In continuation to the article I wrote about Sharing the Wilderness, the question comes up, why not use a snowmobile for access to more ski touring zones? The idea has come up more than once. There are locations which took me over a week to travel through. I had to wait till the spring to access them so that some of the logging roads could be accessed by car. Meanwhile, snowmobiles have been able to go up there all winter and cross the entire area and back in just a day.
I drool at the thought of snowmobiling to new areas and summiting new peaks and skiing new lines but in the end I keep to my skins and leave the thought of owning a snowmobile to fantasy.
I have a few reasons for ditching the snowmobile.
I am cheap.
Snowmobiles are expensive. The cost of gas, a truck or trailer to carry it and maintenance is just too great.
Noise and Smell
I don't head into the mountains to hear engines and smell fumes. It's to hear the little sounds of running water, wind over the snow and through the trees and the birds. It's to smell the freshness of pine and spruce or simply no smell at all but an unmistakable freshness.
They are large avalanche triggers
These machines are heavy and their stress bulb penetrates deep in the snowpack, potentially triggering dangerous slab avalanches.
Snowmobiles burn fossil fuels.
I know somebody somewhere is moaning at that sentence but it's true. Although I may often consider myself a tree-hugging environmentalist, there's more to this reasoning than the concern over hurting the planet. Oil is a limited resource. Yes there is still plenty but rising cost is pure proof that it's becoming harder to find. Oil is important. Our civilization as a whole depends on it. I depend on it. My jackets are plastic, my skis are plastic, my pack is plastic, my food is cultivated using oil consuming agricultural machines, all these things are transported to my hometown on machines that run on oil products. My demands as a consuming individual require oil. Because I myself as well as the world rely so much on oil, I cannot advocate riding on an oil consuming machine for pleasure. Oil after all is limited. As we search for more sources to this oil, more and more, wilderness shrinks.
Glaciers are receding. Some may continue to debate the cause but it is scientifically proven that the carbon footprint of our race is to blame in accelerating this recession of glaciation. I find glaciers beautiful and their retreat is sad to me. Not only that, as they retreat and thin, more crevasses open up. Cliffs which had a ramp of ice covering them are now exposed and un-passable. Weather is also changing, temperature norms are changing and all this affects winters. Riding a snowmobile for pleasure isn't the source of the problem but I would be a hypocrite to ride one and bemoan the retreat of glaciers as well as whine about the the rising prices of gas and food. Snowmobiles damage the very environments they visit. Even if I weren't cheap, this alone trumps that.
All that said, I believe snowmobiles should exist. Snowmobiles provide quick means of transportation which is often essential for rescue purposes. There are also many who aren't capable of visiting the wilderness on foot due to medical reasons. Personally, I am fit, I am healthy and have no reason to need to ride a snowmobile.
I love the adventure.
Finally, most of all, I love the adventure associated with travelling on foot. There is something about exploring areas under your own power which is hard to explain. Idols like John Clarke and John Baldwin inspire me to go further and reach out into far away areas. There are more mountains than a snowmobile can access but with enough dedication, on foot I may one day explore any area I'm motivated enough to visit. Hiking and ski touring isn't an adrenaline packed sport like mountain biking, skiing or snowmobiling but it offers something else. A resplendent natural beauty exists in the wilderness and I urge everyone to experience it.
It's not always adrenaline but there is a rush. The final steps to the top of a mountain is an exhilarating feeling. The more challenging the mountain, the stronger the feeling. It's the feeling of accomplishment; the emotions that fill the chest are that of awe, pride and celebration. Nothing gets the heart racing more than fear when crossing a raging river on a slippery log or skinning over a crevasse on a thin snow bridge while peering into the void. I constantly strive to ski new lines. Every day it's a new run, new mountains, new views. The options are endless.
I won't deny that spending multiple days in the mountains in the wilderness is hard. Sometimes I wonder why I would put up with such unpleasant and uncomfortable conditions. There are moments of pain, moments where you are cold and alone, where you wish the physical exhaustion would end. It's not always easy.
Sometimes you wish you were at home in your comfortable bed. There are moments when the reward is just not worth it anymore.
So why do those of who pursue this sort of adventure continue to persist? Because the reward is always worth the effort in the end. Because we can. Because it's there. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
I strongly believe in self propelled travel through the wilderness. It creates a connection with our natural surroundings as well as provides an escape from our busy lives filled with noise, media, information and people. In addition it's extremely low impact and relatively cheap.
Travelling for multiple days at a time in the wild isn't for everyone. Time constraints, family obligations, physical and mental limitations make that such adventure isn't always possible for everyone. Although the reward is larger the greater the adventure, that's not to say that there is little reward in smaller self propelled trips. Ski touring, hiking and mountaineering over the course of 1 or 2 days can be extremely rewarding. With lighter packs, those who want to focus on skiing or a climbing objective can do so more easily.
I encourage those contemplating snowmobiles to instead consider putting the time and effort into doing it all on foot. Get outside and enjoy yourself. Take nice pictures, ski fantastic powder, bring good food and go with good friends. Wether you choose to ride a machine or hike up yourself, in the end it's all about getting outside and enjoying the wilderness.