Snowmobiling is a great winter activity, and in Labrador West, the long winters attract a lot of people to take part - but there's one hard truth: drinking and riding just don't mix.
The White Wolf Snowmobile Club maintains hundreds of kilometers of groomed trails and warm-up facilities, but what’s being found in those facilities is a concern for the club officials and the members of the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Photos show a lot of empty beer cans at the huts, indicating that people are drinking while riding their snowmobiles.
Josephine Gaulton-Rowe with MADD points out that snowmobiles are classed as a recreational vehicle, and therefore, zero tolerance applies. Gaulton-Rowe says there is no need to drink while enjoying the trails and MADD is asking people to stop and think before they drink while snowmobiling.
Patrolling the trails
Several years ago, MADD donated a snowmobile to the RNC to help patrol the trails, and a few months ago, the IOC (Iron Ore Company of Canada) donated another machine to enhance the RNC's capability to carry out patrols.
Eldon Wheaton, president of the White Wolf Snowmobile Club, says it's a worry to see the evidence of people drinking while on the trails.
“Safety is our main concern, and having the patrols is a big deterrent to people who may drink while driving snowmobiles,” he says. “With the patrols happening on a regular basis, it seems the problem is diminishing slightly, but the ideal situation is that nobody drinks and rides a snowmobile."
Wheaton says the club would prefer that people not drink in the shelters, either, but says there is virtually no way to enforce that.
"We have to think about the safety of the riders, and also for the staff who are out grooming the trails," he explains.
What's the solution?
Education is essential, and Wheaton would like to see courses being offered in a school setting. The club attempted to put off a safety course for snowmobilers several years ago, but only one person signed up for it.
Another idea, he says, would be to have government introduce a system requiring permits to operate the machines, with a mandatory safety course. The club has been speaking been speaking with the provincial government about safety, but it was mostly about the need for mandatory helmet use for snowmobilers.
For now, though, he believes the patrols by police seem to be very effective.
MADD commends the patrols, and Gaulton-Rowe says there have been previously convictions of people who were impaired while snowmobiling. Unfortunately, there have been fatalities as well linked to the impaired operation of the machines, something all concerned say can be avoided if people heed the message that it is not acceptable to drink and ride.