Mother Nature is a narcissistic, maniacal b… beast.
After a season where the floodgates were opened and thick layers of snow covered the West from October to June, she comes back with a season that starts with two pitiful storms in the three months most people get the most miles in.
But it sure makes our job interesting. We don’t have the option of waiting it out or parking sleds until the snow gets deep enough. We have stuff to test, places to be and pictures to take.
Because of the thin snow cover, this season’s SnoWest Deep Powder Challenge between the three 800 mountain sleds focused less on Deep Powder and more on Challenge.
The challenge of finding snow deep enough to get a sled stuck in. The challenge of having any hifax left after finally reaching any measureable amount of snow. The challenge of seeing which OEM deep-snow track hooked up best on rocks. The challenge of picking your way through the bottom six feet of tight timber rather than the top six feet (which gives you a little more space to squeeze through).
We might be limited on data showing which sled best does a downhill powder carve into an uphill turn, but we can tell you all sorts of stories about which machine bashes over wet, fallen logs. By the time we head back to the trailer, our test areas look less like a winter scene and more like an endurocross track.
The Deep Powder Challenge isn’t the only test we’ve had to tackle with thin snow conditions. Imagine showing up at a gated compound, throwing a leg over a 2013 prototype mountain sled and then following the OEM engineer up open creek bottoms, over gigantic fallen logs, through jagged rock gardens and across half-brown sidehills. Our rule of thumb is only be as hard on the equipment as the guys who handed you the keys to it. Kind of like when the clerk at the rental car office brings your Ford Focus around in a full, rally-style drift.
Getting photos stockpiled for the coming magazine season isn’t easy, either. Composing an action shot in such a way that the dirt in the foreground, the weeds off to the side and the pool of standing water in the background aren’t showing—all the while trying to make the sled appear to be carving through waist-deep powder—is about like making an omelet with cake mix, Doritos and General Tso’s chicken.
But just as January was winding down, the expected finally happened: it snowed. One storm came through and, in just a 24-hour period, doubled our mountain snowpack. Riding on 13.8 inches of fresh snow was so refreshing, we almost forgot about the 13.8 feet we had last year.
But at least the logs were covered again. For the first guy, anyway.