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MONTANA SNOWMOBILING GETS RIDER'S THUMBS-UP.

Byline: Kathryn Straach Dallas Morning News

Before donning a one-piece suit and helmet and climbing into a snowmobile, I never would have guessed which body parts would be screaming from pain on this wonderland adventure.

My thumbs.

It sounds pretty wimpy, I know, but long stretches of holding down the snowmobile's accelerator had me yelping for a break.

I know exercises I can do to strengthen my legs for skiing, but how do you get your thumbs in shape?

Maybe it's such silly sore body parts that make some people assume that snowmobiling is for sissies. Not so.

``I always thought that snowmobiling was a lazy man's sport until I got on one and fell in love with it,'' said Kevin Schoneman, guide for Glacier Motor Sports in Columbia Falls. ``It's a lot more physical than I ever imagined.''

Yes, indeed. And we're talking more than just thumbs. Snowmobilers have to put their whole body into the experience, leaning into curves to balance the weight of the vehicle.

I wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into when the guide-service people had me sign my life away. They suited me up with a helmet, jumpsuit and boots, and drove us to the trail head in the back country of The Big Mountain.

Learning to drive a snowmobile across flat land is simple. It's the leaning while taking curves that takes some getting used to.

The rest in my group were old pros at snowmobiling, so they took off at the speed of light. I pressed my thumbs tightly to the accelerator, said a little prayer and followed.

There was no time for sightseeing: Scenery was a blur. All I saw was the back end of the snowmobile in front of me.

And when my thumbs started aching, I hoped for a break.

Just as I was feeling comfortable with the snowmobile, we came to a big open bowl where Kevin told us to ``go for it.'' I was ready, I thought.

I started turning on an incline. It's that leaning thing that got me all tangled up. Next thing I knew, the demonic machine dumped me into the snow and headed downhill until it crashed into a tree.

Just as I had climbed back onto my bicycle after taking my first spill a hundred years ago, I climbed back into the snowmobile.

After lunch, I just watched while the others raced across the next bowl, but by the next one, I began carefully experimenting. The leaning thing started to make sense, and by the time we completed our full day of snowmobiling, I had worked up some degree of confidence. At that point, we had covered about 50 of the Big Mountain's more than 200 miles of trails.

And yes, despite wrecking the front of my snowmobile, I give the sport a hearty thumbs up and am eager to give it another try.

By then, my thumbs should be in peak condition.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: A snowmobiler zooms along a Montana trail.

Kathryn Straach/Dallas Morning News
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:TRAVEL
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 5, 1997
Words:508
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