How would you explain “snowmobile” to someone who has never seen snow?

Pretend you must explain “snow” to someone who has never seen it, never felt its feather-soft gentle coldness against cheek or hand.

What would you say?

Would you begin with “Snow is white, freezing cold, soft.  It sometimes spits hard and sideways from the sky, stinging like nettles.  It sometimes burrows into huge snowbanks, larger than tall men.  Other times it dusts the ground, like sugar.  Snow can be treacherous, blinding, encompassing, illuminating.  It can be more beautiful than a gorgeous woman.  Wet snow can be patted into a snowman, pliable as a child.  Snow is…” and there your explanation might stop.

How would you explain snow to someone who has never thrown or ducked a snowball?  How do you explain a substance so icy that it stings, turns fingers to ice, hurts with a freezing ferocity, and yet produces delight, joy, laughter, beauty, glee?

One of the beautiful faces of snow & ice. Photo by Kiah.

Yesterday I wrote of snowmobiles and snowmobilers.

Sonali, my friend from India with a blog called Dreams Hope Destiny, who sent a most-delightful handmade hand-colored Christmas card penned with delightful warm wishes, completely surprised me last night with this question:  “Btw, whats snowmobile? Neither do we have snow nor snowmobiles.”

What?  Neither snow nor snowmobiles?

Tell me, reader, how would you describe a snowmobile?

“A small machine geared with a track wrapped around it, the better to traverse over snow.”

“A snow machine designed to operate on snow or ice.”

“A snowmobile is not enclosed like a car.  It has a plastic windshield, ski-like tracks and motor.  It zooms rather loudly across snow.”

Now that we have an approximation of what a snowmobile might be–I shall offer a photo.  It appeared in this blog in January, 2011, and shows a friend flying in the air on his snowmobile, experiencing great joy and delight.

Up, up and away! (Photo courtesy of Chris Ford)

Like all pursuits in life, snowmobiling attracts fans and foe.

Fans think it’s a magnificent sport, a wonderful roar through forests and along lakes, maneuvering up and down trails.  Detractors think snowmobiling is loud, obnoxious and disgusting.

Deep back-country off-trail snowmobiling (Photo courtesy of Chris Ford)

Some claim it brings them closer to nature as one glides through pristine woods; others decry it separates the rider from nature with whining motors and  fast oblivion.

I have been a snowmobile rider and a snowmobile avoider.

Let’s speak first of the snowmobile rider phase.

You must let your memory move backwards, backwards, way backwards, to about 1969.  If you were not alive in 1969, let your imagination soar.  The Great North Woods of the United States was filled with Ski-doos.   (I’m sure I may be corrected.  Perhaps they were filled with many other snowmobiling companies, but in our Michigan circle it was filled with bright yellow Ski-doos.)

Your average 1969 Ski-Doo. (Photo Courtesy of Google Image Search)

Every family with any extra means owned a Ski-doo.  Every family in Michigan with any extra means headed north to the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula to snowmobile on snowy winter weekends.

Our family proved no exception.  We owned one–two–no, it couldn’t have been three–Ski-doos.  Dad and Tim rode on one;  Mom and Scot rode on the other, so where was Kathy riding?  She doesn’t recall.  Perhaps we combined our riding snowmobiles (also known as “sleds”) with other families.

We headed north.  I especially remember a long winter weekend in Wolverine, Michigan, with about six other families.  I remember the feelings of laughter and closeness and warmth around the lodge fire.  I remember the roar of the snowmobiles as we traversed miles of trails.

I remember that I wanted to be back home, writing in my little childhood bedroom, rather than bumping up and down on icy trails.

Yet, it was fun, too.  Being away from home.  Surrounded by so many friends.  Enjoying the fierce cutting cold air against our cheeks.

Husband, Barry, started snowmobiling at age twelve, and snowmobiled hard and heavy for the next ten years.  He used his knees for maximum gain, propping himself up on them to allow for better heft and navigation.  He raced, he soared, he loved snowmobiling with a passion.  (He wrecked his knees, sadly enough, a fact which has become increasingly evident this year.)  He loved snowmobiling so much that he said, yes he said, this very winter:  Kathy, I would do it again.

The 1970 snowmobile suit I inherited from my grandma. Long may you last, you polyester goddess!

We moved to the Upper Peninsula barely out of college.  He put away his snowmobiling days when we moved north.  (Yes, this seems like illogical behavior to a snowmobile lover.  But life creates such paradoxes.)  He never snowmobiled again, until–

He bought an 1999 blue Yamaha snowmobile with long tracks about five years ago to help him more efficiently reach his ice fishing hole.  He’s only put 56 miles on it since buying it.  Mostly because it’s too hard to lug the heavy machine into his old 1949 Studebaker pickup truck before going ice fishing.

Sonali, are you beginning to form a clear picture in your mind?

Of the many faces of snow, the many faces of snowmobiling?

Like life, it’s not a clear-cut positive or negative.

I would prefer to be walking quietly and slowly through the snow, listening to small birds twitter.  Hearing the crackle or snort of deer a half mile away  in the woods.  To sit on an icy stump (wearing Grandma’s 1970 snowmobile suit, for sure) and letting the quiet seep through the forest into my soul.

To everyone his or her own pleasures and gifts… May we deeply learn to respect and allow another’s preferences…and to realize the many different nuances of them.

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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68 Responses to How would you explain “snowmobile” to someone who has never seen snow?

  1. Dana says:

    Best line of the whole month: “Long may you last, you polyester goddess!” Must figure out a way to incorporate that into every day conversation within the week. 🙂

    A snowmobile reminds me of a heavy duty motorcycle, but with sturdy skis in place of wheels. I have never ridden a snowmobile before, but Marty’s brother goes out nearly every weekend in the winter for snowmobiling adventures. (Me, I’m too afraid. I much prefer my own feet on the ground.)

    • Kathy says:

      Barry worries sometimes that if there is a fire the only thing I’d try to save is Grandma’s snowmobile suit. He’s not sure it’s that flattering to a modern chick in 2012. But I adore it. Please try to incorporate it in casual conversation! Let me know how it goes over.

  2. Sybil says:

    Damn your maturity ! I want to petulantly stomp my foot at whatever I don’t agree with. I want to judge those damn snowmobiles as noisy, stinky invaders, unless of course I am on one of them. Then they are fun, and exciting.

    I never walk in the woods without my dogs. I’m always marvel at those who walk dog-less and see all sorts of wildlife, that I never see. But that can’t be my fault for bringing my (off-leash) dogs along — can it ?

    Sigh … Keep reminding me Kathy. Help me to learn to be a better me.

    ‘though it does deprive me of lots of foot-stomping.

    • Kathy says:

      Damn my maturity! Ha! **grinning** Oh, dear Sybil, will you write my mother and tell her about this maturity? Will you? (Sometimes I need to learn to be a better me, too.)

  3. Beautiful…”letting the quiet seep through the forest into my soul.”

  4. Celeste says:

    Oh my goodness! At age 12 I inherited my dad’s old SkiDoo when he and mom bought new ones. We had long-since retired our Polaris with the sled…have a photo somewhere. I had a snowmobile suit just like the one in your photo. We used to go for miles and miles on the border of Wisconsin/Michigan (outside of Iron Mountain) and stop at mom-and-pop taverns. We’d head inside, unzip from waist up and let the top half of the suit hang attractively down our rearends, and play old arcade games, eat sloppy joes, and warm up a bit. Then, back outside and into the wild…such good times! Dunbar, Goodman, Long Lake…

    • Kathy says:

      Celeste, your memories brought back my memories. That feeling of coming in from the cold, the celebrations, the good times (even though I wanted to be back in my closed bedroom writing stories). I can just picture what it was like for you! Thank you for sharing.

  5. susan says:

    Hi Kathy! When words fail, there hopefully will be a picture worth a thousand of them – to cop out here with an old saying. When I lived in Alabama in the 60’s (NOT the time to be there btw) we had a snowfall of 1 inch and the kids in my neighborhood, bless their hearts, made little snowmen and LOVED it. Everything melted by noon. But those kids had never seen snow either, until then. I don’t think they have seen it since down there.

    Now that “Long may you last, you polyester goddess” was a line I could have used on my friend Dee, who had probably the worlds largest stash of polyester in her sewing stash. It wouldn’t sell at her garage sale. She couldn’t GIVE it away. 🙂 In my mind she was a polyester goddess herself – and wore it til she passed on a few years ago.

    Eagle River WISCONSIN (let us forever forward be in the same STATE of mind, eh? haha) touts itself as the Snow Mobile Capitol of the World, with a derby and the whole schmear. The trails up there are everywhere! The few winters we’ve been up there we did a lot of hiking in the snow – like you I prefer the peace – and skiing cross country. Just not feelin’ the whole need for speed thing. Come summer I’ll kayak – not jet ski. And right now I wish I was! It’s almost March though – hanging in there!

    • Kathy says:

      That snowfall in Alabama must have been so special, SuZen. I can imagine the delighted smiles on the faces of the children. (And on your face, of course.) I am sorry Dee is not still alive. She would have smiled with that polyester line… OK, we’re shaking hands, we will never ever ever forget that we are talking about Eagle River, WISCONSIN, at least when you & I are talking. I am coming kayaking. Prepare thyself.

  6. ....RaeDi says:

    I have never been snowmobiling! Is that correct word? I think I would have loved to before my bone loss! Love the snowsuit! It has another several hundred years left to go I would think! Your photos and words about snow I think are perfect… hard to tell souls what snow is when they have never experienced it! We had snowflakes this am, I am waiting for spring! Have a wonderful day!

    • Kathy says:

      It IS the correct word, RaeDi. You got it! But now I am sighing about your bone loss. That sounds so awful. Glad you liked Grandma’s suit. (Shhh, don’t tell, I think it is ripping. Which would involved a needle and thread, two items which I don’t use very gracefully.) Glad you liked this. And may your day be shining!

  7. Snowmobiling is so much fun!

  8. lisaspiral says:

    Yes snowmobiling was great in the 60’s when gas was cheep and noise pollution was not even something you worried much about near the airports. Now that I’m old and curmudgeonly I find it noisy, pesky, smelly and all those other detractor words. Now dog sledding……….

    • Kathy says:

      Lisa, Lisa, we must NEVER call ourselves old and curmudgeonly! Shhhh….we are still very much young at heart and open to the thrills of…yes, dog sledding! Do you have dog sled races in your area? We do. I’ve had Grand Trouble photographing the racing dogs, though, especially at night.

      • lisaspiral says:

        No dog sledding in the area. My brother-in-law used to run them up north of Brainerd. We got my Grandmother in for a ride when she was in her late 70’s so there’s always hope for the young at heart.

    • Thanks! I’ve just learned a new word (now if only I can remember it too)

  9. Barb says:

    Oh yes, I hate to admit – I had one of those flattering one-piece snowmobile suits and a snowmobile to go with it when our kids were small. It was broken and wouldn’t run more than it was rideable. We had to haul it many, many miles (into a snowier state) if we even hoped to ride. We sold it (at a loss), and we’ve never looked back. Now, I try to remember what might be fun about snowmobiling if I happen to infrequently (thank goodness) meet one on a trail. As I’ve aged, I’m more in the opposing camp. I want quiet, clean air, and pristine surroundings. But – I try to remain diplomatic since at one time I also apparently thought snowmobiling might be fun.

    • Kathy says:

      Barb, aren’t they flattering? **grin** You THREW YOURS AWAY? (I mean, your flattering snowmobile suit.) Sounds like we’re in the same camp, enjoying the quiet, clean air–yet remaining diplomatic with the memory of our earlier times.

  10. Brenda Hardie says:

    I have only been a snowmobile a handful of times….loved it! But now…I think something more quiet and leisurely would be better…like a horse drawn sleigh! When Rick moves up here from southern Missouri he’ll have to adjust to “up north” activities…he’ll need to try out kayaking on the beautiful blue Lake Superior or canoeing the beautiful lakes and rivers. He’ll have to try snowshoeing and sledding and making snowmen…maybe check out the snowmobiles if money and snow are available. Maybe he’ll be extra romantic and arrange for a moonlit ride on a horse drawn sleigh! ♥ And he will definitely need to check out the great fishing of the north! Maybe even some ice fishing!!
    Snow can be beautiful and treacherous at the same time…I love it at Christmas time but then it can go away…lol. Your descriptions are perfect and the pictures too! Btw…has anyone else ever noticed how sound travels further in the extreme cold?…How every sound is more clear and yet the quietness of the world becomes so evident after a blanket of snow covers the land…everything is hushed. And how on sunny, freezing cold winter days, how the crisp, white snow makes everything brighter… a winter wonderland ♥ Has anyone else walked outside on a bitterly cold day and feel your nose “slam shut” from the freezing temperatures? Has anyone heard the snow “squeak” because of the frigid temperatures?

    • Kathy says:

      A horse drawn sleigh sounds lovely. Kayaking sounds lovely. Snowshoeing sounds lovely. Ice fishing? Well, let Rick enjoy it! Thinking it would be a good thing to go outside and listen to that hush. Luckily, it’s not cold enough the nose “slams shut”, lol!

    • A moonlit ride on a horse drawn sleigh… Now that is something to put on my bucket list! Makes me think of scenes in the movie *Dr. Zhivago.*

  11. Val says:

    Snow is icecream-like rain without the chocolate sauce. 😉

  12. Irene Lefort says:

    I have never been on a snowmobile before. It sounds like great fun! 🙂

  13. Okay, would you be appallled to learn I’ve never ridden on a snowmobile? Yes, yes, I know–that would be a sin against the polyester goddess, would it not? (I’m with Dana. I love that line!)

  14. bearyweather says:

    When I was growing up we had snowmobile suits, two of those yellow ski-doos and a homemade sled that was pulled behind one of them so that the whole family could go out into the woods in the middle of winter. It was fun, but I remember being so very cold and the ski-doos getting stuck or breaking down out in the middle of no where. How come things like that did not seem dangerous back then?

    snowmobile … how about … a motorcycle to go through the snow?

    thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    • Kathy says:

      You are welcome, bearyweather. I like your description. And your memories. And yes…maybe we did have a sled that was pulled behind the Ski-Doo? Must consult my mom and dad.

  15. “May we deeply learn to respect and allow another’s preferences…”

    Yes. And let’s make it more than tolerance, let’s make it acceptance.

  16. Heather says:

    I “get” why other people enjoy snowmobiling, it’s just not my thing. And I also have a conservationist lurking within me that shrieks about all the negatives. Life is full of compromises. Sigh.

    • Kathy says:

      I know about that shrieking inner conservationist. Yes, I have one, too, Heather. Sigh. How to live with the different sides of ourselves–and the world…

  17. Dad says:

    Holly moley Kath !! I cannot believe you still have Grandma’s snowmobile suit !! We sure had fun riding those machines Love Dad

  18. From Moments to Memories says:

    Loved this post, reminded me of 20-some years ago in my riding days as well. My ex-husband broke his leg snowmobiling once 😦 Great post, LOVE the photos 🙂

  19. Colleen says:

    My blue snowmobile suit doubled as a ski suit for many years. Not a fashion statement on the ski hills but warm and functional. And no snow up my back and/or backside sliding down those hills on my back or face. We grew up with snowmobiles and my brothers raced in their earlier years but are more limited now for the same reasons as Barry. They were part of our life back then but have very different feelings about them now that I generally keep to myself as other family members are still passionate about those *blessed* machines and snowmobiling 🙂

  20. forestfae says:

    With difficulty. Whenever I try and explain it myself to friends or family back in Africa I really have to give it some thought as well.
    A common misperception tend to be that is it freezing after it has snowed, which it tends not to be be if it is a still, clear day and the sun is out.
    I love snow by the way, could never get enough of the white stuff, even though we are regularly snowed in here where we live as the roads are very narrow and hilly, and also the snow plows do not come out this far into the countryside.

    We just stock up now on foodstuffs in winter, and of course kitty litter for Princess Moomin. She loves the snow as much as we do, but she tends to get lost in it very quickly, as she is such a pure white, so I have to keep a firm eye on her. She just ‘blends’ into the snowy background completely.

    • Kathy says:

      That is so true, Ms. forestfae…that it sometimes is not freezing after it’s snowed. That is such a good point! (Wish I’d have thought to add it.) I love the way you described Princess Moomin and just can see her white on white snow. Love your blog! Keep photographing and writing.

  21. Claire says:

    I so love the silence of a snowy forest rarely if ever found here so this perhaps explains my thoughts on this. Great photos.

    • Kathy says:

      The silence of a snowy forest…so beautiful. Not often found here, either, because you can so often hear the distant roar of chainsaws, logging trucks, boats or cars. The deer don’t mind. Or maybe they do…they keep stomping their feet and snorting.

  22. sonali says:

    Woahhh!!! Ho ho ho!!! Amazing! I so feel like jumping into one of those snowmobiles, It must be such an adventure, through the snowy forests! Thank you Kathy, for putting it up brilliantly, for giving me the sense of a wonderland that exists oceans & oceans across, but still so near, the “up, up & away” , millions of hugs to you this day. 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Sonali, you are so very welcome. I hope you liked this post–just for YOU! Don’t you adore that we can read about one another’s lives, so very far away? And I might just show up on your doorstep in India one of these days…

      • Kathy says:

        But I won’t bring Grandma’s old snowmobile suit! lol!

        • sonali says:

          Kathy, you truly made my day. You are SO special! A post just for ME, I could hardly believe it. I’ve been thinking about you & the snowmobiles the whole time. I’ll be glad to see you here Kathy, anyday just drop in. You’l be welcomed.
          May god bless you abundantly 🙂

  23. Carol says:

    Snow is rather like fluffy frozen water and snowmobile is like jet ski built for the fluffy frozen water. I think. Maybe. Never ridden either, but when I was younger I think I would have enjoyed it. Now? Silence is better.

    • Kathy says:

      Silence is better. Yes. I wonder if we appreciate silence more as we age? Or if there are many, many young people who would prefer silence to rushing loud motors? Or if there are many, many old folks who prefer fast-and-loud machines? Sigh. Life is so complex. No wonder some of us prefer silence. 🙂

  24. Lori DiNardi says:

    I moved from Chicago to Florida and run into people here who have never seen snow. Though, it’s rare, because most people who live here are transplants. I don’t know that they could ever really understand without experiencing it themselves. I might describe a snowmobile as a jet ski for the snow, but that would be for Floridians. I don’t know abut those form India. Beautiful images as always on your blog. 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      I can imagine a Floridian nodding sagely to your description of a snowmobile as being a jet ski for snow. They would get that. I also get that there are many, many transplants in Florida who are escaping the snow! Thank you for pausing here on our snowy front porch.

  25. It is very difficult to describe snow to someone who has never experienced it! Having grown up in Mid-Michigan, I could take it or leave it…. I probably came from one of the few families in this state who never indulged in snow sports – except sledding, of course!!

    When I was in 7th grade, we had a new student who came to East Lansing with his parents from Zimbabwe. One day, he looked out the window, and yelled with excitement, “It’s snowing!!” He had never seen it before! He couldn’t WAIT to get outside to experience it!

    • Kathy says:

      Good morning, Holly? Are you getting snow today down in the Lower? Smiling thinking about your classmate from Zimbabwe. What a treat that must have been for him! (Hopefully the teacher soon let him outside to truly touch it for the first time!)

  26. Never had a desire to use a snowmobile, but I bet they’re very useful for transportation the farther north a community is located. I’d love to try snowshoeing some day but we rarely get enough snow here to make that feasible. The snow tends to melt between storms…

    Love your grandmother’s polyester goddess – she knew who to give it to for safekeeping!

    • Kathy says:

      Wishing that you can enjoy a snowshoe one of these days, Barbara. (In not-too-deep snow.) I can’t recall if Grandma gave me the snowsuit before she died. If I begged for it or if she offered it freely. It is a most treasured polyester memory… Thank you.

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