Dream vs Reality: Snowmobiling

Winter's best-laid plans.

Big horsepower, high speed, deep powder, and the ability to go virtually anywhere on the landscape: what’s not to love about snowmobiling? A far cry from the toy sleds of yesteryear, today’s technological marvels can jump, wheelie, carve, and rip the crap out of anything in their path. But don’t worry, snow ponies are still noisy, stinky, and expensive as hell—we don’t call it sledneckin’ for nothing. Are you rad enough to be a mountain rider? Let’s see how expectations stack up.

With a quick pull of the starter cord, your lean, mean snow machine braaaps to life. You love this thing—best investment ever. You follow your buddies up the freshly-groomed trail, enjoying the winter scenery: chickadees flitting in the pine boughs, a fox torpedoing after mice in a meadow, a moose grazing lazily on willow's tips. As you climb into the mountains, the untracked snow becomes deeper—knee-, then waist-deep—and you carve effortless turns through the trees. The sled responds instantly and feels like an extension of your body as you launch off pillows, sidehill up creek beds, and climb every hill. You challenge your friends to match your daring lines, and throw high-fives from the summit of a remote peak while the sun sets on another perfect day of riding.

The damn thing won’t start. You’re seething—it’s been in the shop twice this winter already. With a shoulder-wrenching heave, it finally sputters to life, and you pull out of the trailhead behind your one remaining sledding buddy—no one else can afford to ride anymore, with machines in excess of $15,000 and endless gas, oil, and maintenance bills. The trail hasn’t been groomed in weeks; you painfully slam and wince your way through 12 miles of waist-high moguls. The animals you would’ve seen run for their lives as your 90-decibel engine revs like a giant chainsaw. Your head is pounding and your arms hurt. At last you reach the high country, but weekday tourists got there before you and blew out all the powder. The snowmobile feels like a cruise-ship anchor as you sweat and heave it around. You try to sidehill up a creek bed, get the thing stuck, and spend half the day digging out. You’re cold, wet, and exhausted, but finally get to the summit of a remote peak to watch the sunset. It’s beautiful, but turns dark and freezing quickly, and you’re 20 miles from the truck. And whaddya know—your machine won’t start. Sonofa…