The Changing Face of Snowmobiling

Ten months had passed since my snowmobile last saw daylight. But there I was, two hours back in the saddle weaving through a delicious technical treeline. Gluttonously feasting on a classic Fernie powder buffet. Stoked to be back at the table.

Then it happened; I zigged when I should have zagged, and lost momentum through the fir goalposts. Forgetting experience, panic set in. “Put the flipper to the gripper” (aka squeeze the throttle) I could hear my husband shout in my head. “It may not end well but at least the suspense will be over.” And so I found myself two months after having a baby, track chewing down like a hot knife through butter. Out of shape, out of practice, and out of luck. I was stuck… bad. 

When you think snowmobiling, you probably envision muscled dudes in polyester one-piece suits high-marking alpine bowls on turbocharged rockets with names like ‘Thunder Cat.’ You certainly aren’t thinking about petite blonds or brunette moms.

Sledding has undergone a tremendous evolution. According to a 2018 study, BC snowmobiling now contributes $299.2 million in annual economic output and provides important, diverse revenue chains for rural communities like Fernie. Largely in part to the diligent work of the sixty-three snowmobile clubs across the province that provide supporting infrastructure and services. The Fernie Snowmobile Association organizes complex land use agreements, provides three day-use cabins, events, and 161km of regularly groomed trails that serve as gateways to endless riding opportunities. The level of organization, effort, and professionalism required to operate these not for profit societies challenges the concept of heedless riders on obnoxious machines. 

After no shortage of profanity, laughter, and encouragement, my gang helped boot-pack snow to support the track, cleared the belly pan, and leveraged our combined 400 lbs to ski pull and roll the sled free in a testament to brains over brawn.

Within my small tribe are powertrain engineers, world-renown coaches, safety technicians, outdoor educators, and business owners. They all have two things in common: they are women and they work behind the scenes driving this progression in the industry. We are not unique. Thirty percent of today’s riders are women, fuelled by advancements in technology and emerging ladies’ clinics. We are lured by the ability to define one’s own compass bearing and convene with Mother Nature on our own terms. In this sport, we show up for one another, challenging the social construct of women to compete, compare, or criticize. The face of snowmobiling is changing. This once male-dominated industry is welcoming our unique perspectives, skills, and dollars to one of BC’s most important tourism and recreation sectors with open arms.
Many local women are blazing their way in the backcountry, creating the fire, and sharing the stoke. After reading this, I hope there will be more. Sledding never looked so good and I can’t wait to see where we’ll go from here!

Nicole Matei is a Director with the Fernie Snowmobile Association and a guide and Avalanche Educator with the Elk Valley Shepherds.

“I had no clue what I was doing when I first started, but as soon as I hit that highway to Fernie, I would get so excited it was hard to contain it.  Fast forward 10 years and that hasn’t faded! I’ve fallen back in love with the area and the locals. The terrain here has challenged me through years of progression and I’m always looking forward to seeing what the next hill has coming.” ~Krista Muncaster

“The women I ran into along the way never cast a judgmental eye, but rather friendly faces and nods of acknowledgment that held something just a little bit more. Mountain sledding isn’t easy. The folks you meet along the way know that. There’s a great comradery in getting to each step along the way.” 

“The more people I met from the Fernie Snowmobile Association the more I realized what it takes to make this adventure happen. To make this terrain accessible. To make things more comfortable and safer. It’s taken great efforts for many years from numerous people with great generosity of their time, money, energy, and spirit.” ~ TL Kokot

Photo by Nicole Matei