The Early Days of Mountain Riding: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…Mostly the Ugly
Many of today’s mountain sledders were not born until the 80s or even the 90s. If you are that young you not only missed out on a decade of the greatest music ever produced, you also missed out on mullets and colour-coordinated leather snowmobile suits. I am truly sorry for your deprivation. While it is hard to comprehend someone going through life without knowing that the Beastie Boys fought for their right to party, here are a few other things that this new generation of mountain maulers has missed out on in the early days.
Photos by Marty Anderson and Jason Rowley
Carburetors Without Altitude Compensation
That’s right, there was a time when we would disassemble our carbs to re-jet them to get the correct fuel mixture as we climbed in elevation. Nothing spells fun like pouring gas all over your hands in the howling wind and then digging under the engine for that screw that you dropped, all while sitting on the side of the trail at 8000′ above sea level. Reading plugs to determine jetting was an art form itself, and we were good at it—mainly because we pulled the plugs and checked them approximately four hundred times a day. As an added bonus, if you got lazy and didn’t change the jetting back on the way down the mountain you would lean out and melt a piston two miles from the truck; but it ran awesome until then!
Early mountain climbers didn’t have 2.5″ or 3″ rubber and kevlar paddle tracks to chew through the snow; instead the tracks had lugs under 1″ tall and we would bolt hard plastic paddles onto the track. These 90° polyurethane shredders of death really chewed through the snow (or anything else they came in contact with including helmets, clothing, limbs and small animals). If the trail got icy you could also have the good fortune of your sled unexpectedly skating sideways with absolutely zero control. Who knew that rock-hard plastic didn’t grip on ice very well? If you were really lucky these paddles would occasionally fly off and tear out a heat exchanger or split your track in half too. Truly good times.
Parking on the Flat so You Don’t Flood the Engine
This was another fantastic little side-effect of the carburetor: sometimes if you parked with your nose pointing downhill it would proceed to fill the engine with fuel. Entirely. I mean a flood so bad that you half expected an ark to show up as you watched the raw fuel run out of your exhaust pipe. This was especially true of some of the rotary valve engines of the time due to their ability to stop with a port wide open, although the piston-ported engines were not immune to this either. Once this happened you had no choice but to shut the fuel off, pull the spark plugs out, grab the starter cord and yank like you were pulling a grizzly bear off of your sister. Oh yeah, we didn’t have electric start back then either.
Removing the Hood
Back before rider-forward designs revolutionized the sled world, we basically rode a giant bathtub covered by a heavy fiberglass resin hood. We would drill the pins out of the hinges and put in quick release clips so the hood could be taken off easily and left at the bottom of the hill. This resulted in up to 30lbs of instant weight savings as well as a supply of clean, cool air to the engine and clutches. It cannot be understated how big a performance gain could be had for $2.79 in hitch clips. The real pros would also make a bracket to mount the tach up on the handlebars (turned so that your peak rpm was at the 12 o’clock position of course!). Today’s unlucky generation can spend $1000 on an aftermarket hood only to lose less weight than the pizza pockets in their belly. I weep for them.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Before the days of plastic skis you only had two options. Either buy expensive “ski skins”, which were plastic covers to go over your factory steel skis, or just live with the bare metal. As appealing as an all metal ski may sound to you there is a reason they are only found in museums now: the metal liked to freeze to the snow when you stopped. You could actually get stuck on a flat trail if you sat long enough to eat your cold, dry gas station sandwich (we certainly never had them new-fangled food cookers strapped onto the muffler). After filling your belly with empty white carbs, soggy lettuce and sodium nitrates it was always good to get the heart pumping again by having to lift your sled up and scrape the ice off of your skis before it would even move.
The Early Days of Mountain Riding: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
There are many other little nuances that people take for granted now that made mountain riding more challenging back in the day. Less than 5 inches of suspension travel made a cornice drop something you never did intentionally. A big drop more likely meant a trip to the hospital than a spot in your buddy’s shaky camcorder edit. Gore-Tex and other water-repelling clothing were virtually unheard of so we stayed wet and heavy until we sat long enough to freeze stiff. Heated grips were also rare so our wet gloves would freeze in the permanent curl of the handlebar, which honestly made it easier to hold on.
On the plus side, we also didn’t have GoPros or cell phone cameras everywhere we went so, much like grandpa’s fish stories, our jumps got bigger every time the story was told—with no evidence to dispute it. The calibre of a riding feat was directly related to how many shots were consumed while telling the story in the pub afterwards. By the time the story was passed down through a couple of people, we clearly had Evel Knievel beat.
…Maybe I do miss those days.