Rules of Riding a Snow Machine in Alaska

I know you’re thinking how hard can it be, especially if someone else is driving? Let me tell you how to ride a snow machine (that’s Alaskan for snowmobile) with your Alaskan boyfriend, who has somehow managed to never have someone riding on the back of his snow machine, or ever ridden on the back of one either.

First, let’s set the scene. It’s January 1 – not quite the shortest day of the year, but in Fairbanks, Alaska, the sun is above the horizon for just under four hours a day. There are about two feet of snow on the ground, but the roads and driveways of Fairbanks are packed snow and inches-thick ice. And it will stay that way until the spring thaw, sometime in May. The temperature is about 15 degrees, unusually balmy by Alaskan standards, but positively frigid when you’re from the East Coast of the lower 48. It’s your last day in Alaska and a snow machine ride remains an unchecked thing to do while there, so your boyfriend gleefully agrees to take you. You think, “I’ve been on the back of a motorcycle, this seat is way wider and there’s much more traction to the ground. This’ll be great!” He starts the engine.

1. Assume that as soon as your ass is on the seat, you are going. FAST.

2. You realize quickly that motorcycle rides are not a fair comparison and the driver’s waist is not an acceptable ‘hold-on location’. His layers are way too thick and your massive gloves are too puffy and slippery to grab on to anything. You frantically search for something to hold onto, but he can’t tell you where because he doesn’t know. He’s never been on the back. He also doesn’t know that you weren’t holding onto anything before he took off, or that you are bouncing around on the back of the snow machine without anything to hold onto, and he is oblivious to how close you are to flying off the back of the snow machine. You find the ‘oh shit’ handles about the same time you realize just how important it is to be properly positioned on the seat.

3. ‘Oh shit’ is interchangeable with ‘OH FUCK!’ and ‘AAAAAAAH!’ He doesn’t know that you’re screaming, he thinks you’re laughing.

4. Because he thinks you’re laughing, he goes faster over the very high, very abrupt snow berms that were created by snowplows along the roadside that he’s driving on – because it’s a snow machine. You drive on the snow and the berms are fun! Or something. He has no idea that your ass is sliding all over the back of the seat or that you can’t let go of the ‘oh shit’ handles to position yourself on the seat, so you find yourself clenching your knees in a desperate attempt to stay on the back of the snow machine.

5. There will come a point when you will have to decide if you are more likely to fall off because you’re not centered on the snow machine, or to let go of the ‘oh shit’ handles to slap him on the shoulder to make him stop so that you CAN center yourself AND check your underpants for actual shit. It’s really six of one, half dozen of the other.

6. Your helmet lens will fog up and ice up, but it won’t matter because you’ll only be able to see the back of his helmet while you’re trying to hold on. You will simply have to accept that the only way you’ll know if you’re about to go over a berm is when you’re actually going over it – so your arms and your knees will be in a constant state of tension until you come to a complete stop.

7. A complete stop does not mean the ride is over or that you are actually stopped. You will be moving again very shortly after you stop. Do not let go, do not make an attempt to take off your gloves to clear your frozen helmet lens, just hold on and pray that the wind is not cold enough and the trip is short enough to avoid frostbite.

8. It’s okay to feel like you’re about to cry when the berm wins and the snow machine flips over, knocking you both off it into the snow. The good news is once his hands leave the handle bars, all the moving parts stop, so you’re not in danger of losing a body part. Don’t cry though – it’s 15 degrees out and you don’t want to freeze your face!

9. Try not to punch your boyfriend in the face when you get back to his house. Be grateful for the other things that are way more fun than riding a snow machine, and that you learned about this new boundary without losing a body part. Also, he’s damned lucky he knows how to cook and do lots of other things that make you smile and laugh, to balance out the sheer panic of riding on the back of a snow machine when he’s driving it.

10. Make sure the next time you visit Alaska, it’s summer.

1 Comment

  1. Deirdre Laing Limoges says:

    Snow Machine!!!! Informative, funny, smiling and laughing as usual at your expert use of dry whit!!

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