Snowmobile Freeride

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Sometimes you get to do something so against your preconceived notions of right and wrong that you have to fight your own fears to actually convince yourself to do it. Sometimes it involves social boundaries; sometimes it has financial consequences; sometimes your personal safety. Fears are fears. But wow, when you pull it off you feel empowered and full of life. Such was the case the other day when a good friend and I attempted our first snowmobile ghost ride.

For those of you unfamiliar with mountain sledding (snowmobiling, no not the old fashion wooden sled most people think of), it’s a common and popular motorsport in mountainous areas of the US and Canada. While insanely fun, it is shockingly difficult when starting out and requires a great deal of physical exertion, not to mention exposing the rider and those around them perils like gaping crevasses, hidden rocks, avalanches, and being run over by your own machine. New sleds cost around $15K and are dangerously powerful and unpredictable – well, in the beginning anyway.

The reason we got into sledding was primarily to gain ski access to far away glaciers and peaks usually accessible only by heli skiers, an even more expensive pastime. There are literally thousands of square kilometers of beautiful snow covered alpine magic that cannot be accessed any other way than by these two types of transportation. Which means there aren’t too many people out there – at all. And that’s cool.

So one day we were both sitting at the top of a beautiful untouched powder bowl hundreds of kilometers from civilization, contemplating how we could both ski down the slope at the same time without having to shuttle our sleds up and down the hill. In other words, we were feeling insanely lazy and both wanted to maximize how many ski turns we got in that day. Hence the Ghost Ride. We’ve all done this as kids – jump off the bike while its moving and watch it coast down the street until it crashes in a heap at the end of the street when it run out of momentum – or hits a car. In that instance, the consequence was wrecking your $20 bike or getting cuffed on the head by your parents. On the other hand, ghost riding your sled down a 45 degree slope littered with rocks, cliffs and of course, your buddy’s snowmobile (someone has to go first) could have horrible side effects. You have to realize that you can get real far into the backcountry with these machines, much further than you can walk back before you freeze to death.  That means both sleds damaged beyond repair is a big deal.


But! We really wanted to ski. So we positioned ourselves as strategically as possible, donned our skis, gave the sleds a shot of throttle and off they went, and us with them. Check out the video – needless to say it was exhilarating and the first of many, many runs that day. Heliskiing can go suck it.

Tips / Recommendations
  • Don’t try this at home.
  • If you do, be prepared for the worst. All the ski turns in the world aren’t worth becoming a meat popsicle.
  • Snowmobiles go down the path of least resistance. Analyze the slope to determine where it may end up – better yet, coast down the slope on the sled once to see in person before trying it unmanned.
  • Figure out whose sled goes further – various sources of friction, snow conditions, previous tracks, sled weight and the alignment of your skis will determine which sled will go where. 
  • Most times, each sled stopped within 10 feet of where it did previously. But there was the occasional hiccup thanks to a bump that affected its trajectory. I won't lie, there were a few close calls. Like with everything, it’s always a crap shoot.

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