When the snow gets deep and the terrain gets steep, a snowmobile is the answer for winter off-road adventures. We went to British Columbia to see what backcountry snowmobile travel is all about, learn the skills required, and check out the latest and greatest sleds from Ski-Doo.
You’re reading this magazine because you love the off-road adventure lifestyle. We love to experience that lifestyle in all forms that we can. That includes adventures by overland camper, rock crawler, UTV, motorcycle, snowmobile, and even our own two feet. Snowmobiles are another one of those tools that lets you explore off the beaten path where the road ends, and even past where your 4WD can access.
Since 2013, Carl Kuster Mountain Park (CKMP) has been hosting guests to sample the local British Columbia Monashee mountain terrain. Everyone at CKMP makes guests feel like family. From the private chef, to the mechanics and guides, everyone is proud to be a part of the top quality organization. You can tell all the staff feeds off the stoke that guests bring back each day after their world class mountain adventures.
The main building on the property has two levels, the bottom level is a massive garage full of sleds and riding gear and the top level is a high-end mountain lodge. Think world class kitchen, a full bar, communal dining table, TV lounge, pool table, six guest rooms, a gift shop, and so much more. Not to be missed is the outside deck with massive hot tub, the perfect way to recover after a big day in the mountains.
The mountains have always been Carl Kuster’s passion, even though he started his pro career in snow-cross and became a quick champion. He has retired from snow-cross but does still compete in hillclimb competitions regularly. When not blasting up the hill in competition, you’ll find him building custom sleds, guiding guests in the surrounding mountains, or out testing and refining the latest Ski-Doo prototypes.
CKMP adventures are mostly all-inclusive three- or five-day trips. It’s best to budget about $1,000 a day, but that includes everything besides alcohol and guide tips. You’ll be riding the latest Ski-Doo sleds in the shiniest new gear with some of the top backcountry snowmobile guides on the planet. You’ll also be connected to a super redundant safety system, which includes radios, Garmin inReach, satellite phone, and avalanche beacons.
Besides learning about the rich history, local terrain, world class facilities, and amazing people at CKMP, we also went up to BC to experience the latest and greatest big mountain snowmobiles from Ski-Doo. We were able to ride prototypes of the 2023 Ski-Doo Summit Expert and Freeride models.
These are Gen5 sleds; Ski-Doo sleds generally have about five-year generational cycles. This new generation of Ski-Doo big mountain sled is an evolutionary change, with a whole host of upgrades and changes. The first to note is 15 more horsepower on the Turbo models, now at 180 horses.
The biggest difference you’ll notice right off the bat is the new headlight and cowling design. The setup makes the sleds 3-inches narrower overall, which is better for side hilling because the plastics don’t drag in the snow as much. Part of that cowling design is a new cooling design to pull air through the CVT transmission to keep belt temps way down and more consistent. The headlights are also adjustable, and the sleds now have a storage bin with heated a cell phone pocket and 12-volt power outlets.
Another big change are the running boards, which are now about 2-inches narrower overall and designed to offer even more traction but carry less snow. They accomplish all that by having a single row of teeth on the outer edge, much wider openings, a single-bar rear bracket, and a ton of other little updates.
The 2023 Freeride now has T-Motion and a Flexedge track that both help the track conform to the ground for maximum traction in soft snow. On the other hand, Summit models don’t have those features but now get more bite and have more stability in harder snow conditions. Both models now have adjustable brake levers, rear suspension brackets that have been moved, and a new optional 10.2-inch digital screen option.
Those are just some of the major changes for these gen five Ski-Doo big mountain sleds, all of which add up to a much more refined riding experience. Speaking of riding, we can’t wait to get back into the mountains this winter on a sled and work on our newly found
Carl Kuster Ingredients for good sled riding (in order of importance): Throttle, Sled Weight, Body Weight, Muscle, Momentum
The key to staying in control, just like on a motorcycle, is for your neutral riding position to be slightly forward over the sled and over the ball of your feet on the outer rail of each running board. Don’t hang off the handlebars, but instead be balanced over your feet and ready for the sled to move around under you and for you to move around the sled as needed, staying balanced and forward.
Remember to keep your weight centered over the sled, so even when you transition to both feet on one side of the sled you move your foot on that side forward and your back foot just behind where your center was in order to keep that balanced center point.
The hardest thing to learn is that making the sled go where you want is mostly about weight transfer, both the sled’s weight and your body weight. In order to get the most leverage, you’ll want to put your feet on the outer edge of the running boards.
A trick when you’ve got both feet transitioned to one side of the sled is to put just the ball of your feet on the rail, and have your heel out away from the sled. This offers the most leverage possible.
Turing on hard groomed trails is relatively easy, similar to turning an ATV. However, turning in deep snow is tough. Counter steer and then lean hard the direction you want to travel. It’s all about weight transfer and less about muscle or steering angle.
Steering angle does matter, however, and a good trick to think about is keeping the handlebars parallel with your hips. The farther you lean and transfer weight towards the side of the sled you want to turn towards, the more your hips rotate and the more you’ll counter steer if you keep the bars parallel with your hips.
Sometimes you’ll feel the track start to dig a hole in deep snow or bounce a bit after landing a jump. The key to settling the sled down and gaining controlled forward momentum again is to use the brake as you would a clutch on a motorcycle to find traction. While it’s not intuitive to grab some brake when you want to accelerate, brake modulation is key to keeping control of the sled in soft off-trail conditions.
When you want to traverse a steep slope on the same elevation you are at and/or climb across the hillside, you’ll need to learn how to side hill. Side hilling takes some practice and mastery of the weight transfer and counter steering skills noted above. You’ll want to make sure that you’re counter steering the entire time you’re traversing the hillside, so as not to fall down the fall line of the hill.
Get in shape! You use nearly every muscle in your body when riding a snowmobile in the backcountry. It’s exhausting, but extremely rewarding for your effort.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2022 edition of Tread Magazine.
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