Ladies’ Ride at the Playground

Newbie, Susan Lohrer learned quickly the art of getting stuck

by Susan Lohrer

Susan Lohrer experiencing her first creek drainage stuck with a helping hand from her sled sister Trish Drinkle.
Susan Lohrer experiencing her first creek drainage stuck with a helping hand from her sled sister Trish Drinkle. Robyn Ostlund photo

As a newbie to snowmobiling, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a ladies’ ride. Trish Drinkle, president of the Kokanee Snowmobile Club, had organized an event at the Playground, a popular sledding destination up Char Creek, and it sounded like a lot of learning and a lot of fun. I signed up, attended a tech talk and borrowed a Polaris Pro from Trish’s husband.

The morning of the ride I was outfitted in my warm (and stylish) Motorfist gear.

We stocked my backpack with a shovel, probe and enough clothing and food to last me at least an extra day, and I carried a radio in my pocket and a beacon strapped to my person. We discussed staying away from areas that could pose a risk from avalanches, as the danger rating was high that day. All that plus a fair amount of experience on motorcycles and hours spent studying videos of people shredding powder, and I thought I was prepared for my first day sledding.

Turns out I had no idea what I was getting into.

The art of getting stuck

My opening manoeuvre, which I repeated without fail the entire day: Can’t even pull a rope. All of the other riders graciously took turns pull-starting my sled, and each of them made it roar to life on the first try. I started to suspect that snowmobilers are somewhat more physically fit than your average 43-year-old desk jockey (like me, for example).

My next move was a combo: No throttle control, and launch myself from the sled. At that point the group must’ve been silently groaning—and we still hadn’t left the staging area.

But I climbed back on, and we headed up the trail with my mind firmly on my throttle hand. I mimicked the body position of the rider in front of me, and my burning quadriceps created a deep admiration for the athleticism of these sledders.

Tired though I already was, the fun part was still ahead, so I soldiered on, and soon we reached the bottom of the innocuously named Shortcut. Here I demonstrated the third trick in my growing repertoire, arguably a common one in this sport: Getting stuck. My talent for getting stuck would repeat itself endlessly throughout the day, always followed momentarily by can’t even pull a rope. But it was OK, because I had 10 people who happily got me going again.

I’d heard the Shortcut isn’t as steep as it looks, but trust me, it is. I meekly rode squirrel up what seemed to be a vertical cliff and gained a vast respect for the skill of the rider doubling me—and all the other riders who made it up on their own without incident. Someone else brought up my sled, and somehow I was deemed capable of riding down the back of the shortcut. I managed to live up to everyone’s faith in me despite the fact that my heart had permanently lodged in my throat.

More trail riding ensued. This was good; this, I could do—except my untrained quadriceps were refusing to let me stand up. While I wasn’t ready to believe such a thing could happen to me after just 15 minutes of riding, I did start to wonder if I would need to be carried down the mountain like a piece of luggage by the time the day was over.

To make things interesting, my glasses decided to fog up so badly that I took them off, preferring to be nearly blind than completely blind. At the low speed we were travelling, I was able to follow along pretty well. It was all good. I was exhausted but I wasn’t getting stuck. I was having fun, dammit.

Finally, finally we reached the Playground, an open, gently rolling area beneath the power lines. Maybe it was the sheer beauty of all that fluffy snow and the purity of the air, but something gave my legs their second wind. The powder was epic—even I could tell that. Although perhaps I could sense the epicness especially well because of all the time I spent getting stuck in it (and let’s not forget that was followed by can’t even pull a rope).

What patience my fellow riders had with me that day, showing me how to stand, digging me out, and setting me on my way to try it all again!

The first time I managed to correctly put my wrong foot forward and carve an actual circle in the powder while waving one leg for leverage, I felt like a rock star. And then I found myself facing a tree, and I stopped (without getting stuck) and asked, “How do I not hit this tree?” I got an excellent lesson and in moments, hanging off the other side of the sled with a leg waving behind me again, I manoeuvred the sled around the tree. I could do this!

It didn’t matter that my second wind was wearing off or that the light was flat and my eyesight rivaled Mr. Magoo’s. I was shredding, baby! I was on top of the world.

With such success piling up, it was the obvious time for me to pull out Operation Bury the Polaris, a masterful combination of no throttle control, launch myself from the sled, getting stuck, and can’t even pull a rope. That not only won me the title of Best Stuck of the Day, it also proved the end to my carving—not because the Polaris or I were hurt but because my legs had turned into bags of wet cement and I couldn’t stand up at all anymore. Trish, who could have frolicked in the powder, chose to hang out with me and make sure I was mentally OK.

After a much-needed rest, one of the guys headed back down with me at a slower pace than the others would take. During yet another rest below the shortcut, he remembered a trick visually challenged riders use. He warmed up my glasses and goggles, and I could see. What a treat! Off we went along the trail, and Operation Bury the Polaris turned out to be my last stuck of the day.

I was humbled that day. Not just because I was out of my league skill-wise and endurance-wise, but because of the people I rode with. I felt incredibly cared for and safe the entire day. I trusted these people with my life, and they earned that trust with every word and every action.

My takeaway? Trust in your fellow riders is really what a ladies’ ride is about—and what every ride should be about.

 

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