Mentoring. It isn’t only About Seat Time
With so many changes to the sport of snowmobiling over the past few decades, we see many new riders getting into winter backcountry recreation with snowmobiles and snow-bikes. These newbies often reach out to seasoned veterans for help and this could either be a solid method of operation or horribly toxic. There are many amazing veteran riders in the sport that contribute much to the safety, stewardship and mentoring. They are solid riders who have transitioned with time, keeping up to speed with the latest technology, recommendations and mindset. But there are some who have no idea how much things have changed since they started riding decades before.
The snowmobiles themselves have evolved from short track, one cylinder utility type machines to powerful mountain machines with the ability to take riders deeper and farther into the backcountry. Rider forward designs introduced in the early 2000’s facilitated a more aggressive riding style, which allows for more technical and complex terrain to be accessed.
With so many advancements in technology, it is important to note how sled-culture has also evolved over the years.
Safety gear is a big one. Although the first avalanche transceiver was invented in 1968 by Dr. John Lawton at Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, in Buffalo, New York, it’s only been the last decade that Avalanche gear has been actively recognized as a must have for backcountry riding. Some seasoned veterans may scoff at the idea of avalanche gear, training and practice because they’ve “ridden for 30 years” we also must keep in mind that the snowmobiles, terrain choices and the way snowmobilers ride have also changed. Avalanche training and gear are must haves for all mountain riders, no matter how long they’ve been riding, or how skilled the rider feels they are. Get the gear. Get the training.
Impaired is Impaired
Back in the day, it was commonplace for riders to have a beer, or several while snowmobiling. This is not the case anymore. Drinking and riding, and smoking pot do not belong out in the backcountry while you are operating high powered machines, in technical terrain or on the trails where other users could fall prey to your decreased reaction time, and impaired judgement. With increased accessibility to complex terrain you’ll always need to be sharp and on your A game. Should you need to perform a rescue, being impaired by alcohol or drugs could cost a friend or loved one their life.
Compliance is Key
This isn’t the wild west anymore. Those returning back into the sport were used to free reign and an anything goes kind of strategy when it came to choosing an adventure back in the day. Tundra’s and Phasers were all the rage back in the day, but that day usually consisted of punching in a trail for a few kms, before calling it a day, and heading back out the next to continue breaking trail into fun zones to play in. In today’s snowmobile world we have motorized recreation closures. No go zones, with many of them relating to Mountain Caribou recovery efforts. No go, means NO GO.
Aside from advancements in avalanche safety equipment that we’ve already mentioned consider other changes in technology from in comparison to even a decade ago. Smart phones that can be turned into a GPS trail navigation tool. Radio communication within your group, and communication devices such as InReach and SPOT have proven to be a life saving asset in the backcountry. Avalanche bags are another incredible advancement in snowmobile safety that can increase odds of survival if an individual is involved in an avalanche. Technology does come with a price, but realistically what is your life worth to you and to your loved ones? Invest in your life.
If you are a newbie entering the sport in search of mentoring remember, it’s not only seat time that counts. Consider all aspects visited in this article, and join your local club, who will be your greatest resource for enjoying the backcountry while staying safe at the same time. Ride on!