apparel. Space is limited to 25 kids per class and a parent or guardian will need to sign a consent form or present a DNR liability waiver.
Adam Schubert, senior administrative specialist at the Scott County Sheriff’s Office, said close to 100 kids registered for the field training last year.
“A lot of kids come out with their friends,” Schubert said. “We get a lot of brother-and-sister teams who come out to do it.”
But before signing up for the class, young snowmobilers must take the DNR’s online course. That course, which costs up to $30, takes a couple hours and provides an introduction to the laws and safety practices that will be discussed at field training.
Terry Hutchinson, former president of the Minnesota United Snowmobile Association and a member of the Sno-Trails Inc. nonprofit that grooms trails, said 200 of the state’s 263 snowmobile clubs offer safety training classes. About 10,000 kids received the training last year, he said.
“It’s a major effort by a lot of volunteers who get the kids started out right,” Hutchinson said. “They can ride as soon as they finish the training between 12 and 16, but without the training, they can’t ride until they get a driver’s license, so this allows them to start riding a lot younger.”