Lessons Learned From Missing Snowmobiler Found Alive

Yesterday a missing snowmobiler was found just across the border of northern New Hampshire into Maine after having gone missing the day before. He was lucky to have been found alive after a cold wintry day and night in the deep woods of this rugged and unforgiving region.

I highlight this incident to use as ‘lessons learned’, to discuss what he could have done or should have done to avoid the situation and how he could have been better prepared.

From WMUR, “Our biggest fear in going out and finding him was that we were going to find a guy that didn’t make it through the night,” said Stanley Dudka, who found the missing rider.

It had been half a day since anyone had heard from or seen 24-year-old Josh Bessette, who was due to meet up with friends Saturday afternoon after a day of snowmobiling.

Fish and Game officers along with Bessette’s friends searched through the wilderness into the night, eventually spotting a single track they thought might be Bessette’s until conditions proved to be too tough.

After several hours searching the next morning, he was found across the border into Maine.

His sled was spotted sticking up out of the snow and reportedly “His lips were turning a little bit blue. He was shivering. We knew the night had been cold and snowy and windy.”

Bessette had kept himself warm all night by taking the cover off the engine and running his sled all night long.

How could he have avoided getting lost / stuck in the snow with no one around?

The first lesson in survival is avoidance. Avoiding the dangerous circumstances when possible. In the case of this snowmobiler, he clearly rode off the trail and into the unknown. While veering off into the unblazed wilderness may have been adventurous and exciting, he was apparently ill-equipped to do it – seemingly not having had the essential survival kit or other appropriate gear to assist in such travels.

Same thing goes for hiking in general. You could literally be taking life into your own hands if you venture off the path without the skills and ‘tools’ to successfully do it. It is VERY EASY to get disoriented or even hurt or stuck in the woods, and it’s not very smart to go there without having prior knowledge of the area or having the know-how and ‘kit’ to assist you.

What should he have had with him?

While I am drawing conclusions based on the reported circumstances, I presume that he was innapropriately equipped to go off trail (not to mention that it’s illegal to do so in NH unless on your own property or other property with permission, given the 1,000+ miles of available groomed snowmobile trails).

At least a minimal survival kit should have been carried. The minimal list of items that I would have suggested include,

-Fire (lighter, matches, firesteel, magnesium firestarter, etc..)
-Food bars (calorie-dense)
-Cell phone and/or 2-way radio
-Regional topographical map w/compass and/or handheld GPS
-Trail map (widely available here)
-Mylar emergency blanket

He was smart enough to have survived the cold night by running the snowmobile engine all night. Presumably he laid on top or somehow managed to reap the benefit of the engine’s heat.

Why didn’t he start a fire? I don’t know, but I surmise that he had no resources to start one or maybe didn’t know how to start one successfully. There is an abundance of wood in these forests and he easily could have built a roaring fire and fed it all night – so long as there is a means to make a spark and the knowledge how to build a fire.

Although the snowmobiler was off into the wilderness, it was unclear in the report whether or not he was actually lost or if he had become stuck. Even if he did have a GPS and was navigating towards some waypoint, if you don’t tell anyone where you’re going or don’t have the means of communication, you are quite literally taking your life into your own hands…

Any other suggestions or things he could have or should have done?


  1. He should have had a partner to go with him. Unexpected things happen when you are by yourself. Like getting stuck, a bad fall, lost, and the list goes on.

  2. He was lucky to not freeze to death. Granted he had the smarts to use the warmth from the engine to survive. He had all the tools to start a fire.

    -Plenty of wood available.
    -Gas in the snowmobile, could have been used to help get a fire started.
    -The battery in the snowmobile could have been used to make a spark to start the fire.
    -Could have made a some kind of snow or wood shelter to help contain the heat from the fire and also keep out of the wind.
    -A very large fire could have helped him get rescued sooner.

    Hindsight is 20/20. Thankfully he survived. He may want to brush up on his skills and thinking outside of the box.

    Adapt and Overcome.

  3. What should he have had with him?

    He should have had my snowmobile suit and gear on. Made for arctic expeditions, he wouldn’t have needed heat from the engine and wasted that gas. I tested my Choko gear in 40 below weather without activity just laying in the snow. I was very toasty. Also take some supplies like a lighter, flares, flashlight, compass, and food energy bars in his tool kit storage area.

    How could he have avoided getting lost or stuck in the snow?

    Just knowing the trails beforehand, not heading out in a snow storm, and it could have helped to travel with a buddy system. I used to ride an 8,000 acre wilderness on my motorcycle when I was 21, and I always took a riding buddy going beyond the areas I wasn’t too familiar with, but learned to memorize landmarks and use compass directions with those who knew the area.

  4. ALWAYS tell someone you trust where you are going and when you expect to return. Then ALWAYS call that person as soon as you do get back so that person learns to expect your call and will know something is wrong if you don’t call.

    1. DaisyK

      “YOU’RE BACK”

      (see how excited I am?)

      just been wondering if you’re “okay”…?

      anything wrong?

      1. Anon

        My computer has a virus. I can stay on only a few minutes and then it freezes. So I have been here lurking, but usually if I try to contribute, I get frozen out before I can post.

        1. ah…

          Thanks for letting us know, you are OK.

          have been wondering.

          re the computer…sometimes a town’s seniors groups have a person who offers to tune up other seniors computers…wonder if that is an option for you?

          good luck

        2. anon, thanks for missing me.

          Nearest computer repair = 50 miles on country roads. It has been very cold and snowy since before Christmas. I might be like the snowmobiler in this article if I got stuck on a lonely road when it was 25 below

          Have to wait

        3. DaisyK

          maybe you will get lucky and someone in town/close by/etc will be able to help.

          if not

          “you’re worth the wait”..

          keep safe.

        4. DaisyK

          it occurs to me, that at one time (summer or such) you mentioned you had hired some younger folks to do work in the yard or house.

          a lot of these young folks are pretty slick at fixing this kind of stuff…If there around still, might be an option?

        5. @ DaisyK

          Try typing your post/comment into Word than cut/paste it to the reply space….


  5. Probably going to anger some folks with my comment, but it needs to be said. I have no idea the back story here, but I do deal with the influx of “4 wheeler clubs” and individual “thrill seekers” who invade rural areas on weekends. They travel 100’s of miles, trailering their souped up “off road vehicles” to our remote area and commence to terrorize the local population by speeding up and down the unpaved public roads, trespassing on private property, “cutting donuts” in un-fenced hay meadows, etc. Their only “survival gear” is a cooler well stocked with beer which seems incapable of holding the “empties” for the return trip to their homes.

    I don’t tolerate their abuses and word must travel fast in their circles, as they usually steer clear of my corner of paradise.

    This young man may be a responsible human being, out enjoying the wilderness, bothering no one and just the victim of circumstances. Hopefully he has learned some lessons from his misadventure.

    Many here talk about “normalcy bias”. Many town folks enter the wilderness with the knowledge of their home topography where roads always intersect and three right turns will get you back to the road your on. It don’t work that way in my back yard.

    1. Dennis, Right On!!!! I have a quad and I use it for work around my homestead. I always say safety first, respect for other people, then have your fun and know your limits.

    2. Unfortunately there are those who ruin it for the rest… Same as it has always been.

      Most everyone I know is responsible and considerate while 4-wheeling and other such motorized activities in the woods. However there are always those ‘idiots’ who are just, well, ‘idiots’.

  6. If the snowmobile had broken down, he would be dead – end of story. Too many mistakes to mention.

    1. If his snowmobile had been low on gas he would have been dead as well. He was damn lucky this time. Hopefully he learned from this adventure.

  7. It doesn’t say if he was injured. If so, he may not have
    been able to gather wood for a fire even if he had fire
    starting tools.

    He was lucky he was found quickly. Unfortunately, hypothermia
    can kill you in hours. A large 4 mil orange trash bag – which
    he could crawl into, would have kept his clothes dry and off
    wet or snowy ground and bought time, a very precious commodity
    in his situation. The mylar bag much less so. Although, if he
    were able he could spread the usually silver reflective blanket
    out on snow as a signal.

    His gasoline supply kept him alive. When he ran out he absolutely
    needed to keep dry and warm which the average mylar bag would not do.

  8. Maybe someone could do a snowmobile safety course in order to help the unsuspecting grasp the inherent possible pitfalls and scenarios involved with snowmobiling. And how to deal with them. Many a young man grows up without a father figure or mentor, and therefore has no choice but to approach life basically clueless. Requiring him to learn a lot of lessons by getting knocked down and learning to get back up. Was that the case, I don’t know. But I do hope that the next time he goes out, that he’ll be better prepared!

  9. We see this sort of thing all the time in my neck of the planet. Hunters, 4-wheelers, skiers, hikers, you name it. Unprepared and died every year.

    Sorry, to say it, but sometimes ya just can’t fix stupid. This area spends hundreds of thousands of $$$$ on Search and Recovery, very few rescued unfortunately.

    AND people will NOT learn from seeing others in the news that just barely make it or die. There are hundreds of signs, and training courses, but the classes are empty, and the signs ignored. Y-city folk know everything and are 10 Foot High and Bullet Proof. Ohhhh that’s right, until something goes wrong that’s someone else’s fault.

    This dude was lucky very lucky and stupid, but I will bet $$$$ to Doughnuts he or his friends will be right back at it.

    Just the Cold Hard Truth


  10. That’s why I stay in Texas. lol. I stay in areas I am supposed to be on my own property. You can’t just get a 4 wheeler, decide to go up North (anywhere cold for Texans) and drive around in the snow. You have to first be on property you have permission to be on. And be familiar with the property and how to be safe in the weather.

    NRP you are totally right!

  11. This episode in this fellas life is why I do NOT ride my dirt bike alone in the woods…
    I do have a small GHB made up for all my vehicles. Including my motorpickle.
    (Did I just say that???) – Motorcycle. :)

    Maybe this young fella will learn LOTS from this YUGE mistake.
    He’ll be on here typing some day. 0ne could only hope he wakes up.

    If my cat only knew how to ride a motorcycle… I can see it now… “Look! Squirrel!”

  12. Surviving any wilderness survival situation depends almost entirely on how well you prepared BEFORE you venture out. That is why pilots have check lists, as should anyone venturing out into the wilds in winter. Isn’t that why we’re “preppers?”


  13. At age 24, I was still pushing the edges of the envelope and risking getting stuck or injured or killed. I cannot be too hard on the young fellow. I did some dumb things at that age too. Fortunately, I lived to tell about them on sites like this and it explains why I spend a lot of time and prep to ensure that I do not get myself into a situation that I cannot extricate myself out of.

    Over the years, I gave up winter mountaineering, rock and ice climbing, Ocean kayaking among the great white sharks off the California Coast. I view these as young people’s sports and I remember a few of those that ventured out and never returned home. Watching a great white shark that was longer than my boat cruising by reminds me to be humble because out in his realm, I am just another blob of protein.

  14. It’s the normalcy bias that creeps into people’s mind set. It can happen to any of us. Being confident in one’s ability should never replace the desire to be prepared.
    Things can and will go wrong…

  15. I keep a old army fanny pack that I converted to a small backpack with useful items for when I go out into the woods. I have been in the woods with it for up to a week at a time many times. You do not need giant backpacks to survive or even be comfortable if you use a little planning and have some basic skills. Always amazes me when people I know are out with me and they do not even have toilet paper. A ‘code brown’ event can ruin your day if you are not prepared. This fellow could have had a much worse experience without running the engine for warmth. Could have had a much better experience with just a little common sense planning. Any old Boy Scout knows that “Be Prepared” is a lifestyle, not just a cute phrase. Glad this fellow was not injured. Hope he learns from the experience.

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