Dear Chuck,

My ex-husband wants to take my children snowmobiling. I am worried that this is an unsafe activity. Should I let the kids go.

A loving mom
Philadelphia, PA




Dear Loving Mom,

Sure, there is a slightly better than a 50-50 chance that your children could spend an afternoon on a snowmobile, racing down a slippery, snow-covered trail, terrified and holding on for dear life by their tiny mitten-encumbered fingertips as they whip about like streamers behind the out of control machine piloted by your ex-husband, and indeed, your kids may even return home unscathed, without suffering frostbite, sporting branch-ripped parkas, or having to attend the rest of middle-school wearing little orthopedic back braces.

Hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts will argue that snowmobiling is quite safe, claiming if you are careful, sufficiently-trained, and not clumsy-by-nature, you are probably no more likely to be killed in winter in a snowmobile accident than you would by attack from a family of wolverines. Stewarded by a responsible adult, the snowmobile is thought to be a pleasant transport, allowing  its icy wind-rasped riders to take in the sights and smells of the woodlands, even at a blurring 40 miles an hours. While snowmobiling is not the sport for everyone, and when I use the word “everyone,” I specifically mean “me,”  I was surprised to learn that over a million people in the U.S. do it without tragic consequence, that the average snowmobiler is not some drunken yahoo and is in fact a levelheaded 42-year old adult with an income over $70,000 and has .8 children, which I have now come to realize is the statistical average over the aggregate sample of snowmobilers and not that most have children who have lost one or more appendages in a frosty mishap. The vehicles, helmed by the heedful, are quite safe.

But, snowmobiles in the hands of the inexperienced or involuntarily hapless are lethal alpine deathtraps, eager to catapult their over-confident riders headlong into 200 year old sylvan obstacles, plunge them into bottomless snowy crevasses, impale them on fence posts, or drag them, along with the still-whirring 150 horsepower engines they are strapped to, through the thin ice of a partially frozen pond where both metal and organic wreckage will quickly sink to the bottom of the hypothermic waters.

Whether you permit you children to scoot about the wilderness with your ex on the dorsal side of a snowmobile has less to do with the snowmobile and more to do with your ex. If he is some kind of fur trapper or has completed the Iditarod, you need not deprive your kids of an exhilarating outdoor adventure with their father. If, on the other hand, your husband is, say, a failure in the majority of other areas of his life, if he has gone snowmobiling only once or twice before, or your divorce was triggered by his fecklessness and poor judgment, you will be putting your children at just slightly less risk than if you exposed them to live strains of meningitis.

Many of my woman friends would have no problem if their exes killed themselves performing some stupid testosterone-innervating activity for which they were ill-prepared, they just insist that their exes do not do so on a weekend where they have the kids. Overprotective you are not if you question the competence and coordination of your prior hubby.

Do not underestimate the potential for the carnage a snowmobile can wreak. First, understand that a 500 pound chassis might be powered by a drive train as beefy as the one in you car, and with an accidental twist of the throttle, a machine can easily go madly out of control. Though they are wingless, it is not difficult to get one of these contraptions airborne.  In addition, you are approximately 15 times more likely to be killed by your snowmobile that by avalanche, keeping in mind that in many cases it will be your snowmobile that triggers the avalanche.

As a protective mother, you have no doubt already envisioned all manner of horrific images of snowmobile junkets gone awry: riders flung in high 4G parabolic arcs after the Arctic Cat noses into a ravine, an unstoppable machine plunging over a frozen waterfall, alpine rescuers peeling a layer of family from a granite rock face, or just the thought of implacable trees.  Entire sections of Vermont and New Hampshire newspapers are dedicated to stories of vacations cut unexpectedly short.

But if I were you, I would be more concerned with the gory tragedies that you have not yet had the imagination to foresee.

When a child is bungeed onto the rear seat, it can sometimes be miles before daddy looks back to discover one fewer child than when he started. If a fragile 11 year old tumbling backwards from a vehicle going highway speed is not frightening enough, remember too that the selfsame child will be falling directly onto the groomed path used by all the other speeding snowmobilers. 

You are sharing the snow ways with many people who are keeping themselves warm by drinking alcohol. Few trails are policed by troopers toting Breath-o-lizers. With impaired perceptions and slurred reaction time, a typical driver has a hard enough stopping a moving vehicle on dry pavement, let alone trying to stop one from fishtailing into someone else on hoar ice.

Winter is also hunting season. More than one overly enthusiastic sportsman has unhappily mistaken the silhouette of a heavily parka-ed rider on a low lumbering snowmobile for a brown bear.

Finally, think about the lifetime of guilt your children will endure if the conveyance they are seated on plows into an innocent group of cross country skiers, especially after their father relents to their incessant whining and lets them “steer for a little while.”

Many snowmobile accidents are preventable, most notably by not snowmobiling.
I assume your children’s father has already filled their little heads with promises of a joyful ride through the woods on one of these recreational implements of death, and I know that you may fear the kids will think less of you if you deny them the adventure.

I would say “no” to your ex, calmly explaining to your children that that their father is a reckless bastard who is heartlessly cavalier about their safety, and while they may think that an afternoon racing along snowy trails could be fun, remind them that when their other little 6th grade friends are enjoying next year’s July vacation, they will be in summer school making up for the days missed while they were in body casts  Though your kids will be no doubt momentarily disappointed when you forbid them to go, you will ultimately emerge as the better loved parent after you tell them that in the spring you are planning to buy each of them a pony.

I hope this helps.