The 7 Rules of Mountain Powder Riding
By Brian Hasenack
This article is geared toward the beginner to intermediate rider. The seasoned powder riders most likely have a list of their own tricks that work for them when riding the deep stuff. We just wrapped up four days of riding in Southern Wyoming, playing host to four, self-proclaimed hard-core mountain riders - from Minnesota! Nothing puts the fear in me like riding in 3 feet of fresh powder with a group of flat landers. I speak from experience - there have been past trips with guest riders that have turned into more work then play. However, our most recent guest riders proved themselves worthy of the challenge and we all enjoyed endless miles of powder riding. The exhilaration of dropping off a mountainside with three feet of powder rushing over your hood is somewhat indescribable. It's a feeling that one must experience for themselves. Once you have experienced the thrill of true powder riding, you will be hooked.
Deep powder riding can sometimes be overwhelming and frustrating for even the best riders, let alone the beginner and intermediate snowmobiler. Here are a few tips that may make your day of powder riding a little more enjoyable.
Rule No.1: THROTTLE CONTROL: If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this! Powder riding is not about grabbing a handful of throttle and getting as far away from your buddies before getting bogged down. You will get stuck eventually and so will they. However, the result is all too common. Now you have three sleds stuck instead of one. Powder conditions are constantly changing and these changes require a little throttle finesse. The next time you're out and riding, experiment with your throttle and you will discover that a little track spin can go a long way. For example, if you're on the throttle hard and trenching, back off and you may actually feel your sled surface to the top of the powder. Once this happens, you can roll into your throttle again and proceed.
Rule No.2: MOMENTUM plays a major role in powder riding. Throttle control and momentum go hand-in-hand. The obvious key is to keep your sled moving through the powder. The time to pick your lines through obstacles is not when you come upon them, but before. Look ahead of your sled by 50 to 100 feet. Pick your lines of travel and go for it.
Rule No. 3: BODY POSITION: There is only one body position that is NOT acceptable when riding powder. DO NOT SIT ON YOUR SEAT! Adjust your handlebars, throttle, and brake to allow for you to stand or kneel and still maintain control. Powder riding demands active riding styles that require the rider to transfer weight from side to side. Controlling and turning your machine in deep powder is accomplished by body position. And the one body position that doesn't cut it- sittin' in the saddle.
Rule No. 4: STOP ON A TRACK: Have you ever come to a stop only to try to take off again and find yourself stuck? This is a classic example of why you should stop on top of someone else's snowmobile track. If you're the first into a meadow and you need to stop, circle back around and park on your own track. Another good rule of thumb is to not stop on inclines. Always stop on a flat or down hill area.
Rule No. 5: ROUTES OF TRAVEL: Keep a cool head when riding in the powder. A combination of the deep and steep can lead to a long day of tug-a war or worse yet, a night out underneath a pine tree. Everyone is familiar with the phrase "what goes up must come down!" Well, if your powder riding, you should be thinking about "what goes in hopefully comes out." The thrill and challenge is why we do it. But remember, a ten-minute trip on a snowmobile into the backcountry can take hours on foot to get out! Be smart about your entry into bowls, ravines and other steep areas.
Rule No. 6: GETTING UNSTUCK: A breakdown of any one of the five previous rules will most likely lead to a stuck sled. Everyone gets stuck, so learn the proper ways to do it! Yes, that's correct, there are right ways and wrong ways when getting stuck. With machines weighing well over 500 pounds, the last thing a rider wants to do is to turn a snowmobile completely around in 3 feet of snow. All too often, I have witnessed snowmobilers attempting to lift their machines out of the holes. Before you start tugging, lifting and pulling, spend a couple of minutes packing the snow down with your feet. Use your legs and feet to clear the snow from under the front of your sled. Next, walk out a small pathway to assure your machine has an area to climb up onto. Before you know it, you're unstuck! Remember, be aware, pick your lines, and exercise Rule 1 and 5, even when getting stuck.
Rule No. 7: BE PREPARED: Never adventure out alone and start each ride with the proper clothing, extra gloves, an avalanche beacon, shovel, probe pole, food and water... plan to spend the night with every ride. You wouldn't leave to go camping without food, protection, and water, so don't leave your truck without these items, either.Powder riding is the backbone of western snowmobiling. The tips provided in this article will hopefully provide the beginner and intermediate snowmobiler with the confidence to adventure into the powder for a more enjoyable experience. Always ride within your abilities, pay attention and understand the terrain you are riding in. Most of all, have fun and be safe!