Let it snow

Patrolling winter wonderlands


Courchaine recommends agencies include proper identification as part of important equipment. "Make sure the sleds are easily identified as a snowmobile patrol unit with lights and shields," he explains. "We take manufacturer decals off, so people don't get confused. We paint the sleds dark and put reflective material around the sled."

Survival equipment also should be included, Swanke notes. The Greater Sudbury PD provides its officers with survival equipment, blankets, an axe, matches and a compass. NPS equips its officers with essentials as well. "Officers would transport on their snowmobiles a watered down version of what they would carry in their cruisers, including key law enforcement gear, basic EMT supplies, survival equipment, and some repair tools to fix their snowmobile or someone else's," Swanke explains.

Any equipment must be designed for extreme weather conditions.

"You have to be careful of equipment freezing up: PBT's and breathalyzers. Radios can freeze up. Handguns freeze up. It's a different environment," Courchaine says.

Officers must choose their gear carefully. A holster designed so the firearm does not freeze to the inside of it is essential. Most officers wear nylon instead of leather. Even writing a ticket can be complicated because pens freeze. Thanks to the space program, getting writing implements matched to the conditions is no longer difficult. Pens that write under extreme weather conditions exist and are guaranteed to work in ranges from -50 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

When selecting equipment, the movement in snowmobile patrols also must be considered. "Extra flashlights and ticket books need to be secured. Your gun belt needs to be adequately secured. We've had guys lose their guns on patrol," Courchaine says.

Along with officer safety equipment, clothing must be chosen carefully based on the conditions of the patrol. "The person needs to vary the clothing to the conditions," stresses Uhl. "They should wear clothing in which they can change the layering. They don't want to sweat and get hypothermia. Materials against the skin need to wick moisture away from the body." Swanke agrees, "Personal protective equipment is important from head to toe. You need a helmet, ear protection, a balaclava, a neck gator, a snowsuit and heavy-duty boots." Whatever clothing is chosen make sure it is appropriate for the officer's duties and fits properly.

The function of snow patrol

Much like funding, training and equipment, the purpose of snowmobile patrols varies also.

One of the Yellowstone patrol's main objectives is to protect park resources. Similarly, MDNR's unit emphasizes revenue protection. "We make sure all sleds that utilize our trails are registered and have a trail permit," Courchaine explains. "Those funds go toward grooming."

Another common objective is safety and enforcement.

"Snowmobiling is a popular sport all through Canada, especially in New Brunswick due to excellent snowmobile conditions," Strong states. "Unfortunately, with this, sometimes comes abuse, primarily concerning alcohol-related issues on snow machines."

Ensuring rider safety is also an objective, adds Lavoie. "It helps snowmobilers know we are on the trails," Erspamer explains. "It helps to reduce violator speeds. It helps the medical field because we are often the first responders.

"We rely on tourism, and it has the positive aspect of talking to snowmobilers," he adds. "The purpose is not to write tickets."

Strong agrees snowmobile patrols are an asset to public relations. "Snow machines are another tool the RCMP uses to get out to where the public is, which makes us more effective in law enforcement," he says. "It also provides a novel way for us to be seen." Education is also a common purpose.

Lindhag states Fairbanks' main objective is safety awareness. "Our No. 1 goal is to teach safety and rider responsibility," he says. "Alaska has a large amount of snow machine fatalities. Enforcement has to take a backseat. We want to go out and start with the kids. We teach them to be aware of vehicles and places which are safe to ride." Other jurisdictions including MDNR and the Greater Sudbury PD also offer civilian safety courses.

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