Snowmobiling is unique in that a small seasonal transition changes all the variables we depend on to ride. If it warms up, it could rain. Warmer temperatures also mean your sled's going to operate differently than it did in January. Snow becomes more difficult to access and harder to ride because of its drastic changes from ice to slush in a matter of hours. And the move from winter to summer decreases the chances of frostbite and increases the odds of sunburn.
But spring is a wonderful time to get out and ride.
It's hard to beat a day on the hill in sunshine so warm you can wear a t-shirt. On cool mornings riding up the ice-hard trails brings encouragement. Spring conditions allow you to go just about anywhere you dare point the handlebars. You can drop into canyons and off ridges you normally wouldn't try for fear of being stuck at the bottom with nowhere to go. But in the spring, you can get back out, or have an easier time exploring new lines out the bottom.
Spring snow is very inviting. The top three to six inches usually soften up enough to allow your sled's track to penetrate, yet the snow is firm enough to keep the running boards from dragging and give maximum traction.
Last spring, in the Centennial Mountains near Island Park, ID, Diamond S' Scott Stevens climbed out of four different chutes that no one in their right mind would have touched any other time of the year. Of course, no one in their right mind would have done it in the spring, either, but that explains Stevens. The point is, the mountain isn't going to stop your sled like it did in the middle of winter. Which leads us to judgment.
What's left to stop you from climbing something so steep that you wind up in a dangerous situation with nowhere to turn? Nothing but you. You need to be aware of what's going on with your sled in spring conditions. The track and trail of the sled are riding up on the top of the snow surface-not one, two or three feet below the surface like in deep powder. Turning out on a steep hill involves more of an arcing turn rather than a swift pivot. You have to allow yourself as much room on both sides of you in a climb to turn out as it would take to make a 15-mph U-turn on flat ground, because the sled has to power through the turn.
Be careful what you choose to go up, because you'll likely have to come back down. And coming down steep mountains in spring snow is akin to a bobsled rocketing down a straight track. Because of the snow's texture and firmness, there is little drag or resistance slowing your machine. Braking doesn't do much, because the track is basically scraping the top layer of slush off the firmer snowpack. Don't climb anything that doesn't have a decent run out at the bottom.
Sidehilling is the same way. Since there's not much snow to cut into, sidehilling puts all of the sled's weight on the edge of the track. That increases the chances of the back end sliding out and makes it harder to hold a line.
Should you get stuck in an uphill position, keep in mind that the sled's track is in a hole that doesn't offer a whole lot of side-to-side movement. Pulling on the ski to try to bring the nose around could break or bend some of the steering components. It's best to shovel or kick out the snow on both sides of the track to free up the rear end first. Then carefully work the nose around. Get help if you can, because spring snow is also hard on windshields and hoods, if you get our drift.
Bring an avalanche beacon along on any spring mountain ride. Just because the weather seems so pleasant doesn't mean the chances of an avalanche have diminished.
Riding Style Changes
By now you should have made the connection that spring snow requires a different mentality. The sled will make a more aggressive weight transfer and have a higher tendency to lift the skis on a climb than before. This means you've either got to tighten the limiter straps a bit in the rear suspension or ride with more weight over the handlebars.
Keep your arms and legs loose to absorb the firmer bumps from the icy snow. Depending on how you ride the rest of the season, be prepared for a more jarring ride in the spring. The snow isn't going to give much if you pop off a cornice or hammer through a stretch of moguls.
What you wear in the spring is important, too. You might find it necessary to layer, because the mornings will likely be freezing while the afternoons will be overly warm. Wear a warm undershirt with a light shell. You'll still want the protection of an outer shell, but you don't want it to be heavily insulated. You probably won't need a balaclava, but do wear some sort of tinted eye protection and use sunscreen if you know it's going to be a scorcher. The snow reflects the sun's UV rays, which intensifies their effect on your skin.
Where To Ride
It's late March, your lawn is showing, it's warm enough to drive around with the windows down and you still want to ride. No problem. On an average year, most mountains hold snow above 8,000 feet long into spring. However, getting your sleds to the snow can be the most difficult part of the ride. Look for high mountain highways or maintained access roads that offer enough room off the side of the road to park. There are plenty of hot spring riding play areas. Fairview, UT, home of the unofficial Fairview Shootout in early April, has always had plenty of snow (except for one year) for the spring event. Cooke City, MT, is famous for late riding and even winter snow conditions in the late spring. It's not often you can ride in a foot of fresh powder or be caught in a blizzard in April. McCall, ID, is another spring riding mecca. But you don't have to travel to one of these destinations. It's likely that you're surrounded by good riding spots. If not, check out the locales advertising in this issue's special Spring Riding section for a great place to go.
Wherever you go, enjoy yourself. Springtime on a mountain is a time few two-legged animals get an opportunity to experience. Spring riding is extremely popular with the SnoWest