The call of the mountains: Snowmachining is a salve for the soul

by • February 5, 2016 • ColumnsComments (0)221

Courtesy Kim and Skeet Black Jordan Black, Gabby Black, Josh Black and Jake Black prepare to head for the high country in Petersville.

Courtesy Kim and Skeet Black
Jordan Black, Gabby Black, Josh Black and Jake Black prepare to head for the high country in Petersville.

The mountains are calling and I must go” is a popular quote on social media originally coined by John Muir, but for some of us it is more. The call of the mountains is real and beckons us to leave our hectic lives behind to find some solace in the great white open. As Alaskans, we are blessed with access to trails and riding areas unmatched in any other state. It is this knowledge that compels me to share my love of this sport with others.

It is hard to describe the sensation one gets when riding down a groomed trail to your favorite open meadow for powder riding and boon-docking. Snow hangs heavy on trees leaning over the trail, and the whiteness envelopes the senses.  The clear cold air of a winter’s day distracts you from your worries. There’s the thrill of a full throttle as you motor through deep snow, powder billowing over your windshield and a permanent grin under your helmet. Sharing these experiences with family and friends can build memories that will last a lifetime.

Why is it then, that some are reluctant to embrace the sport of snowmachining, or worse, are opposed to it? If you are finding within your circle of friends or family people who suffer from “anti-snowmobilia,” it may be time for an intervention. Let’s go over a few of the symptoms and discuss some treatment options.

Loud and Dirty
Snowmachining has gotten a bad-boy reputation. Some people think of the sport and see jacked-up trucks with sled decks (we have one), music blaring and snowmachines that are noisy while at the same time emitting environment-killing black exhaust. While the jacked-up truck with sled deck is still a reality, the snowmachining community is diverse. I would consider myself an environmentalist in the sense that I love the outdoors and want to make sure the places where we are riding are kept in pristine condition. EPA regulations have required manufacturers to meet high standards in regard to noise and emissions, and because of this, manufacturers are producing sleds that are cleaner and quieter. There are times when I am on my machine and have to check to make sure it is turned on because it is so quiet. Picking a riding group that is respectful of others and their environment can go a long way in keeping our riding areas beautiful and clean.

What a Jerk
You and I were once beginner riders. We typically had either of these two experiences. We went out with a group of riders and the leader of the group, “Mr. Jerk,” immediately took off and never looked back. All we could do was hold on for dear life as we tried to keep up with the pack. Some may call this survival of the fittest. I call it the single fastest way to eliminate a potential snowgoer for life.

This is not the experience you want. You want this: A group of riders gives you instruction on how to ride. The leader and sweeper of the group is established. Radio and GPS communication is confirmed. The group heads out with all members checking on each other regularly and at the end of the day all members arrive at their destination safely. It’s easy to pick up a bad case of anti-snowmobilia when your first and only experience is terrible. Contain this quickly by providing the proper new rider experience for those interested.

Takes away from family time
If you have heard it expressed that snowmachining takes away from family time, here is the antidote: Snowmachine with your family. I have a 16-year-old son who started riding a 120 snowmachine when he was 4. His older siblings had a great time putting in a track around our house and every day before and after school our son would ride. He watched and learned from my husband, and soon he was jumping from side to side until one day he was too big and the track came off the machine. He, along with our other kids, built their skills by riding together on the lake and going on trail rides with hot chocolate and burgers as their reward at the end of the day. We invested in cold-weather gear to make sure that they would be able to spend long periods of time outdoors. From morning until night they would ride in circles around the lake and take turns running in to get the gas can when the machine was on empty. We continue to take family rides with our kids and have watched them mature into accomplished riders.
There will always be people who are opposed to your riding lifestyle, people who will never think the machines are clean enough, quiet enough or that the time spent on the sport is worthwhile.

My family memories and friendships say otherwise. I have seen my sons turn into men and learn how to serve others by jumping in to help dig someone out or hold a tree branch out of the way that is covering the trail. They have been pulled away from online gaming and introduced to the world of real-life adventure, learning how to repair machines and trailers along the way. I have passed families on the trail towing sleds with small kids, dogs and cabin supplies heading out to make memories that will last a lifetime. Friendships have been forged out in the snow and back at the lodge around a nice hot meal recounting the day’s events. All of these things and more influence my mission to introduce others to snowmachining. When you find something that truly makes you happy you want to share it.

So if you see me in my jacked-up truck, with its Summer Sucks sticker in the window, or catch me at the store picking up supplies for my next adventure, here’s some advice: Don’t try to stop me, because the mountains are calling and I must go.

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