First Fatals Involving Snowmobile Renters in Coos County This Season Cited Inexperience

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LANCASTER – New Hampshire’s Coos County snowmobile trails saw the first deaths of people who had rented snowmobiles in recent years as Fish and Game and local rescue officials have responded since mid-January to 16 crashes so far, six of which have involved rental sleds.

The only two fatals have involved renters with inexperience being a factor in the accidents.

There is little in state law for required education for renters and it is left primarily to the rental agency to familiarize renters, said Lt. Mark Ober, Jr. of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

In his 18 years in Region 1, he said there have never been deaths involving rentals until this winter, which so far has only been about five weeks long.

On Jan. 23, he said a 56-year-old Massachusetts woman on a snowmobile rented from Northeast Snowmobiles of Gorham was killed on Corridor Trail 12 near Berlin and on Feb. 16, in Milan another woman, 39, also from Massachusetts died on a rental vehicle from the same operator.

In both cases, Ober said, inexperience was a factor.

Officials at the rental shop did not immediately return a request for comment but at its website, indicates rentals are limited to those over the age of 18 and have a valid driver’s license. They ask renters to come 45 minutes in advance of their reservation for paperwork and a safety video, and hold as rules to rent that no use of alcohol or drugs is allowed, no passing of other snowmobiles and maximum speed of 45 miles per hour on the rented sleds.

In the accident data reviewed since the season began, it appears speed and inexperience are common reasons for crashes, commonly crashing into trees.

Ober produced snowmobile crash data the department has collected in his region from 2018 which shows on average about 30 accidents a year, about nine involving renters and fatalities, with two in 2020 on their own snowmobiles and one on an owned vehicle in 2022.

Ober said to have two fatalities on rentals in one season, which is not yet over, is unprecedented in his tenure. 

He said it was his understanding the only state requirement is that a valid driver’s license has to be shown to rent a snowmobile in New Hampshire and the rest is left to the discretion of the retailer.

“These are money making businesses without much regulation,” Ober said. “Most don’t rent to those under 18…but it’s up to them,” who to rent to.

This past weekend was particularly busy on the trails in the far north as it was the three-day Presidents Day Weekend and the beginning of Massachusetts school vacation week.

Ober spoke Tuesday after his team and other first responders were summoned Sunday to Crawford’s Purchase to help save a 62-year-old Simsbury, Conn. woman who crashed into a tree on a rented snowmobile at approximately 2:30 p.m.

The victim, identified as Margaret Victory, 62, had been operating a rental snowmobile when she inadvertently pressed the thumb throttle on the handlebar of the snowmobile while crossing Base Road on Corridor 11 near the Mt. Clinton Road, Jefferson Notch Road junction in Crawford’s Purchase.

Being the first time Victory had ever operated a snowmobile, the release said, she failed to let off the throttle until it was too late, and she crashed into trees on the side of the trail, according to the press release. She was ejected from the machine upon impact and sustained a significant leg injury and unknown upper body injury, it said.

Ober said she had rented the vehicle in Twin Mountain from Northern Extremes, one of a handful of rental companies in the region including Northeast Rentals in Gorham, and Bear Rock Adventures in Pittsburg among the major renters in Coos County. Retailers also provide rentals.

Victory was extricated from the scene by emergency first responders and placed in the Twin Mountain Ambulance where she was treated by medical professionals before being transported to Littleton Regional Healthcare.

Her group had rented snowmobiles for a two-hour tour and were being led by an experienced tour guide, it said.

“Victory was behind the tour guide, and all evidence at the scene and statements from the victim revealed that this was not an excessive speed event, it was simply operator unfamiliarity and inexperience with operating a snowmobile,” the release said.

Victory was wearing a helmet and appropriate riding gear at the time of the crash. In fact, rentals come with helmets, according to the websites reviewed.

Ober said the snowmobile season in District 1 began uncommonly late this season.

While the state usually opens its more than 6,000 miles of snowmobile trails on Dec. 15, this season it was more like the second week in January, he said before there was enough trail cover in his region to allow for riding.

People usually purchase snowmobile licenses from the state earlier in the season and the riding in the southern half of the state has been limited by lack of snow.

With this being a long weekend and Massachusetts vacation week, he said volume was high in some places and people need to take precautions and slow down particularly in intersection areas.

“Pittsburg is the epicenter,” he said, for snowmobilers.

The season, he said, often slows down in mid-March but there could still be some on the trails in April in the far north.

The department urges all riders to know the abilities of the snowmobile and their own capabilities, know the terrain they are going to cover, use reasonable speed and let someone know when they plan to return and a possible route. And, under no circumstances should riders drink or use drugs while riding, Fish and Game requests, noting that the behavior is tied to a driver’s license if arrested.

A review of press releases from the department since Jan. 23 showed no accidents where alcohol or drugs were factors.

There were eight accidents which required medical evacuation and in all cases, the department said inexperience was a factor. In some cases, speed was also a factor.

Several of the accidents occurred in Crawford’s Purchase with one in Warren, and others in Berlin, Milan, Jefferson, Cambridge and Bartlett. Most involved Massachusetts residents.

“Conservation Officers want to remind everyone to operate safely, know your abilities, and become familiar with your machine before operating it on trails,” the statement read.

Snowmobiles and ATVs are considered Off Highway Road Vehicles or OHRVs under state law.

Many of the retailers of those products also offer rentals.

Last year, an effort to require more training for OHRV users in Senate Bill 256 was vetoed by the governor.

Senate Bill 256 would have meant “Any dealer or renter of OHRVs, or employee thereof, who has passed an OHRV training program and is approved by the executive director, or designee, may administer the temporary safety training examination and issue an OHRV temporary safety training certificate.  If the executive director, or designee, finds that a person administering a temporary OHRV training examination has assisted the person taking the examination, the executive director shall permanently revoke the authority of the administrator to issue certificates and administer examinations.”

In killing Senate Bill 256, establishing a state education requirement for rental, Gov. Chris Sununu said it would be bad for business and leave New Hampshire at a comparative disadvantage with other states.

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