Protection Tips From a Professional Backcountry Rider


You know even though it’s February and such, I haven’t really been out riding the snow machine like most.  I know there are tons of powder in the country here on the west coast of the New Found Land; the snow just doesn’t seem to be letting up.  I knock on wood as I say this in hopes that it doesn’t quit, that the snow keeps falling, blessing us with an abundance of snow for the warmer months to come.  Hence the reason I have yet to be doing much riding. 

Regardless of the snow which we do have, there are a few things that keep me back from hopping on the sled and trying to rip apart everything I see.  Most of the reasons stem from the style of riding I enjoy.  If you’re riding through the backcountry as a person who suffers from Line Syndrome, you’re viewing every mound, pile and lump of snow, every embankment, hillside and tree line, all the little cliff faces and powder filled barrens as places to shove your sled.  And while that’s all fine and dandy like 2 stroke candy, however, your chances of all of those spots having a horrid life and sled threatening monster, hiding just below the surface of the snow...all the more greater. 

Stumps, rocks, shrubs, trees and all of their little buddies are everywhere and super exposed in the first months of winter and I know this because I was previously employed as an official rock detector.  Now of course these dangers are present the whole year through...but not as much as in the early months.  Skis, a arms, shocks, bulkheads, side panels...all expensive, all much more enjoyable still on the sled intact rather than buckled into a position in which they clearly don't belong. 

But while that does suck the big one (sure nobody wants to spend dollars and have downtime with a wrecked snowmobile) it’s not nearly as bad as the downtime you would succumb to if you broke some other parts.  Your own parts.  Although less costly to fix (If you’re Canadian) your body doesn’t quite repair as easily.  It’s not like you can swap out a few discs in the ol' spine for some new ones or throw in an OEM knee or front tooth. 

The toys recover much quicker than us, no therapy or braces for 12 weeks required for them.  No post op sitting in the shed to heal up after changing out your secondary.  For this reason I enjoy dressing up as a transformer before I ride. Body Armor!! The more the merrier of course. 

If you’re going to ride, and ride hard, dress for it.  Your body is the vehicle for your mind...ensure its safety.  A helmet that fits well, and you actually take the time to fasten it correctly to shield the ol' noodle, because you only get one. But the helmet is obvious, and required by law of course, but the rest of your body needs protection as well...there is some other pretty important stuff south of the jaw line.  Like the chest...which I think is pretty darn neat, the heart and the lungs, the ribs are bombing around in there...just a whole lot going on. 

A chest protector or "Tek Vest" is a piece of gear that I think every snowmobiler regardless of how they ride, should wear.  Even if you trail ride, for the sake of something so small (and it blocks the wind) it will truly be worth the money if you happen to find yourself detecting an under surface lurker.   All right, now...listen.  Stop thinking doos, cats, poos n yamys for a second, get the spark plugs and thumb wrenches out of your head for a brief moment as I talks to you. You can't say you weren’t warned, I mean come on there’s been a law about this since 1687. 

Sir Isaac Newton figured all of this out long ago.  Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.  Well now.  Guess that means if you and your Venture are uniformly enjoying a swift state of motion through some freshly groomed tailage, and you intend to remain in that state of motion blissfully unaware that an underground creek has decided to make a hole in the "freshly" groomed trail and your ski just happens to slip underneath.  Well now guess what?  Your uniform motion mobile just met up with its external force, and I guess they haven’t chatted in quite some time because it’s decided to make a rather abrupt stop. 

As if that’s not enough rain on your parade, how about the fact that now you’re still uniformly in motion and your once enjoyable state of motion mobile is now the external force awaiting to be applied to your chest. Whew.  Handlebars + Chest = punctured lung, or broken ribs.  Or nothing at all? But why take the risk? Is it worth it?  I know I once had 6 stitches right through the ol' eyebrow that now displays a nice scar from that very awkward story that I just related.  Yes its me, I'm the Venture guy. Only it wasn’t a Venture, it was a formula 500 long track with a 2 inch paddle....God love her.   But there is my rant on chest protection...you don't have to be looking for trouble for trouble to find you.  Better safe than sorry as they say. Whoever “they” are. 

Kidney Belts are another great piece that I’m sure lots of you already wear just because it’s pleasant on the lower back, especially through the whoops and the not so freshly groomed trails.  Knee pads and shin pads help and are a necessity depending on what style chassis you’re sticking your rear on. 

Now I was talking about how I wasn’t riding...and I guess there’s my explanation. 

Although I have been out on a few rides, I’m saving my resources and monies for the spring months.  Mmmm, there’s something to be said about snowmobiling in a hoodie and mechanic gloves and having sweat soaked hair when you take your helmet off.  I think the word is pleasant! I hate being cold. Cold means being uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable means miserable and all that added together just means eff this.  For me anyways.

Evidently I’m not cut out to be a woodsmen.  Like the 65 year old man you see ripping by with a huskavarna chainsaw and a load of wood in tow that he obviously just cut, plaid jacket, fur hat, exposed face... with a smoke going of course.  Icicles hanging from his whisker that im convinced is actually steel wool…not hair. A great idea is to dress like the Michelin Man for the way in, thick mitts, balaclava and/or neck warmer, multiple layers and all that good stuff.  And when you do reach your destination, the little area that just begs to be taken advantage of, haul out the backpack.  It’s good to have a few pairs of gloves, socks and hoodies for the sheer fact that if you work up a sweat on a day that’s -15 degrees, that very sweat that was once evidence of heat leaving your body, is now clinging on for dear life in the form of ice when your shirt or gloves soak it up.  That makes for a horrible ride back out, even more so if you’re lacking a windshield and your bars set your hands up 9 inches into the elements. 

I sense some foreshadowing here.  For shortly I will be heading home, and building my arsenal of equipment for a ride tomorrow morning.  It calls for -15...with a wind chill of -23ish. Now I know that’s not absolutely freezing by any means.  I have experienced some pure death temperatures myself, but when you’re in the backcountry with an open faced helmet, thin gloves, and rolling through the powder once the sled throws you off...it gets chilly.  Even more so if you’re the sucker that has to take the gloves off to grab the camera.  Brutal. 

Thanks for reading,

Greg O'Brien