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Having been the MichCanSka safety coordinator and one of the trail bosses for the past 12 years, I decided to share my thoughts on safety and group dynamics after our recent successful “2022 MichCanSka Northern Minnesota Adventure”.

My approach and recommendations on safety has evolved over the years. It’s easy to get stuck in using past methods and complacent in our approach to safety on our adventures. My focus has been to find and implement improved safety measures incorporating new/evolving technologies and lessons learned to minimize and balance the high-risk nature while maintaining enjoyment in our snowmobile cross-country adventures . Here is my current thoughts:

  1. What is too big a group? Having been trail boss in the past, leading just a few riders to over 35, the key to a low stress and positive group dynamics is for everyone being on the same page and agreeing to a common set of rules and protocols. If two of us don’t agree, then 2 is too big a group! All it takes is one individual to be out of sync with the rest of the group and stress levels and frustration levels impact the whole group’s enjoyment and ultimately a successful adventure. It could be as simple as not in agreement on start times, breaks, speed, self-discipline on keeping the group together or just injecting risk a few of the group are not comfortable with. It’s not that we all have to be perfect all the time, but consistently placing the group needs over individual riding styles or preferences is the key to everyone’s enjoyment.
  2. Group structure – We originally learned back in 2010 on our first adventure to Alaska, the importance of responsibilities and specific roles of having Navigator/Scouts , Pacer, Crossing Guards and an Anchor/Sweep. The larger the group, coupled with unfamiliar trails the more critical we don’t fore-go or become complacent. (click here)
  3. Flags – Originally there was a lot of push back on utilizing flags, their benefit has gone beyond visibility safety. It’s become almost critical to keeping track of the group for the leaders and even a dialog starter to share MichCanSka’s charity goals and potential membership with others we meet along the trail.
  4. Being prepared – Back on our first trip to Alaska, there was a lot of effort put into our ability to self-rescue and being ready for almost any difficulties? I fear we’re becoming nonchalant with whats really needed and important. The original group and personal lists needs to be updated for our future adventures.
  5. No one left behind? – In the past 25 years of riding long distance adventures, including with MichCanSka, I have taken the approach as both a Trail Boss and Safety Officer, that no one gets left behind! My number one priority has been to get everyone in the group safely to our destinations each day. This has included coordinating extractions due to breakdowns, accidents, trail conditions and even chasing down ad-hoc guides who we agreed to use. I was challenged on this years adventure to reconsider this protocol? From a safety perspective, it depends on the level of risk we are comfortable with. Even though leaving an individual with a satellite transponder and navigation ability has inherently less risk, there is still the potential of having to back-track hours to extract or assist someone stuck, broke down or worse. This may generate a great story to tell, but is it worth the additional risk?
  6. Communications? – Almost all of us have grew up riding with no voices in our helmets, using hand signals and riding defensibly! Historically, I have personally struggled with the potential distraction/negatives vs positives of having reliable real-time communications. Looking back over the years, real-time communications could have minimized or eliminated accidents or close calls. Specifically, road crossings with blind curves/hills, hazards, A moose standing in the trail, that caused an accident back in the group in Quebec and lost hours spend trying to get a group back together in Manitoba. With this years adventure fresh in my mind, I am convinced the positives clearly outweigh the perceived negatives. As humans, real-time communications is our best defense on leveraging our safety as a group. Having used the UClear’s in 2020 and again this year, they are by far the best solution to date. With some configuration and modifications to how to best utilize them, we had up to (12) of them the first week and all riders but one the second. Key advantages:
    1. The ability to communicate hazards in real-time is important, especially in narrow and winding trails, incoming traffic, crossing roads with blind curves/hills
    2. Keeping the group together, the lead riders know if the back of the group is still attached, (i.e. difficult road crossings, breakdowns, personal breaks/gear issues, missed turns, etc…)
    3. Leading a group of people, “Just follow tail-lights” versus understanding where we are going.
    4. The biggest perceived disadvantage is the riders in the group will turn this into a social chat line or use to complain, challenge. This was not a problem this year, or in 2020. Its about the group understanding and agreeing to its use as a safety and not a distraction!
    5. Going forward, my recommendation to the MichCanSka board is to require UClear’s for the 1st three lead riders and last two. Additional riders in the group in between can just have them on and paired (no headset required) to extend the range to the back of group.
  7. Real-time GPS navigation – It became very clear on this past adventure the benefit of real-time availability (GPS mounted on dash/handlebars) and zoomed in/out is critical to navigating in unfamiliar / poorly marked trails. Even the best memory or paper map, can quickly get confusing and result in wrong turns.
  8. Bottom line -I realize we can’t put a bubble around everyone and force them to change or do it a certain way, but at the end of the day, we need to be able to agree on rules and protocols effecting safety, because there is no doubt we are safer if we can approach these snowmobile adventures as an organized/informed group.

I welcome dialog and further discussion….

Pete Pattullo, MichCanSka Safety Coordinator / Trail Boss

Flags, Flags, Flags ….

On Friday, March, 11th, the final day of riding, the group of 6 riders rode 104 miles from (Eveleth,MN to Two Harbors, NN). We safely arrived about 11:30 A.M. The biggest challenge was Tyler finding a snowmobile track along side the trail…. and further up the field was Grant Poll’s sled, it has coasted to a stop and was missing…. its track! Fortunately, we were only about 3 miles for our destination for the trip, so it was a quick and easy recovery! In addition, Pete’s sled had brake failure the last 70 miles and had to anticipate and ride more cautious… Glad these issues did not happen earlier in the adventure.

Today was the last full day of riding for the trip. Left Pequot Lakes around 8 this morning and rode 100 miles to lunch in Swan River. Road another 86 miles after lunch and ended the day around 4:30 in Eveleth, MN. Tomorrow will be a half day of riding to Two Harbors to load up and head back home.

Today we rode through Paul Bunyan country. I know Pete thinks everything is Big in Texas, but those Texans have nothing on Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Everything today was big, big miles, big fun, big Laughs, big smiles, big trees, big mines, big Hills.

It was a Great Big Day!

Randy, Pete, Dave and Tyler took the off Day 9  in Mahnomen, MN to rest up, while Hughie and Grant went down to Detroit Lakes for a loop ride and a supply stop at the Ski-Doo dealership. We all left Mahnomen around 8 this morning and headed to Nevis, MN. Stopped at the headwaters of the Mississippi on the way to lunch. We all decided to have breakfast for lunch at the Northwoods Cafe and it was the best meal I’ve had in a long time. We left Nevis and finished the ride to Pequot Lakes, MN. We will stay here for the night and head on to Eveleth, MN for the last full day of riding. Rode 167 miles today.

Tyler Pattullo

Tyler is part of the Pattullo clan and has rode snowmobiles since he was on a kittycat at age 3 (27 years). He has participated in 3 MichCanSka adventures. Tyler is our Sled Recovery Expert (SRE) and continued to sharpened his skills while assisting his Uncle Pete (blown belt and tow) and assisting Hughie in getting his sled unstuck (a daily exercise)

Along with the rest of the Pattullo clan, he likes to give his uncle Pete a hard time.. His best quote of the trip was “That’s the stupid’s thing I’ve ever heard” when his uncle Pete tried to explain how to meet up with him and Hughie after the group got separated. In the end, he followed directions and it worked out!

On Monday, March 7th, 2022 we started with pancake breakfast cooked by Pete at our condo (we picked up at General Dollar the night before) we rode 200+ miles from Oak Island, MN on the Canadian Border to the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen, MN. Stopping in Roseau, MN at the Polaris factory museum and experience center for lunch. The ride down to Mahnomen, MN was mostly through farm fields and along highways….

Riding 60 miles across Lake of the Woods to Oak Island

Linda’s Trail Report:
Jim and I didn’t ride yesterday and spent the day in International Falls.
Today we had a wonderful day!!! We rode 157 miles. (95 miles to Baudette, MN on trails and 62 miles more on Lake of the Woods). What a great experience. We started in International Falls and ended at Sportsman’s Oak Island Resort. From there we went to the northern most point of the continental USA. See the picture. Hughie (in the green windbreaker) only got stuck a couple of times today. The first time I ever went to a McDonald’s on a snowmobile for lunch.

Sportsman’s Lodge on Oak Island

Drone Tofte, MN

Thanks Bryan, great videos!