Introducing Your Spouse to Mountain Sledding (Without Being Murdered)
When I first met my wife, she wasn’t a sledder. That’s not to say that she had never been on a snowmobile. Rather, like many Canadians, she had spent some time roaring around a farm on an old rattlebang as a kid. She had also done some trail riding and had been out ice fishing a few times. But she didn’t live and breathe snowmobiles like so many of us do.
Her transformation over the last 15 years—from occasionally riding around a field to a full-blown obsession—has been an interesting voyage for us both. Throughout this journey there have been triumphs and defeats, bent parts and injured limbs. But she also experienced the euphoria of cresting a hill or breaking a trail that she had never before thought possible.
Throughout this process we learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t when it came to introducing your spouse to mountain sledding—especially one who has direct access to your food and/or the opportunity to hold a pillow over your face while you sleep.
With that in mind, here is some advice on introducing your spouse to mountain sledding (without being murdered).
Introducing Your Spouse to Mountain Sledding
This is huge. In fact, I cannot stress this enough. We have been out with couples and watched as the newbie is reduced to tears because their mentor is so frustrated with them getting stuck or tipping over. Guess what—it’s going to happen. Relax and enjoy it. We actually talked to a rookie rider once who was afraid to go off the trail. Not because she was worried about getting stuck, but because she was tired of getting yelled at by her partner. Guess how much fun her day was?
This one can be tricky because it can be hard to vocalize what we may have learned over many years of riding and express it to a beginner. If you are using the word “just” you are probably generalizing too much. “Just pin it” or “Just give’r” are almost completely useless phrases when guiding someone through an unfamiliar obstacle. Rather, explain why they may need more throttle than they would normally use, and when to use it. We have all heard someone shout, “I TOLD YOU TO PIN IT!” followed by, “I DID!” And the fight is on—usually caused by a lack of communication and concise explanation.
When helping an inexperienced person learn to sled in the mountains, ALWAYS keep safety as your number one priority. Take a moment and think through the consequences. What would happen if your trainee doesn’t manage to hold that sidehill? Does it mean you turn around and try it again, or does it mean that they are heading over a cliff? When they grab a handful of throttle (per your instruction), what happens if they don’t let off soon enough? Always think through the possible repercussions as you make your paths and terrain choices throughout the day.
There are many riding areas that have easy, or even groomed trails to the alpine. It is entirely possible to get on top of a mountain and have the great views without requiring Burandt-like talent to get there. Even if it seems “boring” to you, pick riding areas which are suitable for someone who is new to the sport. If they have only been out riding a few times, then it’s probably not the best idea to break trail up a ravine into that third bowl you found on Google Earth. Try to remember that you weren’t born dropping cornices! There was a day when you could get stuck in the parking lot too.
You need to remain near your protégé at all times (unless it’s a planned absence). You won’t win any husband of the year awards by leaving your spouse buried in the snow for 45 minutes while you play in the trees. Worst case scenario, it could even be dangerous if they end up pinned under the sled. Stick nearby enough to help out the moment you are needed.
I had helped my wife get unstuck for years without putting much thought into it, until one day she attended a clinic in which she was trained on some techniques for self-extraction. As it turns out, I just hadn’t been explaining what exactly I was doing in an understandable fashion.
It’s hard to perform a task if you don’t know why you are doing it, and the same holds true for snowmobiling techniques. Something as simple as opening the hood and showing how the clutch grabs the belt can help a new rider understand exactly what is happening when the throttle is squeezed (and help save a smoked belt perhaps). There is a lot to riding that a seasoned veteran may take for granted, and it’s hard to know which little piece of the puzzle will help someone in different situations. So don’t spare the details!
Encourage Your Spouse to Attend a Clinic
No matter how good a teacher you are, or how advanced your “student” is, there is great value to be found in attending a skills clinic. There can be a lot to learn from someone with different perspectives and a different skill set. Especially a skilled instructor who helps riders find solutions to overcome the same obstacles, day-in and day-out. Your spouse may even come back and teach you a trick or two!
In addition, learning with a group of riders of a similar ability level can be a supportive and uplifting experience. There are also numerous ride clinics that cater exclusively to groups of women riders in particular, which may provide an especially supportive and encouraging learning environment.
Get the Gear
If you are in avalanche terrain, you need the gear and the training. Don’t think that strapping your old, retired transceiver on your spouse is a good idea. And what if they need to rescue you? Ensure that everyone has all of the tools and skills required to get the job done. Take an avy course together. It’s a good excuse to brush up on your knowledge anyway. Practicing by playing transceiver games at home is a good way to learn and have fun together at the same time too.
Yes, we covered this already, just wanted to mention it again…
Riding with Your Spouse and Watching Their Skills Improve
I have been using my wife and our experience as an example here. However, these pointers can easily be applied to anyone who loves sledding and finds themselves with the opportunity to introduce their significant other to the sport. As your spouse’s skill level increases, you will find yourselves having more fun together, exploring new areas and riding more. After all, it’s much easier to get out for a ride together as a couple! No one gets left behind and you don’t have to scramble if someone else bails on you. You’ll always have a riding buddy close by.
Riding with your spouse and watching their skills improve is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding times you can have—unless you actually go riding to get away from your partner, in which case I’m not sure why you are still reading this. The only downside is when she orders herself a brand-new sled after you’ve decided to hold off for another year. Oh well, maybe she will let me ride it once or twice.