a backcountry snowmachine manifesto

Sam and I tense, straining to hear the persistent sound in the distance while our dogs sit at attention, sniffing the air, ears perked.

Sam and I tense, straining to hear the persistent sound in the distance while our dogs sit at attention, sniffing the air, ears perked.

As the sound draws ever closer, Sam dashes back into the cabin for the binoculars.

I feel strangely nervous when two dark spots can suddenly be discerned in the distance and the whine of engines gets louder: it’s the first snowmachines of the season.

We only get about 10 machines passing through here at the most, and it is always a bit weird to be all at once loudly connected with that outside world for the few minutes it takes the skidoos to drive by.

Our reactions have become almost moose-like as we minutely observe the smallest details and stand tensely immobile while the machines roar past.

Oh, don’t imagine those lonely bush people in the hidden-away cabins pay no attention to you weekend warriors.

Sam, after studying the two snowmachines through binoculars, notes that they seem to carry no extra gear except for a jerry can .

He gets on the radio to our trapper neighbour Rick to dissect the possibilities of where these guys most likely came from and where they are headed, the make of the machines, speed and lack of safety equipment.

Rick, who drives an old Bravo, is always worried about his trail section out on the lake that he maintains diligently so he can get in and out without having to battle through too much overflow.

He keeps packing down the trail religiously so that no deep snow can accumulate and that any overflow freezes over enough to carry his little machine.

Few things make him more irate than people on big machines who blithely drive doughnuts over his trail or churn it up with their paddle tracks, since this is his only way out into town.

If it gets chewed up so that slush and overflow gets too deep for his small machine thanks to a passing weekend snowmachine enthusiast, he has to wait until it re-freezes before he can drive it again.

The two people who just came by were behaving admirably though and staying off his trail — he reports back later to us with a sigh of relief.

If they had also carried extra gear on their sleds it would have been even better.

It seems strange that so many people go out on snowmachines into the backcountry with no more than the clothes on their back.

Getting stranded only 10 kilometres from the closest house can be a major problem if you have to wade your way through soft snow or overflow with no snowshoes, dry clothing or boots.

Surely throwing on a few items such as extra clothing and footwear, a shovel, snowshoes, food and a pot for melting snow can’t be that hard to do, yet it seems that every winter there’s a guy (this seems to mostly happen to men) on the news who got his machine stuck in deep snow or overflow, and because of a lack of equipment has to spend a few miserable days and nights out in the bush before getting whisked back to civilization by the search-and rescue team.

Rick also had people stop by a couple of times, sheepishly asking for gas. But who knows, maybe most of these under-equipped adventurers carry a satellite phone to call in a plane or their buddies to pick them up in case of trouble.

There also is a bit of a quandary for friends and family if someone isn’t back in time from their outdoor adventure: if the person is ill-equipped it’s fairly obvious that help needs to be sent out.

But if it’s known that the overdue person is carrying all the gear to stay warm, dry and well-fed, there is still the possibility that they had an accident and need assistance anyway.

This is usually our dilemma, or mostly mine since it’s Sam who does the majority of town trips.

While we have VHF radios for communication, they only cover half of the distance into town, so when he is late, the grey hairs start sprouting on my head.

We’ve been lucky so far, not having met up with serious trouble or launched an emergency response, but a few times it was touch-and-go.

We who are strewn about the woods do keep an eye on you snowmobile hobbyists, and we worry when some of you zoom by here ill-equipped, despite avalanche hazards or on very thin ice. It’s us who might have to bail you out, so please pack your safety gear and don’t churn up trails packed for small trapper machines.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

Just Posted

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley announced 29 new COVID-19 cases on June 19 and community transmission among unvaccinated individuals. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs record-high 29 new COVID-19 cases

F.H. Collins prom attendees and some Porter Creek Grade 9 students are instructed to self-isolate as community transmission sweeps through unvaccinated populations

Crystal Schick/ Yukon News A former residential school in the Kaska Dena community of Lower Post will be demolished on June 21. Crystal Schick/ Yukon News
Lower Post residential school demolition postponed

On June 21, the old residential school in Lower Post will be demolished and new ground on a multi-cultural centre will be broken

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before using it on Nov. 24. The Yukon government is reopening the drive-thru option on June 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Drive-up COVID-19 testing opening June 18 in Whitehorse

The drive-up testing will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. everyday and increase testing capacity by 33 spots

A draft plan has been released by the Dawson Regional Use Planning commission on June 15. Julien Gignac/Yukon News
Draft plan released by the Dawson Regional Land Use Planning Commission

Dawson Regional Land Use Commission releases draft plan, Government of Yukon withdraws additional lands from mineral staking in the planning region

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Let them live in trailers

“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read