Introducing Kids to Snowmobiling
Being a young kid growing up in central Newfoundland I spent a lot of time outdoors. I can remember vividly the first time I drove my grandfather’s 16 Elan up the side of the highway. The hood was multicolored from being out in the sun uncovered year-round but that didn’t bother me as I had more fun on that sled than one can possibly imagine. Then came the day we actually had our own sled. I remember the day my father brought home a 1993 Indy Lite 340 GT. Seeing that shiny red sled made me get goose bumps all over. We used to drive that sled back and forth the transmission line and around the house every day after school. I can recall my mother singing out on more than one occasion “Ryan, get in here for supper,” and “you have homework to do!” But being in my glee I would have driven around until she came out of the house and got me or the sled ran out of gas.
These are childhood experiences that I hope to give to my two kids, Shealyn and Chase. Which leads me to the purpose of this article; getting kids involved in snowmobiling at a young age. It’s only natural for me as a lifetime rider to want to share my passion for riding with my kids. In today’s digital/technology driven age, filled with IPods/IPads/PlayStations/ Xbox 360’s and of course computers, I think it is vitally important that we get our kids outside enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer. Whether it is sliding, snowshoeing, skating, or any other winter sport you want your kids to partake in, just get them involved.
When we had our first child (Shealyn) I couldn’t wait to get her out on sled. Before she was born she had already been thrown off the back of the snowmobile; while pregnant my wife had fallen off the back of our sled completely my fault, Sorry Vanessa. By the time Shealyn was six months old we had her out on the sled in her car seat. Most kids fall asleep at this age but she was awake and happy all the time, I knew we had an outdoor enthusiast on our hands. Then along came our second child Chase. From this point onward it was usually just I and my daughter riding together. I can recall one time we tried to take my son when he was about two years of age and he cried every minute that he was on the snowmobile with me. I blame myself for that since I had not taken him out as often as his sister. The noise scared him and plus he didn’t like to be all bundled up.
Now this brings us to last fall. While trying to decide what to get our kids for Christmas I thought it would be a great idea to get them a small kid’s sled. After doing some research online and at the local dealers I realized that most of the 120cc entry sleds cost around $3100 plus freight, pdi, registration and or course taxes. Not wanting to spend that kind of money I settled on a used 2008 Arctic Cat 120cc. Now because kids only use these machines for a very short period of time, due to the fact that they outgrow them, most used machines are in great shape. The engines are air-cooled, four stroke, single cylinder that will run for a long time on a couple liters of gasoline. There is a toothed drive clutch to turn the driveshaft which means they can just press on the gas and go. Most come equipped with a throttle adjustment screw to limit the speed as well as a safety tether in case they fall off, and of course there is also a brake.
Christmas morning – The last gift we decided to give the kids was the snowmobile and I think I was just as excited as the kids to give it to them. I had spent a couple of hours shining it up in the garage beforehand, and the minute they opened the garage door both of them screamed with excitement. Of course because we had snow on the ground they wanted to go riding right away. Shortly after breakfast we got geared up and went to our neighbor’s house across the street since they have a huge backyard. Before I got Shealyn to ride I had to show her how to turn, press the gas, brake, how to shutoff the sled etc… you know the basic sled safety demonstration. Provinces like Alberta have a safe rider program that is free of charge and offered to all school age children from Kindergarten to Grade 12. To my knowledge there is nothing like this currently in Newfoundland, so it was up to me to show her how to ride with respect.
The most important thing to show my kids was the power of the machine. Kids need to respect what they are riding; motorized vehicles, not toys. Next they need to learn about safety. Riding requires their full attention, they need to keep their feet on the running boards and always get them to wear a helmet. Once we had all of that covered and I got her to start riding and immediately she began to get the hang of it. You could not get the smile off of her face, as evidenced in the picture above. Chase got to hold on for a couple rides around the yard as he was only two and a half years old at the time so still a bit too small to drive by himself. Both of them were having a blast. It was a very proud moment as a father to see your two children having so much fun riding around on a snowmobile; it took me back to my youth when I used to hit small moguls on Pop’s 16 Elan on the side of the highway.
My parents live fairly close to the TCH (Bishop Falls) so it is rather easy to get to some good sledding areas. On one particular Saturday afternoon we packed up a bit of lunch, a few supplies to have a boil up and headed out. Once we got to the TCH crossing my wife drove the kids sled across and I took them across on mine. About a kilometer later we reached the pole line. Here there was lots of open country and snow for my kids to enjoy. A few minutes later, while driving down the trail, my daughter stops on her sled so I pull up next to her and she says “Daddy my skidoo is running out of gas.” Now I had filled it up just before we left and we had only been gone about five minutes so I knew there was lots of gas left. So we started riding again only to stop a few hundred feet up the trail. She says to me “Daddy my skidoo is running out of gas, it won’t go any faster.” I finally comprehended what is happening she wants to go faster. The small sleds only travel about 12-15km/h at maximum speed. When you are going around circles in the backyard it seems fast but when travelling in a straight line it just wasn’t fast enough for her; I knew she had my DNA. What snowmobiler doesn’t like to go a little fast? What I love about snowmobiling is the sense of adventure and evidently so does my daughter.
A few minutes later we pulled off the trail and had a boil up. After eating and playing around a bit more on the pole line we decided to leave. My mother ended up driving Shealyn’s sled home because she wanted to go faster with her Dad. To this day my daughter still asks me when we are going to go snowmobiling again and with a new sled on the way my answer is always as soon as we get snow. A few weeks later I received some confirmation of my daughter’s passion for snowmobiling when she brought home a picture she had made for me in Kindergarten. It was a picture of her riding around on her skidoo, complete with her safety flag, and on the back of the picture it said “I love daddy because he reads a story to me. He likes to ride skidoo with me.” It was an extremely proud moment for me.
It is my mission this year to get us all out more often, enjoying the adventures and beauty that nature has to offer. It’s moments like the ones I have described above that truly make being a parent the most enjoyable thing in the world. Before I know it she will be side-hilling, doing wheelies and spinaramees…maybe even better than Dad.