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Council considers sled ed

Snowmobilers may have to pass a safety course to sled within Whitehorse’s city limits. That’s the most controversial proposal found in the city’s draft snowmobile bylaw.

Snowmobilers may have to pass a safety course to sled within Whitehorse’s city limits.

That’s the most controversial proposal found in the city’s draft snowmobile bylaw, released November 10.

Few snowmobilers knowingly break the rules, said bylaw chief David Pruden. Instead, they’re often unaware of where they’re allowed to roam, or of requirements that they possess a drivers’ license, helmet and vehicle insurance.

The course is meant to change that. It would be an open-book test.

“It’s not a test to fail people. It’s a test to educate people,” said Pruden.

Riders would have a year to complete the test. Out-of-town visitors could ride for two weeks without taking it.

The price of writing the test hasn’t been decided yet.

The draft bylaw would also prevent snowmobilers from riding anywhere they like in environmentally sensitive areas, as they may now. Instead, they’d have to stay on designated motorized trails.

Officials have abandoned an earlier plan that would have banned snowmobiles from city streets. That would have required sledders to haul their machines with a trailer from home to trail.

The Klondike Snowmobile Association complained this would be an unreasonable nuisance. Council agreed.

So the draft bylaw keeps the standing rule sledders must take a direct route from their homes to the nearest trailhead.

“They’re not supposed to cruise around the subdivision,” said Pruden.

Snowmobilers would continue to be expected to have their machines insured. But, at city council’s direction, officials won’t put any restrictions on the age of riders, or helmet use, in the new bylaw.

Instead, they’ll leave those issues to be dealt with by the territorial government, which is mulling how to best regulate offroad vehicles.

Council is also deferring to the territory’s MLAs to decide whether snowmobiles should be required to carry license plates.

Bylaw currently expects snowmobilers to have a valid drivers’ license and a helmet. They do so by enforcing a section of Yukon’s Motor Vehicles Act that’s only supposed to apply to offroad vehicle use on highways.

But, thanks to an absurdly broad definition of highway, that currently includes any trail.

The territory plans to narrow that definition in the future. Whether they pass a law that imposes age and helmet restrictions on offroad vehicle users remains to be seen.

Brad Cathers, the Yukon Party’s MLA for Lake Laberge, has opposed a proposed helmet law. Though he wears a snowmobile helmet himself, Cathers knows of trappers, rangers and hunters who are reluctant to don helmets while riding snowmobiles and ATVs because they find their glasses fog up, impeding their vision.

Doctors disagree. The Yukon Medical Association recently passed a resolution at their annual meeting that calls for the territory to introduce a helmet law for offroad vehicles.

The city will accept public comments on the draft bylaw until the end of the month. December will be spent reviewing comments and revamping the draft, with a final draft presented to council in the New Year.

“We still want to get feedback from the public,” said bylaw chief David Pruden. “We don’t consider the bylaw to be complete, by any means.”

The city began revising its snowmobile bylaw a year and a half ago. The current bylaw was first written in 1972 and is clearly dated – it refers to the machines as “motor-toboggans.”

Contact John Thompson at