Michiganʼs Magazine
for Snowmobiling and ATV

On Zero Tolerance

By Stephen King

OK, some of you longtime readers may recognize this topic. Every couple of years, I like to write about some of the do’s and don’ts of sledding. Most of you think I am just trying to keep you guys safe out there because I am a nice guy. But those who know me know I have an ulterior motive. Like, my readers are the only thing between me and having to get a real job — and we don’t want anything like that to happen, do we? So, I don’t want to lose any of you.

Now, sledding is fun. You get outside and get all that fresh air. (Yet nothing beats the smell of a 2-stroker first thing on a cold winter day. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.) You also get that feeling of cruising down the trail on your favorite ride, with the wind on your face mask. That bit of adrenaline makes you feel alive.

But, as with any motor sport, things can go sideways in a hurry. Literally. There are all sorts of ways to get yourself into trouble out there.  Each year, a lot of sledders do — and some pay the ultimate price.

The various media all seem to do the body count thing. I will not do that. What I want to do here is to keep you from becoming a notch on that pole.

You see, in my opinion, the No. 1 cause of crashes, injuries and even death is just doing something incredibly stupid. So, I want to convince you not to do silly things out there.

Now, one of the silliest is drinking and sledding. Not a good idea. On this score, most sledders are pretty much weekend warriors. They come up on the weekends, ride a bit and go back home.

Me? Not so much. I learned to ride when I was 6, with a sled with the engine in the back. I got my own sled when I was 9. Every night after school and all day on the weekends, I would go around and around in my backyard and the field behind my house.

I was just talking to a friend. She was proud that she and her husband will put about 3,000 miles a year on their sleds. I didn’t want to burst her bubble, but I was kind of like, “Yup. Did that when I was 10 in my backyard.”

By age 13 or14, I was starting to go out onto the ice in the winter. My family are commercial fishermen. Back then, we set nets under the ice about 12 miles out.

For me, when I went “on the lake” with my dad and a cousin, they got to spend the day in the shack with a heater, nice and warm in their shirtsleeves. Me? The only time I was allowed in was for lunch for about half an hour. Other than that, I was on my sled, running lines, opening holes and pulling nets back into the water. I hardly got off my sled for about six to eight hours.

Now, getting back to that “drinking and sledding” thing. Most riders have not grown up the way I did. Many riders have seen racing, either on TV or in person.

A funny thing happens when they are out sledding and drinking. First, their actual skill level drops. Not a huge drop, but, even after “a beer or two,” your reflexes just do not work as well — just plain and simple. But, in your mind, your skill set has just gone up. After a couple of beers, riders think they are snowcrossers, the next Blair “Superman” Morgan.

I have seen this play out many times. I live right beside a bar. Riders come in all nice and easy in single file and with slow speed. They come back out in a couple hours, spinning out and jumping snowbanks. They try to pop wheel stands. Silly stuff.

A few years ago, I was sitting at my dining room table with the last ex-wife, playing some game. I see a few guys come out of the bar and one gets on his sled. He heads down the street a bit, comes back and launches off the snowbank across the street from the bar — almost into my backyard.

The guy hits the snowbank, launches into big air. He gets to the top of the arc and, for some reason, the sled keeps going up. He falls off. The sled comes down in a pile and he lands flat on his back. I think it almost knocked him out. He stayed there for a bit. Finally, his buddies got him up and going. Then, they all took off at a pretty slow pace.

Now, what if he had been more seriously hurt? His buddies would have had to take him back to his family … in a bag. Not the way to end a fun vacation.

But they might say, “I just want to have a beer or two. I won’t get drunk. Not even buzzed.”

Way back when I was a teenager, one of my friends and I would ride out to another friend’s house. We were 16 or17. He was 40ish, retired military, and a nice guy. We would go out to his place, have a beer or two with him. We did not get drunk — not even a real buzz. But, when we left, I could feel and notice the difference. My reactions were slower, not completely gone, but I could notice the difference.

My point is that if somebody like me, who was born and raised on sleds, can notice a drop in skill level, what does it do to people who did not grow up like me? It certainly does not make their skill level go up, but it does make them believe their skill level goes up. Not a good thing.

So, I will not suggest that people quit drinking. That is up to you. But if you want to drink, wait until the ride is over. Keep yourself and others safe.

Oh, one last thing. You really can get that DUI riding a sled. Think that one over — it’s not much different than a car, only much more likely to cause damage to yourself or to others. Also, if you have that feeling that you need a couple of beers to “loosen up” before riding, I really do not want you out on the trails. Not a good idea.

So, just do not drink. Have that can of pop when you stop. You will still have fun, and you will have a better chance of not going home in a bag. If you want to have a beer or two, head to that favorite watering hole with your friends at the end of the day — and talk about what a wonderful ride you just had.

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