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Babying my Baby (er, I mean my Snowmobile)

For as long as I’ve been snowmobiling, I’ve babied my snowmobiles.

What I mean is that in certain situations and conditions, I’ve “gone easy” on them. You might even say I’ve treated them delicately.

For instance, whenever I cross a paved road on my sled, I ease into the throttle and gradually accelerate across the road to prevent busting-loose the track. Hundreds are the times I’ve witnessed other riders come to a road crossing, stop, and then slam the throttle to cross, shredding their track and/or traction products along the way.

Just the sound of that maneuver makes me cringe. It makes me wonder if such riders have poor hearing and are fabulously wealthy. Because the sound is as horrifying as the cost.

Another situation in which I baby my sled is low-snow, like during those last one or two rides of the season when the sun is high in the sky and sections of trail become exposed and lose snow cover. I never blast through the dirt and gravel sections, rather I “tiptoe” around them as much as possible by staying on the snow, even if it means I’m swerving all over the trail.

Again, I just hate the sound of dirt blasting through my tunnel, so I try to minimize it as much as possible.

I have no problem pounding bumps, ditch approaches or that kind of condition as long as there’s snow under the sled. I guess I don’t consider that “beating” on a snowmobile. But riding on dirt just feels wrong.

Sometimes circumstances have arisen when I should have stopped babying my sled and just pinned it, notably while racing. I’ll never forget the first time I raced the old Jeep 500 from Thunder Bay to St. Paul in 1991.

I was on a 1991 Prowler Special. On the third and final day we went from Duluth to the finish in White Bear Lake. Unlike the first two legs, which were cross-country through the woods, this third leg was almost entirely ditch running. It was a warm, sunny day and the roads were completely bare of snow. We must have crossed more than 100 roads that day, and it took me until the second half of the leg before I stopped babying my sled on the crossings.

I had a great battle going with Norris Brown, Tom Jensen and a couple other guys whose names I forget. We were literally riding next to or around each other most of the way. Those guys knew how to race the last day of a cross-country. In other words, they weren’t trying to save their studs for the next day and they weren’t offended by the sound of their sleds going full-throttle across roads and dirt.

It took half a day of continually having to catch up to them before I finally said, “Screw it, I’m going to go wide-open through this junk!” It was liberating (and definitely faster). And I suppose it opened my eyes to how you must race a snowmobile if you want to have top finishes. But even a few years later, when I raced full-time with Brian Nelson/Arctic Cat for the 1994 season, I would still find myself occasionally babying my sled. Sometimes strategically, to preserve the carbides, but sometimes just because I didn’t want to beat on my sled. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t much of a threat to win races…

The racers I’ve known who were very successful never appeared to baby their snowmobiles. I think they all simply realize that a snowmobile is a simple mechanical beast and that anything can be replaced. They still ride smart, which means not landing off of jumps/approaches while wide-open with the throttle. But they aren’t afraid of riding across patches of dirt, over miles of snirt or any of the other conditions that confront them.

I’ll undoubtedly always baby my sleds and scratch my head with wonder at the trail riders who don’t. Like I say, maybe all those guys have really poor hearing or have enough money to replace a couple of tracks each season.

Or maybe they’re all ex-racers?


Dirt riding with my snowmobile

I snapped this photo of my brother during a spring ride in the Webb Lake, Wis., area in 2006. We had amazing riding all day long except for this one section of exposed trail that (I’m ashamed to admit) lasted for probably 3 miles. Seriously, we rode slow like this for what seemed like 10 minutes. A couple of times there were woods with snow, and we just plowed into them to get some lube on the slides and snow on the exchangers. I was kind-of laughing but mostly cringing the whole time.


Dirt riding with my snowmobile

Here’s another shot from the 3-mile snowless section. Seriously, it was pretty bad.


Arctic Cats getting gas

I’m such a pansy about beating on my sled that I hate riding into a gas station when there’s no snow on the pavement.



  1. i’m built the same way, always looking for that white patch of snow on the crappy trail and not letting my wife get off her sled at a gas station so she does not get stones to scratch the running boards or dragging your feet until we get to snow to clean them after a gas stop

  2. I am the same way. I cringe to that sound of steel on pavement. Or how about that trail that runs down the road and that poor left ski is just getting the carbide ground away oh how I hate that. And those curbs that you can see a couple days after a good snow fall. I’ve ridden with those that blast accrossed a road and think its cool,than say ride whatever brand of studs are junk? Dah? Plowed fields that haven’t been beaten down yet etc. I hear you loud and clear john. Did you find those green ZR chassis sleds that BlackMagic shoe horned those purple tripple cylinder motors in yet? BlackMagic always had them on display at the EagleRiver Derby circa 96-98?

  3. John I know this exact section in southern Douglas county. This hillside has never had snow on it no matter how much they get. Soon the chopped woods will thicken in and protect it again!

  4. What are you saving it for??? We have such a limited season to ride and last year no riding at all. The length of winter is getting shorter and shorter every year. eventually we wont have any snow at all. USE IT!!! Dont abuse it but get out and ride while we still can.

  5. “For instance, whenever I cross a paved road on my sled, I ease into the throttle gradually accelerate across the road to prevent busting-loose the track. Hundreds are the times I’ve witnessed other riders come to a road crossing, stop, and then slam the throttle to cross, no doubt shredding their track and/or traction products along the way.”

    Hahaha, I fondly remember “back in the day” when my mom would hit the throttle on her ’74 Cheetah at road crossings. Nothing prettier than a shower of sparks at sunset, as she would grind the Cat Klaws in order to get across the road faster.

  6. HA! I’m exactly the same way. I baby the crap out of my sleds-mainly because it took me so long to finally be able to buy the sled I always wanted and then talk my wife into letting me spend so much on a new one this year (please please snow a ton this year!!!). RL…was on a ride in Duluth last year and had to do the side of the road thing….SUCKED! I jumped across to the other side just to give the left ski a break. I always say to buddies…..”give me YOUR sled and I will ride it like i stole it….as long as I don’t have to pay for the fixes!”. Maybe that is why some racers or normal riders treat their sleds that way….they don’t have to talk their wives into letting them buy a new track every other year.

  7. You hit the nail on the head Mr. Sandberg! The only thing I like more than babying my beloved 2002 ZR440 SnoPro is cleaning it! Especially mid season, when it’s 30 or so degrees outside. I’ve got my bucket of steaming hot soapy water. Got to watch out for the cold water in the garden hose though! Yow!

  8. I’m wired the same way…. maybe worse… cars stay outside so the sleds stay in. I cover the cover in the garage so it won’t fade… stuff like that. That’s why it’s especially frustrating to have a sled that eats the lugs off the track due to excessive tunnel icing. I might as well be one that beats the pi#$ out of it.

  9. A couple seasons back a group of my buddies and I were riding out in the snowies,well we got a little close to some trees.(NO Scratches though!) every now and then we would stop and I was cleaning pine needles out of my sled,gave everyone a good laugh! I was serious though!! good times! and shiny sleds!!

  10. I maintain all of our Cats very well – but I sure as hell don’t baby them. We don’t intentionally drive like idiots either – spinning on pavement and such; but a low-snow logging trail isn’t making us turn around!

    It seems from some comments if you don’t baby your sled you are abusing it… Riding hard and abusing your sled are two very different things.

  11. Wicked,

    I don’t believe that that it’s an if/then scenario about not babying/abusing. Nor do I believe that it should be a one-size-fits-all approach.

    I actually wish I wasn’t quite so worried about “saving” my sled.

  12. I too ‘baby’ my sled and cringe at some of the poor trail conditions of no snow/mud, etc. The season is too short to have a sled down waiting for a part or repairs when the ‘good’ snow arrives so why take a deliberate chance on wrecking something on it if it is avoidable.

  13. coming from a guy that does the opposite of what you said, it doesn’t make that much of a difference. kind like the guy that babies his truck, and low mileage. only thing he did was give the next guy a brand new used truck, at half the price. just ride em. can’t take them with you.

  14. Right on John! I ride the same way, saves on traction products, track, ski’s, belt & tunnel and heat exchanger damage. Same rule for trail riding or racing, sometimes you need to slow down to be fast! Just one correction, it was the 1991 Jeep 500 you raced in with a 1991 Prowler Special. I remember watching you in the race, I was working at Black Magic at the time & Tim Berg commented on the great job you were doing. Keep up the good work John & hope to see you at some USXC races this year!

  15. My older 1998 Polariis just sits and spins on bare pavement. I had to cross a highway that was hard frozen ice/snow pack with bare pavement.i could not move. Do I need a new track or clites ow what?

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