October 15, 2018

As told by a hippie
By Mandy Fabel, Polaris Ambassador, Granola & GasolineIs Snowmobiling Fun in Wyoming’s Wind River Country?
This article was first published in SnowWest Magazine

I am 110 pound girl. I like mountain bikes and rock climbing and I recycle my plastic kale* containers. I am by no means your average snowmobiler.

This winter I jumped into snowmobiling with both feet. Or perhaps I should say, I jumped into a bunch of tree wells with my whole body. And occasionally with my sled. His name is Fabio.

Here’s the recap:

Day 0: I purchased a sled from Driven Powersports in Casper, Wyoming while wearing a Patagonia vest and sounding like an idiot. They were awesome and have continued to be awesome every step of the way (there is no way I am good enough to get paid to say that, so you can trust the sincerity).

Day 1: I watched a YouTube video about how to build a wooden truck ramp and then how to load the sled on it. Terrifying doesn’t come close to describing the feeling of standing on a $9,000 machine on pavement and deciding how much throttle to apply to make it up the ramp, but not so much the sled ends up on top of the cab of the truck.

Day 5: Fabio and I did our first sidehill together. It was magical.

Day 16: A friend was watching me go off a smallish jump and told me to stop being a girl. The next time I went big…too big. Me = scorpion. Fabio? He almost killed a man.

Day 22: I picked a line in the trees, rode on edge where I intended, all the while managing to be at least 80% in control. *Mic drop.*

Woman celebrates on snowmobile

If you are reading this article, you are probably a snowmobiler. Which means you get it. But here’s the thing, it’s really hard to explain the thrill of snowmobiling to people who have never done it, and especially to people who say they never want to try. Living in a rock climbing town, this is actually most of the people in my life.

After many failed attempts to explain why snowmobiling is the greatest sport in the world, here are the points I find myself telling my non-sledneck friends:

It’s hard, like really hard! Have you ever tried wrestling a 500-pound snow leopard on a bed of quicksand? Yeah, it’s not that easy. I have never been more sore from any activity in my life. Even the basic techniques to maneuver the sled are insanely difficult.

You can color outside of the lines. Technically there are trails in snowmobiling, but the trails are more like a combination of a lame children’s roller coaster and a Tabata squat* workout. Instead of sticking to the trails, you can go wherever you want. There is something magical about coming over the rise of a hill and seeing a blank canvas of untracked snow … again, and again, and again. To try and put this in context for backcountry skiers*, I say, “You know how you go heli-skiing or cat-skiing so you can cover ton of terrain in one day? Well, snowmobiling is like that. Except sledders have significantly less environmental impact when they ride a snowmobile for a weekend than you do when you fly to Canada to take a bunch of helicopter rides.” #justsayin

You will get stuck. I was shocked to learn even the best riders get stuck … a lot. Riding in technical terrain or pushing your limits always results in a few “stucks” on the day. And by a few I mean up to 40. Interestingly, snowmobilers have an approach to solving these tricky scenarios the rest of the world could learn from:

Step 1. Take a picture of the stuck human/sled then ask if they are ok.  

Woman poses with her stuck snomobileStep 2. Brainstorm best strategy to remove human/sled from said stuck position.
Step 3. Get every member of your group to start stomping, digging, and pulling. It’s a 500-pound snow leopard remember?
Step 4. Go get stuck again. And if you were the last one stuck, try to wait like 10 minutes before you get stuck again (my average is only up to like 8 minutes).
Step 5. Laugh at pictures of stuck human/sled in the bar at the end of the day.
It’s a good model for problem solving. If only Congress worked liked this.

You get to wear radios, which is just as fun as having walkie-talkies when you were a kid. Suffice to say, shit talking is on point in this sport.

The dudes are more high-maintenance than you would imagine. I say dudes because most snowmobilers are in fact dudes, but really it applies across the board. Check this out: people spend $600 to put pretty stickers on their sleds and often include the logos of companies that don’t even pay them or give them free stuff to do it. And another $600 so they can have a lunch box and turn the engine into a microwave. Crazy, huh?

Sleds are only loud to the people who aren’t on them. When you hear a snowmobile while skiing or snowshoeing you say to yourself, “Gosh that’s loud.” When you hear another snowmobile while unloading yours from the trailer, you say to yourself, “Gosh that sounds fun!”
Disclaimer: at no point in my past hippie life have I ever condoned snowshoeing. Given that science has demonstrated the ability to slide on snow, one should never again return to the laborious effort of walking in it.

Snowmobilers are good people. Despite the posturing, pub tables crowded with way too many dudes, and faint smell of 2-stroke, sledders are phenomenal people. They are quick to offer riding tips, maintenance advice, and words of encouragement. Whether I was in an all-women’s clinic or the only girl in a group of 16 dudes, I was amazed by the inclusive and supportive environment of snowmobiling. Hey snowmobilers, I see your tough guy bluffs and call you out on your kindness. Thank you.

When it’s good, it’s real good. OK, this is actually the hardest part to explain and the whole reason for the commotion and dollars put into the sport. The feeling of riding a snowmobile in bottomless powder is insanely awesome. It goes something like this:

apply throttle….watch the snow pour over the hood of your sled and instinctively start smiling…feel the featherlight snow pummel your body in a blanket of bliss…continue to apply throttle…giggle like a schoolgirl…use your brake hand to wipe the snow off your goggles so you can see….continue to apply throttle for the next 8 hours, or until you run out of gas…get to the truck and realize you were having too much fun to eat, drink or take photos the entire day (said no trail hiker* ever).

I literally don’t know what else to say. Words are not enough.  You gotta try it.

I’m already dreading the long spring, summer, and fall I will have to endure before getting back on the snow with Fabio. I know I’ll have rock climbing, biking, and kale salad to fill my time, but seriously, un-winter is a long season.

Looking out a little farther, here is my prediction for the future: The values of outdoor recreation will blur the lines of motorized vs. non-motorized winter travel. Skiers will buy a snowmobile to access new places, only to discover the approach on the sled is actually more fun. In turn, snowmobilers will buy skis. Just kidding, that would be dumb. Why would you do that?

Woman riding snowmobile through powder

Ride sleds. It will make you happy. Happy people make the world a better place. Damn, I sound like a hippie again.

***Hippie Dictionary

Kale: a leafy vegetable people eat because it’s good for them. If people say they enjoy it, they are lying to your face.

Tabata squat: a workout style of fast paced body-weight exercises. Surprisingly difficult, even for tiny people and closely related to the squats required on trails with a bunch of whoops.

Backcountry skiers: people who travel through winter terrain slowly and uphill 90% of the time in order to enjoy 10% of their time going downhill. Alternate definition: people who can’t afford a snowmobile.

Trail hiker: Everyone knows that this is just walking, but let me give you some inside scoop. As a trail hiker you can decide whether you brag about how heavy your backpack is (anything under 50% of your body weight is disgraceful) or about how far you walk (make sure it is at least 14 miles/day if posting on Instagram). They are both very difficult. But to be clear, not nearly as difficult as riding a snowmobile. And most certainly not as enjoyable.

Posted in Notes From the Field