AUGUSTA — Urging people to use caution while riding their snowmobiles these days is little bit like telling swimmers to be careful of seashells in the Arctic Circle. With almost no snow anywhere in the state, snowmobiling just isn’t the first concern on most Mainers’ minds.

But Maine Game Wardens, who on Monday announced their yearly safety campaign with the Maine Snowmobile Association, said the colder weather that began funneling into the state this week will surely bring with it snow and snowmobilers.

“We’re eternal optimists,” said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.

There are about 90,000 snowmobiles registered in Maine each year. Most of those riders will enjoy a portion of the state’s 14,000 miles of groomed trails without incident, but the Warden Service responds to hundreds of calls each year for crashes or riders who are lost, said Cpl. John MacDonald. Last year the service handled 360 calls for service, including 177 crashes, 112 of which caused injury. Six of those crashes included a fatality. There were another 23 search and rescue efforts.

MacDonald said excessive speed, driving beyond ability and driving beyond the effectiveness of the machine’s headlights are the most common factors in those crashes. MacDonald said Maine has no official speed limit on its trails, but it has strict laws to govern safety.

“This is a family oriented sport,” he said. “People need to keep in mind what their speed is and maintain control.”

MacDonald said alcohol consumption is still to blame for too many crashes despite the known risks.

“Operating under the influence is illegal and can significantly increase the chances you or someone else will be in a fatal crash, all of which can change lives forever,” MacDonald said.

The Warden Service and state snowmobile association have produced a public service video that portrays wardens notifying a young mother that her husband was killed while operating under the influence. The video is fiction, but the scenario is all too real, MacDonald said.

“It’s something that can happen to anyone,” he said.

Snowmobilers face other dangers as well, said Maj. Christopher Cloutier of the Warden Service. Lakes that were covered in ice a few weeks ago have opened up during the recent spell of warm weather, which means they will be unsafe if the state suddenly gets enough snow to begin riding. He said the light snow pack could leave rocks hidden just under the surface of the snow, posing a hidden threat to riders.

“A lot of our ice is not safe yet,” Cloutier said. “A little bit of common sense can go a long way.”

Meyers said storms earlier this year accompanied by heavy snow and strong wind downed countless trees and limbs across the state. Warm weather that followed has left a number of waterholes that have not yet frozen over.

“Beware of your surroundings,” Myers urged. “Keep an eye on one another.”

Cloutier suggested frustrated snowmobile owners use this time of no snow to bone up on emergency repairs so they are ready to ride when the snow finally falls. He suggested taking time to make sure emergency kits are properly supplied and to learn basic emergency repair, like how to replace the machine’s belts and spark plugs.

“The Internet is your friend when it comes to that stuff,” he said.

The most crucial preparation, once riding begins, is developing a trip plan and telling others what that plan is. Riders, who Cloutier urged to carry a cellphone, should notify family members from the trail if those plans change.

“Tell people where you’re going, go with friends and stick to the plan,” Cloutier said.

Of course, riders will not be going anywhere without a few snowstorms. Meyers said what little riding is available in the state is limited to the upper elevations of the Rangeley and Eustis areas and far northern Aroostook County.

“Just about everybody is desperately looking for more snow,” Meyers said.

The National Weather Service is providing little hope of that over the next several days. While the service is predicting colder weather for central Maine, with daytime temperatures in the teens and 20s, there is no snow in sight until at least the weekend, when temperatures begin to rise. That means, for now at least, snowmobiles will remain parked and snowmobilers will remain frustrated.

“It won’t be long now,” Meyers said hopefully while standing on the green lawn that surrounds the North Augusta Trail Blazers’ clubhouse. “The next blizzard is just around the corner.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.