I felt the crunch of compacting snow under my boot and before I knew it, I was face down—sunk to my hip in fresh powder with a Husqvarna TE 300 towering over me. The snow around my leg instantly solidified like concrete, locking my boot into place some 33-odd inches below the surface. I froze for a moment, too, imagining that this is just a taste of what it must feel like to be caught in the aftermath of an avalanche.
We were on top of roughly 10 feet of untouched snow, surrounded by mountains, and miles away from the main snowmobile trail. I made the mistake of getting off the bike to take a photo too close to a nearly covered tree. I had placed my foot smack dab in the middle of a tree well—something I was told earlier that morning I should avoid. At least the bike stayed in place, upright in the snow as if nothing had happened. It took some effort, but with the help of my three riding partners—Florian, Manuel, and Caleb—I managed to get my leg out of the snow and snap the photo I was dead-set on taking.
Silence is Beautiful
The tips of 20-foot-tall pine trees peaked through the top of the snow, and reminded me of walking through a Christmas tree farm. In the summer, this area would be inaccessible. There are no roads or hiking trails on this mountain. But in the winter, this area—covered by many feet of snow—becomes a solitary and serene playground with the right machine. If you sit for a moment and listen, the mountains are quiet and still under the thick blanket of frozen white stuff. I couldn’t help but think we were likely some of the only people to have explored these peaks—alongside the other snow bikers, of course.
We were in northwestern Montana, high on a mountain tucked right between Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest. The snow glistened in the sun, stunningly beautiful and somehow calming. Occasionally, we spotted animal tracks among the rolling white seas, but otherwise the snow was pure and untouched.
It’s an incredible feeling, being on top of the world in an area so remote. It made us feel small, at the mercy of Mother Nature, connected to the earth and its wildness.
"Not until you hear the silent snow, can you listen to your soul speak."
To most motorcyclists, waking to several feet of fresh snow on the ground would mean you’re not riding today. You’d be “snowed in” as they say, so might as well throw some logs in the fireplace and crack open a good book with a cup of hot tea. But snow bikers are a different breed altogether. To them, the more fresh powder there is, the better.
Lucky for us, it was early spring which brought fairly warm weather, considering we were surrounded by a frozen landscape. Spring also graced us with frequent precipitation, giving us a nearly constant refill of soft fluffy snow, especially at higher elevations. These were the perfect conditions for learning to ride a motorcycle equipped with a track and ski, something the four of us had wanted to try for a very long time.
Motorcyclists tend to be naturals on snow bikes, but there were a few bad habits we had to break—like coming to a stop and putting your foot down. We all ended up buried in the snow under our bikes at some point because of that. The other “bad” habit I in particular struggled with was following tracks. On a snow bike, it’s a lot easier to ride through fresh snow, but the single-track fiend in me wanted to follow along in the same tracks as the rider ahead. This tendency was partly due to my fear of going somewhere I shouldn’t or getting lost, but also out of habit from years of trail riding. It only took us a couple of hours to get the hang of the machines, and then there was no stopping us. We were ready to conquer the mountain.
Shredding the Gnar
After a brief introduction to riding in the snow-covered field next to our cabin, we found our way to the trailhead. The first part of the ride was on a designated snowmobile trail, which we had to ride for several miles before we could split off to the first snow bike zone. We were all a little nervous, not yet having our snow legs under us and venturing out into the wild for the very first time.
We passed the beacon checkpoint and after getting the signal of a green check mark, we took off. Within the first 100 yards was an uphill hairpin turn to the right, putting us on the snowmobile trail which was already compacted and icy from the sleds leaving ahead of us. I turned my handlebar and gave the bike too little throttle. Just like that, I’d had my first fall of the day, toppling over in place. Luckily, there was nobody behind me. I picked up the bike and hopped back on, adding a quick head check to make sure nobody saw my embarrassment. They didn’t, and I pinned the throttle on the TE 300 wide open. Now, I had ground to make up.
The first few miles were a learning experience for all of us. We fell over several times as we got accustomed to how the snow bikes liked to be handled and how they didn’t. Fortunately, a pillow of snow creates a soft landing, unlike the dirt we were used to.
We took turns following each other in circles up and down the hills, through the pine trees, and across off-camber banks of snow. With each lap, we gained a little more speed and a dash more confidence in what we were capable of. It wasn’t long before I noticed what I thought would make a good jump and veered off in an attempt to catch some air. With my wrist on the throttle, I hit a small lip of snow and sent the front ski toward the sky.
The ski landed in a deep pillow of fresh powder, which caused snow to spray up and over the front of the bike, pelting me in the face. Without losing any speed I leaned the bike hard to the left, using a snow drift as a berm to send me straight back up the mountain. When I reached the top my adrenaline was pumping hard. “I HAVE to move somewhere that gets snow. That was sick!” I thought to myself as I grinned proudly to myself inside my helmet. That was the moment I fell in love with the snow.
Thick branches of evergreen needles bowed over our path, weighed down by blankets of wet, heavy snow. We romped around the trees like arctic hares, nimble and graceful as we searched for paths through the tops of the frosted trees. We ducked under limbs and dodged trunks as we climbed the side of a slope that seemed to get exponentially steeper. The rear track slid downhill a touch as I worked my way out of the trees and realized how incredibly sheer the off-camber hill had become. These bikes can go absolutely anywhere. I’d surpassed every limit I had started this experience with.