Sweat Your Brains Out
By Dan Gardiner
About 6 years ago, Andrew McCarthy, a good friend of mine and the original man behind the Boondockers snowmobile films, maintained a weekly snowmobile blog on the Boondockers website. The weekly entries typically dealt with topics relevant to the snowmobile industry, particularly the Newfoundland sled culture. Although the material varied a good deal, almost every story ended with Andrew’s signature closing line, “Sweat Your Brains Out.”
When I first read Andrew’s tag line, I wondered to myself what he was intending to convey with its use. The phrase could be interpreted to have two substantially different meanings. First, it might be taken as an expression of rigorous exercise, as in “he sweated his brains out trying to get that 4 stroke machine unstuck!” On the other hand, it could be used to describe an intense mental effort. While Andrew is certainly no stranger to breaking a sweat on a snowmobile, I’m fairly certain that his intention was to highlight the mental aspect of snowmobiling that is so often overlooked or unappreciated.
Anyone who has spent any amount of time on a snowmobile can undoubtedly appreciate the physical demands that come with backcountry snowmobiling. Carving powder, boondocking through trees and river bottoms, and flying off cliffs and jumps all day can be an incredible workout. I’m always surprised by newcomers to the sport who think that riding is just a matter of pushing the gas and going…it doesn’t take long for them to come to a rude awakening! Like many fringe sports, snowmobiling tends to be extremely stereotyped by the mainstream media. Non-snowmobilers often see snowmobiling as nothing more than trail riding, racing, or point-and-shoot hillclimbing. In reality, the sport is much bigger than that. There are countless styles of riding and endless types of terrain and snow conditions that dictate different skill sets and riding opportunities. This is part of what has always made snowmobiles so appealing to me—the freedom to explore the backcountry and make your own adventures along the way.
Even less appreciated is the incredible amount of mental effort that goes into backcountry snowmobiling. At some point, the serious backcountry rider must have the ability to repair and maintain machines (often deep in the mountains), practice route-finding and navigation skills, conduct an avalanche rescue, administer first aid, possess survival skills (and gear), and that’s before you even start riding! An aggressive rider is constantly making split second decisions during the ride, such as how hard to lean into a sidehill or powder turn, the best route through a stand of trees, or the amount of speed necessary to safely make a jump. Although some of these abilities come with riding experience, many of your backcountry skills can be improved while you’re sitting around waiting for the snow to fly.
If you have photos or video of yourself from the previous season, review the footage and look for ways that you can improve your riding techniques. It might be useful to compare your footage to some of the professional films and see what they are doing different (or maybe you could teach them a few things!). Look for popular mistakes, like leaning too hard into turns, keeping the nose too high on jumps, etc.
Before the riding starts, take an online tutorial on basic avalanche skills. There is a good one on the Utah Avalanche Center website: http://utahavalanchecenter.org/kbyg_video/. On one of your first rides, get out and practice using beacons. Bury a couple beacons and use the standard search patterns to locate them. Remember, your friend that’s buried only has 15 minutes to live and an actual rescue scenario is going to be more difficult than any practice run. This is a good opportunity to polish your rescue skills when the snow depth is low and the riding isn’t that great.
Review you survival and first aid gear. Make sure you have all of the essentials and are prepared to respond to emergencies that are likely to occur in the backcountry.
Do a basic run through of your snowmobile before each ride. This is just common sense. Check all of the major components for any obvious problems or loose bolts. It only takes a minute and could save you from major issues later on. There is nothing worse than ending your day 5 miles up the trail because you lost a bolt in your rear skid (not that I would know from personal experience).
Have a pre-season discussion with your riding group. Sometimes you are only as strong as the weakest link in your group. Get together and make sure everyone is up to speed in the important areas. Not to mention it could be a good excuse to get all of the boys together to watch a few sled flicks and kick the winter off properly.
One serious mistake that I see many riders make is to rely too much on other people on their riding group for things that they should be able to do themselves. Don’t think that because one person in your group knows how to work on machines or make an avalanche rescue that you don’t need to know yourself, you’re bound to learn the hard way eventually!
Sweat Your Brains Out!
The original article was published in Sledworthy Magazine in during the 2012 season. All pictures were provided by Dan Gardiner and Boondockers.