GRAND MARAIS — This winter has been full of snow which is great for snowmobile riders who like to take advantage of Mother Nature. The UP has seen an increase in snowmobile accidents, which leads some people to wonder what is different compared to last year.

“I think speed has been the main factor in all the accidents that we have seen so far,” said Alger County Sheriff Robert Hughes. “Our department has handled four serious accidents so far this year and none of those accidents have had alcohol related to them. So I think that speed has been the main factor in the majority of the accidents we’ve seen this year.”

Maintenance of the trails is especially important to the safety of the riders and workers in Alger County are taking every step possible to ensure that the trails are ready for action.

“I believe it’s roughly 270 miles is what we take care of for the grooming,” said Assistant Ambulance Chief, Chris Holocher Burt Township. “We have three groomers in our program and four trails in our system. From December first until March 31 is our season for grooming.”

Trail grooming is not the only thing that is important when it comes to preventing accidents. The Sheriff’s Department along with the National Park Service has teamed up to frequently stop riders at trail heads to make sure that they are complying with safety rules and regulations.

“We have a snowmobile safety grant from the state of Michigan and two officers are dedicated to snowmobile patrol,” said Sheriff Hughes. “We dedicate those officers to snowmobile patrol and much like this area that we are staged at today, we don’t spend a lot of time on the trails as opposed to the trail heads. This is an ideal location at the trail head where we can witness snowmobilers go by, look for compliance with trail stickers, with registration decals, and also see if they comply with the snowmobile regulations which mean stopping at the stop signs that are located at this location.”

When accidents do happen, the snow patrol is fully equipped to handle injuries with their “Snowbulance”. The “Snowbulance” is a fully enclosed heated sled that allows officers to get to the victim out of the woods and into safety as quickly as possible.

Snowmobiling is a hobby for many and attracts numerous people to the area. With recent gas prices dropping, more and more riders are able to hit the trails; but more activity means riders need to be extra cautious.

“What brought us up here is the great snow,” said snowmobiler Tracy Malpass of East Jordan, Mich. “It’s a super good day, it was supposed to warm up today, the last couple weekends have just been too cold. The trails are great and everyone seems to be riding responsibly. We should have a great afternoon to finish up our weekend up north.”

Whether you are a seasoned snowmobile rider or just a beginner, it is important to remember the rules in order to stay safe on the snow.