When I was a kid, my friends and I would ride our BMX bikes every day in the summer. Usually, that meant we’d ride to one or a few of the areas with jumps within 3 miles of our homes.
One area was probably a 3-acre plot between a church parking lot and some railroad tracks. We called it St. Pat’s, named after the church portion of the property. There were several jumps of various sizes, a short section of small whoops and a field with some trails.
Another area was called Stagecoach. It too included some railroad property, and of course more jumps.
There were several other areas too. We’d ride to each one, spend maybe an hour launching off the jumps while occasionally stopping to laugh and talk about it, and then head to another spot. We did this nearly every day. It felt free and wild and fun. This was when (and why) I fell in love with riding bikes.
At some point in my late-teens, these bicycle rides evolved. A mountain bike with gears replaced the small single-speed BMX bikes, and the rides became more about exploration rather than jumping (and hanging out with friends) sessions. I still ride bikes and they’re still focused on exploration and adventure and distance, rather than sessioning.
Back when I was that BMX kid, I was also a snowmobile kid. My family would north to my aunt and uncle’s place on the weekends, where a handful of us kids would ride snowmobiles while the parents were ice fishing. My brother, cousins and friends would rip around on the sleds, usually within a mile or so of where the adults were fishing.
We’d session short loops through the woods, jump off the snow banks left by plowed roads across the lakes, have gladiator-style cattail fights (that resulted in absurd amounts of fuzz getting sucked into the carburetors of my uncle’s old sleds…Sorry Uncle Stan!) and so forth. It felt free and wild and fun. This was when (and why) I fell in love with snowmobiling.
As we got older, our snowmobile rides evolved, becoming less session and more exploration/adventure. But it’s not as tough the sessions completely ended. On days when fresh, drifted snow had curled at the top of hills and along certain ditches, we’d stop and bust through in our own mini-version of mountain cornice riding. When a cool jump would present itself somewhere along any given ride, we’d often circle back and hit it a few times before continuing on the journey. These play sessions were the most social part of the day. And probably the most fun too.
I never really thought much about this evolution in riding style until my own son began riding snowmobiles. When he learned on a 120, it was laps around our yard. When he graduated to a leaf-spring sled, it was more laps around the yard as well as short trail rides with me. And when he began riding the Sno Pro 500 it became longer trail rides.
He sort of liked the longer trail rides, but he had the most fun when we’d stop someplace and just goof around, usually on a jump or in a field after a deep snow (where he would practice carving like a mountain rider). In hindsight, when Cal was in his early teens, I think he kinda put up with the long rides in order to have those brief moments of play riding in one spot. He’d still probably choose to session more than go on a 125-mile trail ride. And I’m pretty sure that the first time I bring him mountain riding will be the beginning of a whole new dimension to his joy of snowmobiling. Hell, it might even make trail riding seem boring (after all, mountain riding is really just the ultimate in snowmobile sessioning).
I’ve concluded this whole dealio is common to most of the snowmobilers I know and see. I think it helps explain why vintage became so popular. Same with mountain riding. It even explains why it’s so tough for clubs to prevent trespassing on certain private land (those spots that tempt people with fun drifts and jumps to bust through).
If there’s just one lesson to be learned from this, it’s that kids can and will fall in love with an activity that’s free and wild and fun. And social.
Yes, this poses challenges to parents and the snowmobile “establishment” that includes clubs and the industry. It means that if we want little Johnny or Julie to fall in love with snowmobiling, we might best let them experience the wild and freedom part of it before we indoctrinate them into 100-mile slogs. And there will be occasional trail closures because of an irate landowner. I see these as teachable situations though, and perhaps an opportunity for the establishment to reimagine some new and different riding opportunities (snowmobile play parks, anyone?).
Rock n’ roll didn’t ruin the baby boomer generation despite the fear mongering of some parents and establishment. Play riding won’t ruin the sport of snowmobiling either.
Kids just wanna have fun. So let’s enourage it.