words and photos: Mark Clavin

Back in March I was lucky enough to go meet up with Red Gerard, his brother Malachi, Hailey Langland, and Raibu Katayama for a snowmobiling trip in British Columbia. The only problem was that I had never snowmobiled before. Growing up in Ohio, I shockingly did not ride dirt bikes, so besides a handful of times ripping around on a pit bike, I didn’t have much experience with an engine between my legs. To be honest, I don’t even really like going that fast. Mountain biking is a one way ticket to a broken collarbone in my eyes, and jetskiing hurts on choppy days (which are the only days I have ever gone jetskiing). The whole “being obsessed with fixing and rebuilding an engine” sounds expensive and doesn’t really interest me…but for some reason, snowmobiling with this crew and taking photos has always been on my bucket list. 

Hailey Langland laying down a turn. p: Clavin

To be clear, everyone knew my limitations and they decided I could jump on the trip anyway. I am forever grateful to them for taking me out and teaching me over the course of a few weeks. The trip had everything that I read about in the mags since I was a kid: bluebird days, clouds with low visibility, glacier lakes, heating up food on the engines. It was a side of snowboarding that I had never experienced, and I have to say I understand now why so many swear by it. Sure, flipping my borrowed sled more times than Mark Sollors has seen in a decade wasn’t the best time I had ever had, but nobody got hurt, the sled shockingly started up right away, and then they doubled me up so easily that I wondered why in the hell they made me try a hill climb that outside of my skill level on DAY TWO! Trial by fire doesn’t look as terrifying when it is on snow, but it is just as dangerous. We all had a big laugh and everyone said I needed to learn…so here are some of the things I learned while out in BC.

BTS from a jump session with Red Gerard out in Whistler. p: Clavin

First off, the whole thing is expensive. This is what always kept me from dipping my toes in the pond. These machines cost upwards of $15k new, not to mention the truck and sled deck you need to haul them around. Sure, you can go used on both, but if you get a good deal, everyone says the odds that they are going to explode or break down on you go up. Luckily, fellow photographer Aaron Blatt saved my budget by letting me learn on his old ride. From my understanding, tons of riders have been taught on that thing but by everyone’s account, I might have been its toughest student yet. Red, Kai, and Hailey all gave me plenty of tips, but it took a few days to start clicking. Every step forward was met with two steps back the next day–or in sledding terms, one massive whiskey throttle almost off a cliff and getting stuck in very stupid areas. Which brings me to another point…

Raibu and Mikey taking a few laps. p: Clavin

Snowmobiling is pretty dangerous. I never understood why people wore full-facemask helmets on these things until I literally just swung my leg over and realized how much power it has. Going 35 mph on a road with a cliff on every turn or with trees in the way is pretty intimidating, and everyone else was double my speed. I know it all gets better as you gain actual talent on the sled, but I am pretty inept on an engine, so when you are learning surrounded by mostly pros (and Raibu, my sketchy sled partner), it is pretty intimidating. Even on a glacial lake–flat and covered in snow–I found a way to get bucked off the sled and tweak some part of my body. It was never-ending. Sore from falling or trying to hang on for dear life then I would get stuck. And if just learning to ride (and doing it very wrong) wasn’t tiring enough on your arms, try digging a 500lb-plus sled out at the end of the day in deep snow and flipping it over multiple times just trying to get back home. Once again, my apologies to Kai. Thank you for always hanging behind, bailing me out! 

Kai Gerard showing proper parking technique. p: Clavin
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott stayed in Whistler for over a month this season. p: Clavin

These are all just some of the negatives I saw while learning. Sledding on a whole is a practice of doing your chores, being ready, and it all paying off. Unless you are so slow that you cause the whole crew to be late to the spot and a different group is already there and setting up a jump. Since there is a limited amount of times you can land in powder before the zone is a complete wash and dangerous to jump into, crews have to spread out. If you don’t get there first, you are out of luck. While our group was very kind, I knew I cost us a few. Wasted two bluebird days that we could have filmed because I was too slow on the path out. We’d hit the trailhead first and one-by-one I would see riders fly by me as I went half-speed, white knuckled, all while sweating profusely. I thought it was because I was out of shape; everyone else just knew it was because I was doing it wrong. 

My sledding professors. p: Clavin

The crew was my Mr. Miyagi and I felt like the Karate Kid, but way less Italian and nobody gave me a sweet headband at the end. I didn’t have to wax any sleds, but climbing up on the deck early in the morning to gas up when I should have just done it the night before was a pretty good lesson on being prepared. We played cards and ate good on the down days in Squamish, scored some great photos, and talked a lot of shit. I never engaged the turbo on hill (my teachers wouldn’t let me ride those sleds), but we sent it pretty hard at the house a few nights. Huge thanks to Chris Rasman, Mikey Rencz, Mikey Ciccareli, Mikkel Bang, and the Manboys crew for the hospitality and bonus lessons. Can’t thank Red, Hailey, Kai and Raibu enough for letting me tag along and learn. 

Anyone know of a deal on a cheap sled I can buy? 

We ran into Brock Crouch a few days as well! p: Clavin