Adirondack Snowmobile Adventure
At the tail end of the winter in New York, I booked a snowmobile trip to the Adirondack Mountains, which are a four-hour drive north of New York City. I'd tried snowmobiling years ago - and basically drove around in a big circle for 30 minutes on a beat-up machine. I'd gotten a taste of it but wanted more.
Upstate New York's Snowmobile Trails
Upstate New York boasts more than 750 miles of interconnecting snowmobile trails - groomed and ungroomed - for public use. I set out with my son for the long ride north to Speculator, New York (Speculator is the name of a town).
Many people have a vision of New York as a location full of skyscrapers. But drive an hour outside the city and you're in the middle of mountains and farmland, including the Catskill and Adirondack ranges.
We arrived at our hotel in Speculator around nightfall. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we had to pre-check-in online and use a passcode to get into our room. My son and I - both famished - discovered that the nearest open restaurant was an hour and a half away. We opted for cheeseburgers at a nearby gas station instead. Speculator is a "one-horse town" with a population of 324 residents; blink while driving and you might miss it.
I'd rented two snowmobiles for two days. The next morning, we headed over to Village Motorsports to pick up our mechanical steeds. To rent a snowmobile, you need a valid driver's license and must be at least 18 years old. You also need a major credit card for a deposit, which will be credited back to you provided you don't wreck the snowmobile.
After signing the paperwork, we were offered the option of insurance. If you mess up the machines, you can be liable for up to $15,000. But with insurance, your exposure is only $500. After we were told a few horror stories about previous renters, we opted for the extra $100 for insurance - bringing the rental cost per snowmobile to $300 per day.
Checking for Damage
We then went over any damage to the sleds before departing with rental staff. Both of our sleds had some cosmetic damage caused by previous renters. Mine was nicknamed "Frankenstein" because the main fairing was cracked, held together with zip ties (that looked like stitches) running down the center. Once the season is over, replacement parts will be ordered for repairs. It makes no sense fixing these sleds mid-season, as the machines will likely only get damaged again.
After noting the damage to each unit, we were taught the operational basics, including where the brakes were, as well as the throttle, reverse switch and how to turn the sleds on and off.
The key is kept in the sled at all times. I asked if somebody could steal it. The answer was yes, but because everybody has guns in the area, only somebody with a death wish would be stupid enough to steal our snowmobiles. One switch controlled how fast the sled could go. That switch was set to "Eco Mode," limiting the top speed to 40 mph. If the switch was turned to "Sport Mode," the top speed was around 75 mph. Our instructor gave us a map of the local trails, then sent us on our way.
Prepping for the Trails
We drove the snowmobile from the rental shop to an interconnecting system of trails that passed by our hotel. We had 48 hours before we had to return the Ski-Doo "Renegade" machines - hopefully in one piece.
The main difference between riding a snowmobile and a motorcycle was that the throttle lever gave you instant acceleration. There was no gradual buildup of speed like on a motorcycle. The throttle is a lever you push with your thumb on the right side of the handlebars. You have to find the sweet spot to achieve controlled speed. "Holy shit" speed is an option as well.
Learning How to Ride
Our snowmobiles were heavy. If you flip one onto its side while rounding a turn and choose to extend your leg to stop the rollover, you'll likely suffer some serious leg injuries. For the first two hours of riding, we felt like we were on a bucking bronco horse. We would hit a bump and the strength of the hit forced our thumbs down on the throttle, giving the snowmobile more speed. I can see how a new rider might lose control of the sled, causing the damage we saw on all of the rentals, along with serious injuries for reckless riders.
Snowmobiles weigh over 600 lbs. Some models can reach speeds of 120 mph. These are serious machines. On average, over 200 deaths per year in the U.S. are caused by snowmobile accidents, along with 14,000 serious injuries. Know your limits and your capabilities on these powerful machines. I'm astounded by the professionals who race and jump snowmobiles (you need to be skilled and fearless to reach that level). My son and I soon got the hang of riding our snowmobiles. Eventually, we were able to release our death grips on the handlebars.
Hitting the Trails
The trails were amazing. There was a series on main tracks with snowmobile traffic in both directions. Smaller trails shot off these main trails in different directions. These smaller trails were only wide enough for one snowmobile at a time.
My son and I share a passion for speed. We went flying through the woods, up and down mountainsides, as well as racing across frozen lakes - totally enjoying the speed and freedom of our snowmobiles. We spotted deer and wildlife while riding through the woods. After a ten-hour day of riding, it was time to gas up the sleds and head back to our hotel for the night.
Gas for Sleds
We had to cross the road on the sleds to reach the gas station. I learned that you can ride a snowmobile on the road without damaging the sled. The only problem is that if you're not on snow, you have almost no steering. You can only go forward or backward. At the top of each ski, in the front, you'll find a hand loop. The loop is for dragging the snowmobile in the direction you want it to go. The trick is to get as close to the gas pump as you, then dismount and drag your sled the rest of the way to the pump.
Once you fuel up, you have to drag the snowmobile in the direction you plan to exit. Before we departed, we bought our second "gas station dinner." We put our meals in the travel bags on our snowmobiles and rode back to our hotel. We parked the sleds in front of our room and settled in for the night.
Racing Across Lake Pleasant
The next morning, we headed out again. Lake Pleasant was right next to our lodge. The lake, frozen solid, was the perfect spot to try "Sport Mode" and see how fast our sleds could go.
My fearless son hit 75 mph on the lake's frozen surface. I was happy with 60 mph. We rode across more trails after circling the 12-mile lake, then returned the rented sleds by the 4:30 pm deadline.
The rental shop prefers sleds returned with a full tank of gas (like rental cars), otherwise, they'll charge you an arm and leg to fill them up. We dragged the sleds to the gas station, topped them off, then headed back to Village Motorsports.
We didn't damage our snowmobiles at all. After a quick inspection at the shop, we were given the thumbs up. My son and I agreed that this trip was something we wanted to do again. We'd only explored a fraction of the trails in the area, which is incentive enough to come back and ride through the Adirondack Mountains again and again on these amazing machines!