How to involve your kids in snowmobiling

Seize the day and bond with your kid on a snowmobile

by Kyle Born

Shawn Schwengler and Madison Schwengler smile for a photo on a snowy mountain.
Shawn Schwengler and his daughter, Madison Schwengler, have been riding together since Madison took her first steps. Photo courtesy Shawn Schwengler

Madison Schwengler has been riding snowmobiles from the time she was capable of putting one foot in front of the other. Even as a 15-year-old, Madison hasn’t lost any love for sleds. One major reason for her commitment to snowmobiling is the influence of her father, Shawn Schwengler. Being the Rad Dad that he is, Shawn made sure to introduce his kids to sleds at an early age.

“Madison started very young—she would ride along with me on the warm spring rides,” Shawn said. “We would do one or two family trips to the Crowsnest Pass or Fernie areas. When she was around eight, I built a 1990 Yamaha Snosport 121 that she rode. This was a good sled to get a feel to build the safety skills required. As she progressed, I upgraded the snowmobiles to allow her to build confidence. Now she’s usually leading our rides and picking the terrain for the day. It’s pretty awesome to see how far she has come.”

Madison Schwengler sits on her black and pink 2017 Arctic Cat M 6000 Mountain Cat 153 in the shadow of a mountain.
“Madison started very young—she would ride along with me on the warm spring rides. Now she’s usually leading our rides and picking the terrain for the day. It’s pretty awesome to see how far she has come.” — Shawn Schwengler Photo courtesy Shawn Schwengler

When Madison was a new rider, Shawn prioritized safe snowmobile operation, having fun, and staying warm and dry for each ride.

“Now that she is 15 years old, we have lots of Daddy-Daughter rides where we will session features to build her skills,” said Shawn. “Avalanche awareness, navigation, daily beacon tests, and riding in cold weather are a big part of the daily discussions now. We also talk about what to do in an emergency, how to use the satellite messenger, and what to do if she gets lost.”

Shawn’s favourite place to go sledding with Madison is the Crowsnest Pass area in Southern Alberta.

“During one of the first rides with Madison in Crowsnest Pass, I took the kids out on their own sleds,” said Shawn. “It was a bit too long of a day, and towards the end of the day, Madison stopped in the middle of the trail, turned off the sled and said she’d walk the rest of the way.  There was no convincing her otherwise. So my son and I shuttled the four kilometres back-and-forth to get her and the sled back to the truck. After that, she said she didn’t want to snowmobile anymore. Then two years later, she said she wanted to go again. Since then, she’s been all over it.”

Madison Schwengler stands next to her 2017 Arctic Cat M 6000 Mountain Cat 153 on the crest of a mountain.
“I’m a real advocate for families riding together. I’ve always worked towards trying to involve my family as much as possible in the sport. I really want my kids to find something that takes them away from the day-to-day frustrations, which sledding is for me. Sitting on top of a mountain overlooking a valley while being the only person around for miles is so satisfying.” — Shawn Schwengler Photo courtesy Shawn Schwengler

As for specifics when snowmobiling in Crowsnest Pass, Shawn recommends the family-friendly Atlas/Window Mountain area.

“The CrowSnow Riders snowmobile club does an exceptional job maintaining the trails,” said Shawn. “Trails are nice, wide, smooth and beautifully groomed. This area has a variety of terrain so kids can progress as they build on their skills.”

Madison Schwengler sits on her black and pink 2017 Arctic Cat M 6000 Mountain Cat 153 while looking at a snowy mountain horizon.
“I love her passion towards the sport of snowmobiling. You don’t find that too often in young people.” — Shawn Schwengler Photo courtesy Shawn Schwengler

For parents who aren’t sure how to introduce their children to snowmobiling in an appropriate way, there are plenty of resources to choose from.

“Join a local snowmobile club,” said Shawn. “They always have lots of resources and group rides, plus volunteers that are more than happy to help you figure it out. Online groups and snowmobile forums are some great resources to get things figured out. Finding other families with similar-aged children is another great way to get kids involved.”

If that sounds too daunting, Shawn has even simpler instructions.

“Just do it,” he said. “It is so rewarding to watch your kids progress with the sport.”

Important tips worth knowing when sledding with children:

Shawn Schwengler has learned a lot from his years of snowmobiling with his kids. If you’re looking to take your children on a snowmobiling adventure, keep these tips in mind:

  • Start slow with your kids
  • Don’t expect them to ride for long days right away
  • Make sure they are having fun
  • Realize that this is your kids’ time, not yours
  • Good quality gear is a must to keep children warm and dry (there’s an ample marketplace for used equipment)
  • There are many snowmobile options for kids today. Manufacturers see that the future of this sport is in the youth. 
  • Kids’ used snowmobiles and gear typically hold their value, so upgrading down the road isn’t as big of a deal once the initial investment is made

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