Tips for taking a friend snowmobiling in the mountains

It's a huge responsibility but it can also be very rewarding for you and your friend

by Kirsten Armleder

A snowmobiler riding in the mountains
Introducing someone new to the sport you love can be rewarding. Nicole Matei photo

Taking a friend snowmobiling in the mountains for the first time may seem like a daunting task. Not only do you have to worry about their safety but your own as well. That is why it is important to begin with the basics.

“If you are bringing a new person into the backcountry, spend as much time with the transceiver, shovel and probe as you are going to spend teaching them how to ride a sled,” said Justin Boehm. “The biggest thing we say is the most inexperienced person should be one of the best people with their transceiver because if and when something happens, they are more than likely going to be the ones doing the rescue.” 

Boehm is the owner of Elk Valley Snow Shepherds, a business based in Fernie, B.C., that offers guided snowmobile trips and snowmobile-specific avalanche skills training courses.

Guiding someone new into the backcountry also means you’ll be setting an example, so make sure it is a good one.

A group of snowmobilers discussing things at the trailer before they ride.
Try to spend as much time teaching your friends how to use a beacon, shovel and probe as you would teaching them how to operate a snowmobile. Nicole Matei photo

“Have safe travel habits and pass them on,” said Boehm. “The biggest thing with avalanche safety is that the snow is unpredictable. We know we can do snowpack tests and make observations while we’re out there, but it’s not an exact science. The only thing we can always control is the terrain. We can pick where we want to and should go. If you’re doing that right from the get-go, then you are getting rid of a lot of your risk right off the top. It’s key to pass on being a responsible rider and making good decisions.”

Boehm and his fiancée, Nicole Matei, started Elk Valley Snow Shepherds two years ago, but Boehm has over 10 years experience as a mountain sledder and several years of industry experience as a trained avalanche professional.

“I did contract work for another company doing avalanche skills training and they are based out of town so we just found there was a need within the valley to have a local person offering this service,” said Boehm. “That’s the main reason we started the company.”

While efforts are constantly being made to better understand how avalanches are formed and triggered, it's important to remember that it's not an exact science. Avalanche safety includes making good travel choices. Nicole Matei photo

Most of Boehm’s clients are either from Saskatchewan, Manitoba or southern Alberta and some of them are brand new riders who’ve never been on a snowmobile.

“About 75 per cent of the people we are seeing are experienced riders who have all their own gear and they just want someone to take them out,” said Boehm. “Thirty per cent are new to the sport or they are trail riders and they are just starting their mountain riding experience.”

Meeting new people is one of the joys of his job but it’s the mentoring that means the most to Boehm.

“Going out and having a great powder day with new people is awesome—I enjoy that.” said Boehm. “But the biggest thing for me is taking a group out and giving them some knowledge about how to travel safer.” 

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