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Snowmobiling video of near-collision in western Newfoundland sparks discussion of trail safety

This snowmobile barely missed the sled of Brandon Purcell while the Harbour Grace resident was on the west coast for a snowmobile trip.
This snowmobile barely missed the sled of Brandon Purcell while the Harbour Grace resident was on the west coast for a snowmobile trip. - Facebook image

As a recent video of an incident in western Newfoundland shows, dangerous situations can develop quickly when care and caution are not at the forefront on the snowmobile trails.

Brandon Purcell of Harbour Grace had a GoPro camera capturing video as he approached a group of other riders who had stopped at a trail intersection near Steady Brook last weekend.

Just as Purcell stopped before crossing over to where the others were, another machine came flying up the trail at a relatively high speed, narrowly missing a collision with him by mere inches, if not centimetres.

Since the video was posted Monday, there has been plenty of criticism tossed around. The easy target was the rider who nearly slammed into Purcell after swerving to avoid the stopped snowmobilers.

Others have said Purcell appeared to have stopped too far out into the lane of oncoming traffic.

More have said the group who was stopped should not have been taking their break in the middle of the trail near an intersection.

Tony Sheppard, general manager of the Newfoundland and Labrador Snowmobile Federation, saw the video and he agreed there were plenty of things being done wrong.

He felt the group was stopped at a precarious spot: on a turn at the top of a blind hill, in the middle of a trail near an intersection.

He also thought the snowmobiler who came through without stopping was going too fast for that area. Sheppard estimated the machine was moving at least 60 kilometres per hour.

“When I saw that video, all I could say was ‘wow,’” Sheppard said. “The way that person went by was very dangerous and half a second could mean the difference between life or death. Any way you look at it, that person was going too fast for the conditions and it was definitely unsafe riding. No question.”

The Western Star reached out to Purcell, but was unable to reach him for comments. In his own reactions to the ensuing conversations to his video post, Purcell did explain that he had to nudge out as far as he did in order to see if anything was coming up the trail he was about to enter. He said he could not hear the oncoming snowmobile.

“Main thing is no one was hurt — just goes to show how quick stuff (can) happen,” Purcell commented about why he posted the video.

There is no speed limit on snowmobile trails in Newfoundland and Labrador and that is deliberate, according to Sheppard. He said there are liabilities associated with sanctioning certain speeds, not to mention that trail conditions vary so much that posting signage and enforcing them would be onerous on resources.

Still, he said snowmobilers must treat the trails as they would any other road. That means pulling off well to the side only in areas where there is good visibility in both directions and ramping up speeds only when it is safe to do so.

Most of the trails are winding and closed-in, noted Sheppard, which do not make them conducive for high speeds anyway.

“We advocate safety on our trails and to be cautious of what others are doing as well as what you’re doing,” he said.

Robin Parsons, president of the Western Sno-Riders, said his group deleted Purcell’s post from their Facebook page because comments quickly got out of hand in terms of foul language and people taking unnecessary shots at each other.

He didn’t want to comment in detail about who was doing right or wrong in the video, but agreed with Sheppard’s assessment that common sense needs to always prevail when out riding.

Parsons noted that accidents can happen at slower speeds, just as they can at higher speeds when someone is not paying full attention.

“You always need to be aware of your surroundings,” he said.

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