I wish that when I started snowmobiling there was a “how to” or “snowmobiling for dummies” book. I wish there was a supportive group of women or men to offer helpful snowmobile riding tips about being prepared, what to expect and how to dress for this sport. Seven or eight years ago, I had a then boyfriend (now husband) to show me the ropes. I don’t think he had any idea how big of a task he had. I was so naïve that I first asked if he was sure I really needed my own sled. I mean, couldn’t I just ride on his sled with him? I saw his Ski Doo Xp shortly after and noticed the single person seat and could see why two people are not ideal on a mountain sled.
My second question was, “What is that funny plastic piece on the handlebars for?” It turns out it was a mountain bar I was questioning. My initial introduction to sledding was late April after sled season was over for the year in our area. My husband decided to show me what sled season would look like with him by showing me a 509 DVD, followed by Boondocker’s Thunderstruck and every other extreme riding DVD he owned. I was notified that he enjoyed hill climbing and high marking (another term I had to research).
After I'd wrapped my head around everything we went to buy me my first starter sled. We selected an 05’ Ski Doo Rev. It was a fine sled for learning, if only I was able to start it by myself. My first trip out I was trying to turn around on the road to go back and check on someone who wasn’t coming, and I immediately buried my sled in the ditch and was stuck in under five minutes, in sight of the truck. I had grand illusions of the videos in my head and reality just hit as I sat stuck! I quickly learned that reproducing a single second of anything in those videos would be no simple task. This is the exact moment I wish I had literature to turn to for help. Oh sure, I had a husband to tell me and show me what worked for him, but the problem was that he was so far advanced from my level that he struggled to remember how to teach to my level. Turn the page seven or eight years later, and I’ve been a brand ambassador for DSG for several years, attended clinics, seminars and women’s rides, all the while gathering up a network of help.
Apparently there are a large number of women who ride—who knew? Mountain riders don’t often see other riders in the wild because, as it turns out, we are like backwoods ninjas! I’ve found the best way to connect with other riders in online. Facebook has a women’s only page called Throttle Chix Sled Group. There are other groups as well, but this is my home group if you will. The purpose of this group is to have women open to networking with each other to encourage growth in the sport, keep our riding areas open, share ideas about ride style, gear, sled modification, food, ride locations, even how to master going to the bathroom outside! I turn to this group often for help and suggestions to master new sled season goals, like loading my sled on a sled deck for the first time. I asked this group a question, “If the experienced rider self could tell first day rider self something important, what would that be?” I had 58 responses in a short period of time.
So, here are their responses—and what I wish I knew about how to ride a snowmobile before I swung my leg over my sled for the first time:
- Be A.G.G.R.E.S.S.I.V.E - This is so important! Don’t be afraid to use your throttle. You are strong, so be positive and assert yourself. Also, use your voice. If something doesn’t feel or look safe, speak up loud and clear.
- Don’t overthink your situation - Trees, they happen, a lot, and they are usually in a bad spot, where you’d like to go. Don’t stare at them; you will hit them 100 percent of the time. See the tree, acknowledge the tree, look at the path around the tree and move on.
- Choose quality snowmobile gear & accessories - Do not just wear your husband or boyfriend's extra stuff that’s laying around their gear closet. Those cute fuzzy boots at Walmart are probably a no as well. Your body is the most important factor in being safe, and staying warm and comfortable. The biggest factor is staying dry. Pick a well-fitted base layer that will pull your body moisture away from you and keep you dry. A second layer should be to keep you warm, a mid layer, perhaps fleece, will work best and can be removed and stored in a pack if you are too warm in the day from working hard. The third layer should be a quality waterproof outerwear jacket that will repel water and allow your body moisture to escape the fabric. If you select gear that isn’t fitted properly or of good quality, you will put your safety in jeopardy in the backwoods. The technology in high quality gear allows it to not be bulky, but still keep you warm and dry.
- Give yourself permission to get stuck - You have just as much right to be stuck as any member of your group. Proper sled etiquette is to assist anyone you can to get their sled unstuck, and in return you’ll be given help as well. Learning from various people how to get unstuck is a valuable tool.
- Be on time - Don’t be that guy who shows up to the sled destination with a hangover and fuzzy slippers on, still needing fuel, oil, breakfast and with one boot, forgotten goggles and no lunch for the day. Be on time, well-rested, hydrated, fed and prepared for the day.
- Don’t feel the need to prove yourself - This is not a competition. Everyone wants to have fun, push their personal limits a little, learn something and get home safe.
- Be in the know - Check the weather report, road conditions and/or trail information. It’s always a good idea to notify someone not going what your planned destination, departure area and time are as well as planned return time. Garmin's InReach satellite messaging devices are excellent additions to safety equipment and allow family to track your location from a smart device or computer, as well as allow you to contact them and call for emergency help if needed.
- Find your confidence in small successes - Build a solid foundation of basic skills before you set your sights on video highlight reels in your head.
- Water, Water, Water - Pack it, drink it, pack a way to make it. Be sure to have an all-metal bottle, fire starting material and matches.
- Always have a ride buddy - Don’t leave or move to a new location without eyes on your ride buddy. Everybody in together, home together.
And, the secret weapon! Every sled ever produced comes with it. The game changer, the equalizer, the one thing every single sledder will say is the most important thing. You will hear a thousand times about the THROTTLE and how you must use it, pin it, if you will. The one thing that makes your throttle a secret weapon is learning how to use it properly. Once you master throttle CONTROL, you own the sled. The ability to manage and control the flippy thing under your thumb will turn a 4’9” 100-pound person into a giant in the backwoods. If you don’t believe me, look at some of the great riders: Many of them are quite small, like race horse jockeys, but they still manage to appear to throw around 500-pound sleds like they are swatting flies. A sled without momentum from the throttle is like a 500-pound brick that handles like a boat in a no-wake zone without power. The concept is a lot like trying to ride a straight line on a bicycle. If you’re going fast, steering is easier and the line is straight and direction is easy to follow. When you are barely moving, holding a straight line is difficult without tipping over.
There are also a number of resources to help you learn how to sled. Reach out to the sled community, and they will welcome you with open arms to the club and give all the advice and assistance you’re willing to accept. Ride smart, ride safe and make it fun!