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