Mountain riding is like no other sledding experience, the beauty of the backcountry along with the challenging terrain has lead to a massive explosion in this sledding segment. Mountain sled sales account for a huge portion of each manufacturers total sled sales. More and more people are drawn to the backcountry to partake is this fantastic sport, and we have seen towns like Revelstoke, always a popular destination, explode with sledders coming from all parts of the world to enjoy Revy's famous snow and terrain. We at Sled-Revy after seeing so many new sledders to the backcountry, we thought we should help make their first few trips more enjoyable by covering some of the basics when it comes to sledding in the mountains.
This article is not about mountain riding techniques so much, it is about how to prepare for your first trip or the first couple of trips you and your group are planning to take to the mountains to experience the awesome backcountry mountain riding experience.
What to do, how to prepare:
Most first-time riders to the backcountry are often coming from the mid-west, prairies or eastern parts of Canada or the United States, and perhaps have ridden sleds lots in the flat land, or lake country but have limited knowledge about riding in the backcountry. Riding in the mountains will be a new and awesome experience, and the first-time riding will be filled with great memories, awesome pictures and hopefully a desire to return to the mountains for more adventures. We at Sled-Revy have put together this article to help first time riders to help you prepare for your first backcountry sled adventure.
Get into shape:
Most flatlanders will be challenged by the elevation change, for the Revy area, most riding is done in the 4000-7,000-foot range and this is pretty low elevation when compared to many places in the United States, where riding takes place at 10,000 feet or more. To help deal with and prepare for this elevation change, you need to build your cardio capacity and efficiency. That means working out, on a treadmill, elliptical, at the gym or running, there is no secret to cardio fitness, you must exercise to get fit. There is lots of info on the web on how to build your aerobic and anaerobic capacity, the key is to start and start early. Related to cardio fitness is general fitness, lift weights and build capacity, endurance muscles, rather than bulking up. You want to be able to function all day in a challenging environment and so you need to be in as best shape you can be heading to the mountains. If you are not in good shape, the challenge will be mental and muscle fatigue related to less oxygen. You will be using muscles you may not have used, like the ones you will use to get yourself or your buddies unstuck. Like any specialized sport, there are certain muscle groups most people just do use on a regular basis, so if you get to the gym and workout, you can mitigate these issues. Getting unstuck, helping friends get unstuck, as well as navigating the terrain will tax your body, being tired while riding in the mountains will often lead to rider errors and getting stuck more often. Often people will make riding errors because their brain is oxygen deprived as well as their muscles might be fatigued resulting in having less control of your sled, so the sled and terrain control you. If you are reacting from the terrain, rather than to the terrain, this often leads to rider errors, getting sucked into tree wells, running in to stationary objects or getting stuck more often, creating a vicious cycle of tiredness. It is very hard to sled yourself into shape, and certainly on a short trip to the mountains, you want to enjoy every moment of your time in the backcountry, so get into shape and make the most of the sled trip.
Food and Water:
Eating well every day you are in the mountains is important, have a big breakfast, pack a lunch and make sure you have a good dinner, you will be burning more calories than usual. Pack snacks and lots of water, more water than you think you need, drinking water all day and after riding will help mitigate many of the elevation issues as well as help with muscle and mental fatigue. With a trip to the mountains many people will include alcohol, either on the hill, or after riding, either way alcohol consumption will affect your ability to ride. Alcohol increases fatigue, fogs your ability to make good decisions and slows your reaction time. Alcohol will further affect your elevation sickness and will inhibit your physical and mental recovery. We recommend riding and drinking water, lots of it, you can’t drink enough.
Where to ride:
Once you have chosen a mountain destination, you need to do some research online to help plan a successful trip. Know where your hotel is, where restaurants are, and where the staging areas are located. Other important things that will make it a great trip will include, what riding permit information you need, if there are trails, are there groomed trails, what are the riding area boundaries and restrictions. While online, review the riding maps, terrain and any GPS coordinates of the key areas, reference spots as well as warming huts. Put these into your GPS in advance, at home when you have the time. Use Google Earth to get a further overview of the riding areas, terrain, drainages and as well as the roads and turn off to the staging areas and where to unload your sleds. Planning these little things in advance will help you get on the hill and enjoying the trip sooner, no one wants to be lost and unsure where to unload your sled or here the best places to ride, you want to get on the hill and enjoy the most of your day. As with most sledding destinations, Revelstoke has designated staging areas and groomed trails that lead to warming huts, all maintained by the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club. The Club provides maps and trail guides and we recommend you review their webpage and be familiar with the material in advance. You need to know that there are areas, at times, closed to snowmobiling for habitat protection, as well as other terrain and natural features that should be avoided for safety reasons including avalanche hazards. If you are using the groomed trails in Revelstoke, you will be required to buy a daily trail permit from the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club at the trail head. There are further permitting requirements the province requires, it is your responsibility to comply with all local, state and provincial requirements, noncompliance hurts all users and can lead to consequences including bad press, fines, and anti-sledding groups using noncompliance sledders as an example to push for more land closures. Check the weather and avalanche conditions before you leave on your trip as well as each morning, avalanche conditions for your riding area can and will change daily, ride smart, ride safe. Weather can change quickly and dramatically, being aware of changing conditions will affect where you ride and help keep you safe.
For your first time riding to a new area in the backcountry we highly recommend that you use a local guide, someone who knows the area, will help keep you safe, help with logistics as well as help ensure you have a great trip. If you are going to the mountains by yourself, it is imperative that you DO NOT ride alone, again hire a guide, your life is worth the fee. Wherever you ride, plan in advance to help make the most of your time in the mountains, to ensure you have a great trip as well as arrive home safe.
Rent or bring your own sled:
This quandary will depend upon a variety of factors, to bring or rent your sled. If you are planning on flying to your destination, obviously you will be renting. But many people choose to drive to their mountain destination and such, will choose to use their own sleds. Many people bring their own sleds to the backcountry, and certainly with the popularity of cross over sleds or the popularity of mountain specific sleds in the flat land, this may not be a major issue. The things to keep in mind is the power to weight and the flotation ability of your own sled. The reason why the 800 or now the 850cc class with a 165”, or 163” inch track is the standard most riders use is because the larger displacement sleds provide the power needed to rotate the longer tracks. As well, the longer tracks provide greater floatation, the power and flotation are what has made the new generation of mountain specific sleds so versatile and capable to conquer much more of the terrain than just a few years ago. There certainly is debate over the “ideal” mountain sled track length, however, the vast majority we see on the hills are in the 160” range, there are the 150” and 170’s” out there and both are great options, but if you are going to rent, we suggest the 160” track length. So, if you are going to bring your own sled, be aware that on deep snow days, your 146” track is going to limit where you can ride and may, depending on your ability, lead to you being stuck a lot more. If you are bringing your own sled make sure it is set up for the area you plan to ride, clutching, is crucial, check with your dealer or go onto sled forums to see what people are doing to ensure you get the most out of your sled. Do a thorough inspection of your sled or bring it to your dealer and ensure it is in top running condition, tell them you are heading to the mountains and ask what they recommend for your sled. If you break down in the backcountry you often cannot pull your sled out to your vehicle, necessitating an expensive alternative like a helicopter rescue. Either way, a broken-down sled means you are not riding and probably your buddies are not riding, that’s never good when you travel to ride in the backcountry. If you are planning to rent, make sure you reserve your sled, in many popular destinations, rental outfitters are often fully booked in advance, plan ahead and reserve your sled. The benefits of renting are you often get the latest and greatest sled, you might have an opportunity to try different brands as well, plus the sled will be set up properly and ready to go for you. Renting a sled takes many of the headaches out of your trip, just show up and ride.
What to pack on your sled/backpack:
We created a full list and explanation to what you should pack with you each and every time you head into the backcountry, you can read that story here. Packing and carrying a few key items will help ensure you have a safe and fun trip. I remember once, a group of two sledders asked to join our group as we took a short cut, the short cut turned out to be impassible due to low snow. We had to hand pull sleds up and out, all while cutting willows to get a path. We asked the two sledders if they had a saw or a few other items, they stated that they only brought “snow pants and liquor”. While it is a funny statement now, we were less than amused at the time. So, make sure you bring more than snow pants and liquor when you head to the backcountry.
Mountain Riding Techniques:
As stated at the start of this article, this article in NOT about backcountry riding techniques, rather how to plan for a successful trip. However, we would be remise if we didn’t include at least a few links to backcountry riding techniques. These are just a starting point and there are lots of links on the web for further research.
How to get unstuck:
We here at Sled-Revy love sledding in the backcountry and we want this awesome sport to grow, our sport needs continued growth to ensure it is a viable sport and to push back against the ant-motorized eco groups. So, we hope you take at least one trip a year to the backcountry, and like so many of us that started with one trip, are now avid and regular sledders enjoying the backcountry. We hope that you enjoyed this article, please share it with people you know that are planning a trip out west.
We are people that love sledding in the backcountry, we love getting out and away from the crowds and enjoying the challenge of the deep snow and mountains. We love the Revelstoke area, we believe it to be the best place to backcountry sled. We are people that dedicate a lot of time to becoming better sledders and we want to pass this passion onto others as we believe there is no better sport than sledding in the backcountry.