Chris Sorenson

Riding In The Clouds

Playing in Wyoming backcountry on a Timbersled

I felt cold drops of snow land on my neck as I lay there, blinking up at the gray sky as it glared down on me, and I wondered if it looked more menacing now or if I’d only just noticed. I glanced over at the bike on its side, track still spinning in the snow and exhaust still droning, and then back at one of our riding companions to check his reaction to make sure I was okay.

Crashing in a manner that sends you over the bars is called a scorpion, a fact I’d learned today by the most uncomfortable of means possible. Repeatedly. This made for my third Scorpion of the day, and it came only about a mile from the end of the trail on our way back to the shop.

Timbersled
I was a long way from California, in every sense of the word.Chris Sorenson

I checked my limbs, felt along my stomach which was oddly throbbing, and then looked down to see if the bike had made it through as relatively unscathed as I. Satisfied that nothing was broken besides my ego and spirit, I huffed as I rolled over, pulled myself first to my knees, and then staggered to my feet. "Snowbiking is easy, my ass," I thought as a text I'd gotten from Bradley Adams that morning flashed across my consciousness for the 100th time.

In hindsight, and by hindsight I mean now that I've had 48 hours, a few beers, and a handful of ibuprofen later, snowbiking is easy. Or, at least, snowbiking can be easy.

Timbersled
There's supposed to be a wheel here.Chris Sorenson

To backtrack a bit, Timbersled inquired earlier this year if I'd be interested in trying the thing out. As is likely the case with most of you, riding a snowbike has been near the top of my bucket list since the first time the concept was even explained to me. The fact that one of the available dates fell on my 34th birthday was only icing on the proverbial cake.

Events like this are always better with friends, so I decided we needed to well document the trip with photos and video (which would require a second day of riding) as an excuse to bring one of my buddies. After incessantly emailing their nice PR man, they caved and agreed.

Timbersled
Where are all the wheels?!Chris Sorenson

Boosti and I met Dan Adams at Yankee Doodles, a small diner covered in American flags and Americana memorabilia at 8:30 am on my birthday, and the man’s grip was my first clue that I was in for a long day. We were in a tiny town called Alpine on the Wyoming/Idaho border. It’s maybe 30 miles outside of Jackson Hole, where, the night before, the 70-year-old cowboy tending bar told me he was only going to serve me one because he didn’t feel like staying late (but we knew my skinny jeans, tattoos, and stupid facial hair probably had more to do with it).

Dan is a professional snowmobile rider and is built like a brick, with a jaw that looks like Thor’s hammer and bear sized paws. Whether it was his lack of care about the cold, his nonchalant demeanor in describing run ins with moose, or the way he talked about been caught in avalanches, something told me my sissy California boy nonsense wasn’t going to cut it and I was going to have to find my inner mountain man. I ordered the biscuits and gravy and a side of bacon, sausage, and potatoes and gulped down as much coffee as I could.

Chris Sorenson

Two hours later (and after a terrifyingly long run through on how to use our emergency avalanche transceivers should we be caught out), Boosti and I head out from Dan’s shop followed by Dan on a snowmobile and two of Dan’s buddies on Timbersled-equipped KTM 450s. It wasn’t two feet before I got my first “a snowbike is not a motorcycle” lesson.

“Wait, you gotta get off and walk it across the street,” Dan called after me. “They ski has nothing to grip on and you’ll pancake if you try and ride it across, you have to walk it.”

Timbersled
One of the scariest parts of my day.Chris Sorenson

From there, we rode down the shoulder of the street, which had a thin layer of snow on it but felt like I was trying to walk across an ice rink with plates taped to my feet. After a million “oh crap” moments I made it to the trailhead, somehow still without falling on my face. “Worst of it’s over,” Dan called out.

The thing is, riding on a trail isn’t much easier. Unlike a snowmobile, a snowbike doesn’t have the stability from a second ski, so riding on hard-packed snow feels sort of like trying to ride a dirtbike on rutted hard-pack that’s been covered in jello. Momentum is your friend, but you sort of always have that feeling you get when you’re leaning back in a chair and you start to tip and you catch weird edges incessantly. If this was the easy part, I was screwed and Bradley, Dan, and everyone else who told me snowbikes were easy was an ass.

Timbersled
A morning meetup unlike any other.Chris Sorenson

Finally, we made our way into an open field and Dan stopped and turned to stare at us, a grin creeping slowly across his face. His eyes couldn’t contain his excitement for this field of fresh powder. He nodded towards it, motioning for us to enter the field ahead of them and gesturing with his wrist to pin it.

The Timbersled transforms in fresh snow, where its weight and ski stop trying to topple you and start carving into the snow like a sharp knife through a ripe peach. I heeded Dan’s instructions to not worry about the sound of the motor and to keep it tapped in second gear. The bike tore through the meadow as I flung the bars from side to side, leaving a foot-deep snaking trail behind me. I stopped at the end of the field to admire my work and put my foot out to catch the bike, but my foot sunk and we both toppled over into two feet of fresh powder.

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Putting your foot out doesn't help, but that didn't keep me from doing it.Chris Sorenson

Dan called out to see if I was okay, but the only response I could muster was howls of laughter in between gasps for breaths thanks to the altitude. I looked up to see Boosti lying in the snow in similar fashion while our chaperones carved through the hillsides above us. I managed to deadlift the bike back upright and continuing to find my snow legs.

Then came my first scorpion.

Timbersled
This could have been so, so much worse.Chris Sorenson

Once we’d had our fill and carved the meadow until there was no unchurned snow left to attack, Dan turned and headed deeper into the forest. One of the other guys stopped where Dan had entered and motioned for me to stay wide to the left when entering the treeline, but it wasn’t until I saw the creek rushing a few feet below my ski that I realized both why and that I hadn’t gone far enough. I tried to gas it over the narrow creek, but sent my ski into the opposing bank, which tossed me over the bars and left the bike wedged between the two banks like a bridge.

Thank God crashing in the snow doesn’t hurt. Usually (more on that later).

Chris Sorenson

It took four of us, but we wrestled the bike to the other side of “the crik” with a method called a “ski pull” where one or two guys tug on the loop on the front ski while someone else get’s on the gas. Over two days of riding, I became VERY proficient at the ski pull.

Even more so than with dirtbikes, momentum and brute force is your friend and target fixation is your mortal enemy. Outside of open desert riding, you’re almost always in someone’s tracks when on a dirtbike; more so if you found yourself riding in an area like the wooded mountains we were in. With snowbikes, the opposite is true because the snow covers most obstacles and ruts, making trees the only real danger. The bike is designed to carve through fresh snow and struggles once you introduce hard lines (like someone else’s tracks).

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Our band of explorers.Chris Sorenson

You stay on the gas and do your best to avoid looking at the trees as you make your own line up the mountain. The five of us danced and weaved our way through the trees like snakes chasing their prey up the hillsides. I'd scream if I could breathe, but initially it was all too much to process. Between the floating sensation, trees coming at me like TIE fighters, and figuring out how to breathe in a way that didn't fog my goggles, it was all I could do to keep the thing upright and take it all in

I’ve recently come to realize that my newfound love for trail riding comes from a different place than my love for street riding. With dirt, it isn’t speed and proficiency I’m chasing as much as it is that next hilltop or another incredible view. Trail riding scratches a desire to explore that my distaste for hiking (or any monotonous and strenuous activity) had hidden, and riding a snowbike is that on extacy.

Timbersled
The deepest powder I've ever been in.Chris Sorenson

The bike feels stable and planted as you float through marshmallow fields, and the options of where you can go or the lines you can take feel almost limitless. Each time we found a new meadow or hillside, we’d pause our progress to do powder turns and blast through the trees or tackle even steeper hillclimbs.

The beauty is that you can go anywhere.

Timbersled
Anywhere you want to go.Chris Sorenson

We stopped in one to film, and Dan turned to ask, “So, what do you think?”

“It’s incredible, it’s everything I thought it would be and yet completely different. I get it, I absolutely get it.” I responded.

Chris Sorenson

All throughout breakfast, we’d quizzed Dan on who snowbikes are for. They aren’t snowmobile replacements and they certainly aren’t motorcycles. They’re not cheap, as a decent bike (something newer with solid power and an electric start) and Timbersled kit will cost you $15,000-$20,000, but they also kind of can’t be.

Lots of us daydream about living somewhere where you could buy a bike and convert it for winter, so you could ride year round, but a bike needs a powerfully tuned motor and beefier suspension to handle the additional weight of the kit and most guys who have them end up just buying two bikes; something like a KTM 450 SX-F for their conversion and then a KTM 350 or 450 EXC-F for summer. In a wealthy city like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, residents able to buy a second bike certainly exist.

So why go through all the trouble and expense? Because it’s incredible. Because you can get to places you’d never be able to otherwise. Because it’s a sensation unlike anything else you’ll ever experience and because it’s one you can experience in a way that’s foreign, yet completely natural. And because it’s so. much. fun.

Timbersled
A whole new kind of exploration.Chris Sorenson

As the day turned to afternoon, we wrapped up shooting and were feeling pretty good about our progress. We packed up our gear and headed down the mountain, but the mountain wasn’t done teaching yet. We reached a whooped-out section they called Bumpy Trail and, pro snowbiker that I’d become, I decided to up the pace a bit even as the trail snaked around to run alongside a deep ravine.

A sideways bump to the front ski, a chop of the throttle, and some target fixation later, and I was flying off the side of the mountain into a tree. I tumbled seven or eight feet through branches and down to its base, the bike chasing me quickly and settling upside down on top of me. My heart and adrenaline shot through the roof as our tail rider clamored down to see if I was okay. Luckily nothing on the bike or my body was broken, and thirty minutes and a few extra set of hands later we had the bike dislodged and I was back on the trail.

With my confidence shaken and a newly heightened fear for the side of the mountain, I managed to ride off the trail again (this time only needing a ski pull) before we got off the hillside. By this point in the day, I’d dug the bike out maybe 15 times at 9,000 feet of elevation and both my body and spirit were completely shot. I just needed to get out.

Timbersled
The trail I flew off of. Twice. (Notice the "I'm not having fun anymore" look on my face).Chris Sorenson

I mustered what drive I had left as we came back to the creek crossing and forced myself to not break my gaze from the tracks the other guys had made in crossing it. My wrestling match with the tree had scared me so much and we were so close to a warm dinner and pain meds that I got on the gas as I followed what I thought were their tracks, when the nose dropped out from beneath me. I still don’t get exactly how it happened, but this one hurt. This time, I took my time lying there, contemplating the sky and if it had always had it out for me or if I’d done something to tempt it.

A snowbike is not a dirtbike. It makes things like roads or hard pack or trails, things that should be easy, hard and unsettling. It also makes wide open spaces filled with soft and undefined areas a joy like I’ve never experienced. Snowbikes let you get anywhere or on top of pretty much anything, places you’d never be able to go on a sled or dirtbike. It isn’t better and it isn’t worse, it’s just its own special kind of beautiful and it allows you to experience both powersports and the world in a completely unique and completely wonderful way.

Timbersled
The only thing these bikes are lacking is power. More powder means you need more power.Chris Sorenson

The second day of riding went much better. We had rain overnight and the temps rose, so navigating to the trail and the trails themselves were even nastier. But, Dan and crew took us to an entirely new area where the rain turned to snow and we found the most beautiful hills to chase each other through. As my body warmed up and the pain faded, and with only six hours of experience, snowbiking now felt almost natural. The learning curve is incredibly fast and, as someone who isn’t much of a natural talent, that was maybe one of the things that impressed me most.

We had to cut our day short to make our flight back to LA, but I could have ridden forever and the never ending series of peaks had me wanting to push further and further into the back country.

Timbersled
I could have done this for weeks on end.Chris Sorenson

I don’t know if snowbiking will ever be a big thing, and I don’t necessarily know if it needs to be or if I think you need to go buy one (if you live in snow). However I do think that, if you’re like me and love to try new things and love to explore this wonderful world we live in, you owe it to yourself to go somewhere you can rent one and try it for yourself. I’ve gotten to do a lot of neat things in this job, and my two days in Wyoming’s backcountry are one’s I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Timbersled
I can't wait for another adventure with these guys.Chris Sorenson

Shameless plug: most of the time a brand brings a professional out to ride with us journalist types, they're trot out like a show pony to show what the machine can do and then shuttled away to do more important things; and they're often sort of salty. Dan owns/runs NXT LVL Clinics, which runs riding clinics for both snowmobiles and snowbikes as well as rents units for private use.

Not only would this trip not have been possible without his crew, we wouldn’t have seen nearly as many cool places without their expertise and they were truly a delight to spend the two days with. They were incredibly patient with our getting stuck, laughed at our mistakes, encouraged our successes, and had great attitudes through all of it. I’ll tell you the same thing I’ve told every friend who’s text me since going: “You have to do it, but you have to do it with the guys from NXT LVL. And if you do it, I’ll go with you. Worth. Every. Penny.”

Timbersled
This meadow was full of these small, widely spaced naked trees that we carved lines between for hours.Chris Sorenson

Sean's Gear

Helmet: Bell Moto-9 Flex
Jacket: KLIM Powerxross Pullover
Pant: KLIM Havoc Bib
Gloves: KLIM Powerxross Glove
Boots: KLIM Artic GTX Boots

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Our guides, waiting while we picked out bikes up. Again.Sean MacDonald
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Boosti, on his way to take a picture of me getting stuck over the creek, fell into a sinkhole of his own.Sean MacDonald
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The definition of stuck.Chris Sorenson
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Our guides were shredders.Chris Sorenson
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"All you have to do is pin it and trust it."Chris Sorenson
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I tried to recreate this, and fell repeatedly.Chris Sorenson
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So. Much. Powder.Chris Sorenson
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If it's a bike of any sort, it will wheelie.Chris Sorenson
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On anything else, this would be crashing.Chris Sorenson
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More like Timbershredding, amirite?Chris Sorenson
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Frosty.Chris Sorenson
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Exploring.Chris Sorenson
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I can't wait for more.Chris Sorenson