Adrenaline, family bonding and backcountry serenity
written by Molly Allen
The rush, the thrills, the speed—that’s the prevalent image of snowmobiling. While full- throttle fun is a factor, it can be as much or more about family quality time and taking in high elevation, difficult-to-reach backcountry vistas that few ever see.
“There’s just something about seeing untouched snow, and it’s all yours,” said avid snowmobiler Victoria Jahn of Bellevue. “It’s a challenge, and each time you’re out, the snow isn’t the same.”
Her first time on a snowmobile was at age six, when her father introduced her to it. Since then, she has continued to add to her list of favorite touring areas throughout the state, delving farther into the backcountry. “You get the excitement of being able to explore new places,” she said. “It’s a day of playing in meadows covered in snow, getting that thrill and adrenaline rush along with it.”
Snowmobiling was the way her family spent quality time together as she was growing up. A day on “the sled” meant mountains of fun as well as time spent outdoors, enjoying family, friends and the simple pleasures of gathering around a crackling campfire in the dead of winter. Some rides also meant the shift in perspective that comes with reaching a mountain summit and looking down into a real-life snow globe. “It’s so serenely peaceful and quiet to be up where nobody else is. It’s very tranquil,” Jahn said.
Jahn and her family are among a growing number of those across the state who have taken up the sport. “Snowmobilers are very much a community,” said Pamela McConkey, Washington State Parks’ winter recreation program manager. “They love to get people introduced to the sport and to be outdoors.”
In Washington, the season officially typically lasts through March. With more than eighty managed sno-parks and more than 3,000 miles of groomed trails across the state, there’s no shortage of destinations for snowmobilers to discover while taking in stellar scenery along the way. Groomer operators work to clear trees or heavy snow and create a trail that’s ready for riding again by morning. From the Central Cascades to Mount Spokane to White Pass, the options for riding across Washington’s landscape are seemingly endless.
“The higher you go, the more technical riders you’ll run into,” McConkey said. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, you have to take proper precautions, planning out the best experience for your skill level.
“Take your time when you’re getting out there. There’s no rush,” said Jahn. “And remember that if you don’t feel comfortable going into a certain area, don’t do it. It’s about getting out there for the experience, and you’ll only get better the more times you do it.”
Plan Your Route: Determine how long you want to be out. Plan your route with a map or invest in a GPS device to stay found.
Check the Weather: Washington’s weather is known for its quick turns, and it can be even more dramatic in winter. Check the pass reports, weather reports and avalanche conditions before you go. Be sure you and your vehicle are ready.
Share Your Plan: No matter the length of a trip, always tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return.
Safety in Numbers: Ride with a buddy or a group. This could make all the difference if you run into any problems.
Gear Up: Research what’s best to wear. A helmet is a must. Keep warm with a head sock to avoid windburn or getting cold. Insulated gloves and requisite snow gear are central to a good experience.
Start Easy: If you’re interested in trying snowmobiling, consider a tour outfitter, rental or ride with an experienced friend first. It’s important to get a feel for a snowmobile before heading into the high backcountry.
Stay Within Your Skill Level: Washington’s landscape during winter offers challenges. Know the area where you’re riding, and don’t be afraid to turn around if you’re not comfortable.
Sources: Washington State Parks and snowmobiler Victoria Jahn of Bellevue