Riek knows the rules, stresses safety

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Now that snow has fallen, this Ski-doo may soon be hitting the trails and Mike Riek wants to make sure it's done safely.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Lesson learned: Mike Riek, right, of Altamont, reads about snowmobile safety last Saturday at the Berne firehouse as two students take notes. Riek, a member of the Frontier Sno-Riders, instructs the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Snowmobile Safety Course every year. There are approximately 115,017 snowmobiles registered in New York, and 1.4 million in the United States.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Mike Vincent makes a point during a snowmobile safety course at the Berne firehouse last Saturday. Vincent taught the annual course for 40 years until retiring a few years ago; he was there to assist Mike Riek, the man who replaced him. The snowmobile dates back to 1935.

Snowmobiling has changed drastically over the years. Snowmobiles have increased in power, and riders have become more extreme with the activity. As a safety expert, Altamont’s Mike Riek is concerned.

In 1979, Riek was seriously injured when he sent his dirt bike into a bunch of pine trees. He taught a snowmobile safety course at the Berne firehouse last Saturday for eight hours.

“Every mistake you make, you’ll pay for it in life,” said Riek, a member of Frontier Sno-Riders, an area snowmobile club that’s 400 people deep. “You can outride your ability in seconds.”

In New York State, anyone who is 18 years of age or older may operate a snowmobile without any specific qualifications. People under the age of 18 are required to complete a snowmobile safety course that is recognized by the state of New York if they want to ride without adult supervision.

Regardless of age, Riek believes that everyone should take a snowmobile safety course before riding for the first time. Operating a snowmobile is just like riding a motorcycle, driving a car, or owning a gun, Riek said.

“A lot of people don’t pay attention to the rules, they just go for fun,” said Riek. “People have to understand that there’s some skill involved. It’s a physical sport.”

There’s 85 miles of snowmobile trails in the area. Some of the meeting points for riders, like Smitty’s in Voorheesville, serve alcohol, which Riek finds problematic. Paul Lenz, Darrin W. Harr, and Richard A. Lupia of Cohoes started the Ride Clean New York snowmobile team after a drunken rider killed their friend last winter.

“It’s just like getting a driver’s license; there’s rules of the road,” Riek said. “You’ll be in trouble real quick if you don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s not fair if all the other riders have to look out for you.”

Speed limits on snowmobile trails range from 40 miles per hour to 55, Riek said, but snowmobiles can reach 100 miles per hour in a matter of seconds. Riek has had other riders pass him going very fast, only to see their sleds turned over a few miles later.

“Some people will pull these antics because they think they’re cool,” said Riek. “Snowmobiling is for getting fresh air, having an enjoyable time, and forming some camaraderie with other riders.”

The snowmobiling terrain in the Hilltowns includes many ravines and hills, and, when the vistas are covered with fresh snow, it’s a beautiful sight, said Riek.

When Riek was growing up, one snowmobile got the job done. Now, there are four major manufacturers of snowmobiles that make all sorts of models, and radical riders who take their snowmobile tricks to a professional level.

“If everyone learned to ride the correct way, it would be safer,” said Riek. “Most of us aren’t bad people, but 10 to 15 percent of people riding don’t care.”

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