January 21, 2011

Wisconsin InfoLink: The joy (and danger) of snowmobiles

Ron Larson. Photo: Wisconsin State Journal/John Maniaci

Wisconsin InfoLink is an almanac of Wisconsin facts and resources compiled by Ron Larson. Each week on the WisconsinWatch blog, Larson introduces us to some of these gems.

Downhill skiing, cross country skiing, ice skating, sledding, winter bird watching, hiking and ice fishing are some of the popular outdoor activities in Wisconsin — but few can match the thrill of snowmobiling.

A good place to start investigating snowmobiling is at the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s web site, Travel Wisconsin. The site includes an article titled “Rev Things Up On These Wisconsin Trails,” which includes some interesting facts, such as the state of Wisconsin has more than 25,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails – enough to sled from New York to California and back four times.

The article also mentions that the snowmobile was invented in Sayner, Wis., by Carl Eliason in 1924. That first snowmobile is on display at the Vilas County Historical Museum.

The Tourism website also has a section on the snow conditions for skiing and snowmobiling. The site provides a county-by-county report on the trail and snow conditions for snowmobilers.

Another state agency that has a wealth of information for snowmobilers is the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The DNR’s site includes a list of snowmobile coordinators for each county, snowmobile laws, safety information and much more.

Although snowmobiling can be a fun and thrilling winter activity, it can also be a dangerous and deadly sport. Wisconsin InfoLink has compiled a list of snowmobile fatal accidents in Wisconsin since 1994.

Resource: Wisconsin InfoLink: Accidents > Snowmobile accidents.

The last snow season had 21 fatalities, the lowest number since the 2001-2002 season. As of mid-January of 2011, there has been only one death involving a snowmobile accident in Wisconsin.

The DNR has published a map showing where the snowmobile-related fatalities have occurred since 2002. A quick glance will show that the vast majority of fatalities have taken place in the northern counties, with Vilas (23), Onieda (21) and Oconto (13) having the most fatal accidents.

— Ron Larson

Ron Larson, a blogger for WisconsinWatch.org and staffer at the Wisconsin Historical Society, spent most of his professional life organizing information and helping reporters find facts and data as the library director at the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times.