By on March 3, 2011

The navicular, or scaphoid, bone, is a little bone in your wrist. About fifteen years ago, I broke both of mine during practice for a BMX National. Since my father was flying in to see me race that day, and since I didn’t want him to travel a long way for nothing, I wrapped duct tape around both my wrists and went out for the first heat anyway. When I landed the first jump, a modest fifteen-foot gap with a steep face to the landing, I nearly vomited from the intensity of the pain. Needless to say, things went downhill from there and as a result I’ve had trouble with my wrists ever since.

In the song “Twilight Zone”, Golden Earring sang, “You will come to know / when the bullet hits the bone.” I have come to know when I’m about to re-break one or both of my wrists. As I went flying through the air at fifty kilometers per hour, a tumbling snowmobile behind me and a hard sheet of ice ahead, I knew what was about to happen…

* * *

“It’s called a Can-Am Spyder,” I said. “It’s basically a snowmobile on wheels.” There was silence on the other end of the phone, but I imagined I could hear the wheels turning slowly in Vodka McBigbra’s head.

“You,” she opined after a few moments, “should take me to Canada to ride a snowmobile.”

“It’s September, you know.”

“Why are you changing the subject?” Why, indeed? I contacted my old pal Brian to see if he could find some Canadian snowmobiles, and four months later we were saddling a pair of Ski-Doo MXZs up for a tour of the Georgian Bay area. Brian was on one of the Ski-Doos, with Vodka riding behind me on the other. Looking back, I should have considered that

  • I had never ridden a snowmobile before;
  • I don’t like to lose any kind of race, whatsoever;
  • Any situation where someone else is anywhere near me on similar machinery feels like a “race” to me.

I think Vodka expected that our snowmobile tour would be a nice, leisurely ride down a long, tree-lined trail, but from the moment Brian disappeared around the first corner it became a full-throttle race down a long, tree-lined trail.

We should take a break at this point to explain how snowmobiles operate, just so TTACers who actually know something about snowmobiles can enjoy the pleasure of correcting me. There’s a little Rotax V-twin engine — I believe ours was a 440, although it could also have been a 600 — that connects to some kind of centrifugal clutch and turns a rolller. This roller moves a belt studded with paddles under the snowmobile, which digs the snow out from under you, creates a hole into which the snowmobile sinks, and causes you to have to dig the snowmobile out of that hole so you can continue on your way.

Our Ski-Doos couldn’t quite do 100km/h on flat ground, er, snow, but down the six-foot wide trail that had been bulldozed from three or four feet of snow and which was lined on both sides with the aforementioned trees, that seemed plenty fast. As with the Can-Am Spyder, some sort of leaning into turns is required, and some finesse with the throttle is also necessary to balance the thing so the rider is not constantly fighting understeer. My non-scientific impression of the MXZ’s acceleration was that it was roughly equal to that of a 250cc motorcycle with one passenger.

Two hours into our ride, the pace had gotten fairly hectic. The kids on bright pink and green machines who had zipped away from us at the beginning were now moving over for Brian and me as we continued to turn the wick up. V. McB had resigned herself to silent mirroring of my increasingly desperate hang-off moves. More and more of our turns were being taken flat-out. I was starting to consider myself quite the natural at snowmobile riding. I imagined myself on a bright green racing snowmobile, jumping a big set of snow doubles, pulling a no-hander, and possibly catching the eye of some Palin-esque young Alaska mother. The gap between us and Brian was down to perhaps twenty feet when we rounded a long, fast corner and I felt the handlebars go slack on the ice.

A snowmobile rider with experience would have perhaps hit the brakes to reduce the speed of impact. I treated the Ski-Doo like a race car and held constant throttle waiting for the traction to return, which resulted in me striking the angled wall of the dug-in trail with the left front ski. As I jumped clear, the sled began to tumble. I struck the ground about twenty feet later, rolling on impact but breaking my right wrist. Vodka was pinned beneath the upturned snowmobile. I crawled back and pulled the yellow-and-black machine off her, dragging her up the waist-high wall of snow and then returning to get the MXZ out of the way of anybody behind us. Brian continued without us, having no mirrors on his Ski-Doo.

Amazingly enough, the damage was limited to the nose cone, which I tossed out of the way as we prepared to continue. (Even more amazingly, the damage only billed out at $275 when I got the total a month later.) Vodka’s right foot was broken in at least one place but she was determined to continue, so we followed the trail for another three hours at a somewhat reduced pace before arriving back at the free-standing little building sans electricity or heat that served as the snowmobile rental office.

While my companion elevated her bright-purple toes, I provided my plum Amex to the cheerful fellow who operated the agency. “You know,” he said, “there’s a bit of a ramp to the edge of the parking lot of there. Didn’t you say you were a BMX rider at some point? Did you want to try jumping one of the Ski-Doos?”

“Would you,” I inquired, “happen to have any duct tape?”

* * *

Ed’s been very tolerant of these non-car reviews this week, but I promised him I would save my other articles, on a jet-ski and a Goodyear Blimp, until another time. Still, it’s been fun writing about subjects on which I have no qualifications whatsoever. This must be what it’s like to be a GM blogger! — jb

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23 Comments on “Capsule Review: Ski-Doo MXZ...”


  • avatar
    lmike51b

    One of these days ya’ll will sit back and laugh about the “time we wrecked on the Ski-Doo”, but probably not just yet.  Thanks for the morning adrenaline shot.  Looking forward to the next installment of Adventures with Jack!

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    As someone who grew up in rural Western NY, snowmobiling is one of the things I miss most now that I’ve moved to one of the growing southern states. Ah, that pesky detail of needing work….

     It’s an incredibly dangerous pastime; I’ve crashed a snowmobile into a fence, flown 100′ or more (distance, not altitude) through the air over an unseen rise at full tilt, only to come down hanging onto the handlebars for dear life while the rest of my body flopped and dangled off the side of a machine still travelling at 75 mph, caught a tree branch with my nose while stupidly riding with the face shield up, and ridden many dark night miles on a sled with no headlight that we affectionately dubbed “Black Magic.”  We also used sleds to cross unfrozen water (“watercrossing” is its own sport) and to tow each other around on snowboards at obscene speeds, but those are not dangers inherent to snowmobiling – they’re dangers inherent to being a stupid, reckless, redneck teenager.

    Partly because of the risk, and partly because of the sheer performance most decent sleds from 600cc on up offer, snowmobiling is also an incredible rush.  As an activity, I’d put it slightly above dragging knees through the Tail of the Dragon on a sportbike for inducing a pure adrenaline rush.

    Great story, Jack.  Thanks for evoking a whole bunch of great memories.

  • avatar
    aircooledTOM

    I laughed at V-twin.  Just be glad you didn’t rent a really fast one.  Growing up in rural western MA, I had some buddies whose parents had more money than sense and bought their kids 150+ horsepower snowmobiles.  Obscenely fast.  We used to ski behind them.  I can relate to the previous posters antics.  People who don’t have experience with these can have no frame of reference.  0-100 in around 6 or 7 seconds.  Stupid fast.  And no danger of “looping” it because the clutch acts like traction control. 

    I have friends who have drag-racing sleds– 800cc two-stroke twins with custom porting and heads machined for 101 octane, custom-made expansion chambers….  Things of mechanical beauty–aircooled simplicity.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I have friends who have drag-racing sleds– 800cc two-stroke twins with custom porting and heads machined for 101 octane, custom-made expansion chambers….  Things of mechanical beauty–aircooled simplicity.

      A former colleague of mine tore a lot of flesh off his leg with one of those.  Evil but impressive machines.

      The best place (in terms of safety) is a big, open, shallow, placid  and thoroughly frozen lake.  No surprises, lot’s of space to term, easy for people to spot you from the air if you wreck.  The problem is that a lot of people forget the “frozen” park and do something really stupid.  Lake Scugog sees a lot of that kind of stupidity.

  • avatar

    Enjoyed the Ski-Doo story, reminded me of a sunny cold afternoon in December 1969 in Scandia, PA.  I was recently back from a year in Vietnam and invited my father to drive out to the country to rent a snowmobile.

    We spent an hour or two tooling around some lovely fields and headed back down the lane toward the farmer’s barn, me driving with Dad sitting directly behind me.  A couple hundred feet out from the closed barn door I realized that the snowmobile was not slowing down as I backed off the hand throttle.  This was one of those early machines that was built in two sections, snowmobile with handle bars connected to a trailer for the driver and passenger.  That closed barn door was coming up fast and I couldn’t turn to go around the barn without tipping the machine because we were going too fast.  Having only seconds to react I took the only possible action, stood up, leaned out as far as I could while steering with one handlebar and managed to shut off the ignition key about 40 feet back from the barn door.  My father never knew how close we came to driving through the side of that barn!  It did prepare me well for a ride a few years later in my 74 VW Dasher when the carburetor suddenly went nuts and I had my second case of unintended acceleration.  I was heading for the VW dealer anyway through the northern Ohio countryside when I realized the car was picking up speed.  I popped the stick shift into neutral and listened to the engine race while the car slowed down a bit.  I nursed it to the dealer for the next seven or eight miles in the same manner and warned the service manager to be wary when driving it into the garage.  I don’t recall warning the farmer of the problem with the snowmobile.  I have often wondered what happened when he started it up.

  • avatar
    Eurylokhos

    Awesome story, Jack, your best yet.

  • avatar
    mikenem

    Good read. I gotta ride one of these someday. Anything like trail riding an S&M Challenger? (my last BMX) Ha.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    Growing up in NE Iowa, I look back and wonder how I lived through my snowmobile years. Usually we took them out in deep snowfall on the city streets wearing only cowboy boots and jean jackets, ducking for yard fences, rolling them, hitting near triple digit speeds (we rode highly tuned John Deere’s – remember those?)  on residential streets, running from cops,  etc. Loads of fun but way stupid.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Well, now you’ve raced with a CVT.

  • avatar
    redwood2

    Snowmobile + alcohol + the high tension cable that tethers a telephone pole to the ground = decapitation. Happens with surprising frequency.

  • avatar

    Reminds me how Paul Tracy managed to get crushed by an ATV in Nevada desert near Vegas.

  • avatar
    jfranci3

    Ice – stay on the gas  like you mentioned, no brakes, just shift your weight to move the back-end out, so when you strike the berm you do it with the back-end first.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    “We should take a break at this point to explain how snowmobiles operate, just so TTACers who actually know something about snowmobiles can enjoy the pleasure of correcting me.”

    I love it, so true too… I am just waiting for the know-it-alls to chime in about how you rode something with no idea how it works again…

    I cant wait to hear about the jet ski.  Did you ride a real one, or one of those pansy 3-seater limos?

  • avatar
    fincar1

    My wife and I went snowmobiling in an old gravel pit with a friend of ours in western Montana. Great fun, all kinds of hills, slopes, etc. About a foot of snow and 28 degrees or so. We both inadvertently rode off a 6-foot-high bank. I stood up when the sno-cat dropped and landed ok, but she didn’t do it in time and her throat came down on the top of the windshield. It was a couple of months before it quit hurting, and she was damn lucky at that.

    • 0 avatar
      jfranci3

      One of the challenges of snowmobiling is that everything is the same color of reflective white, so you can’t make out edges and there are no shadows.

  • avatar

    A few years ago CBC did a miniseries on Joseph Bombardier. The original snowmobile was a side project the old man worked on to keep busy as his kids managed the family business making tracked equipment.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0192879/

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    A couple of decades ago, a cousin went out for a drunken ride on his snowmobile on Christmas Eve, and was decapitated by a strand of barbed wire.  So it goes.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      Yikes! Drinking and driving anything is not a smart move. I guy I know was hammered and took out his ATV in the snow for a “little ride”. He had the ski in the front and it was hopped up quite a bit, so insane speeds could be reached. He was going along an area he wasn’t familiar with, and didn’t see the tree stump that was covered with snow. He hit it going about 60 or so, flew over the handlebars, and landed on his back about 50 feet away. Nobody saw it happen, and his fiancee started getting worried when he didn’t come back. She called the cops, and about 40 minutes later, they found him, unconscious. They took him to the hospital, and he ended up having to have rods and screws, etc put into his back, and the doctors said if he hadn’t passed out and not moved, he would have been paralyzed for sure. One good thing did come out of it, he hasn’t had more than one drink at a time since. He remembers that day every morning, when he gets out of bed and feels the pain in his back.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    So is she still speaking to you?

  • avatar
    nrd515

    When I read the thing about the wrist injury, I immediately thought back to what happened to me years ago. in 1985, I was talked into taking a puppy by a woman who worked at the Vet’s office. Someone had brought in a bunch of mixed breed pups with a skin infection, and they never came back. The day before I got him, I had bought a new 1985 Caravan. Huge mistake. He caused about a thousand bucks worth of damage in the first couple of days. It was obvious he was a Pit Bull mix, his jaws were amazingly powerful, and as he grew, it was just as obvious he wasn’t going to be lightweight. And his immunity to all but the worst pain was just as obvious. By 2 years old, he was an amazingly compact 75 pounds, with a huge head that was about 16″ long, with back teeth the size of my thumbs. But it wasn’t the teeth that hurt me, it was the top of that amazing head. We were out driving around, and I decided to stop for ice cream. He got all excited when he thought he would get something to eat, so he began bouncing around. I had my right hand on the wheel, just resting it on the spoke, and Gus slammed into the back of my upper arm. My hand had no place to go, so my wrist bent, and bent way further than it wanted to. It made a huge “crack”, and I screamed. The pain was unbelievable! I finally got the ice cream, and by the time I got home, it didn’t hurt all that bad. Until the next morning. When I woke up, my right wrist was about twice the size of my left one and it was all purple, and I answered the phone, and practically passed out from the pain. It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever felt. Off to the ER I went, and they said it was just a severe sprain, but I had tore a bunch of ligaments, so it would be a long time to heal up. They gave me some kind of wrist brace, an aluminum thing that helped a lot. I wore it for about 3 weeks, and finally took it off. About a week after that, I was sitting on my basement floor, hooking up my stereo, and the cat and dog were playing. The cat got in front of me, and Gus lunged, and this time, my hand was on the corner of the rack my stereo was on, but the result was the same, it bent way too far, and I was rolling around on the floor in agony. On went the brace, but my wrist, 20+ years later, and about 12 years after Gus checked out, has never been the same. It clicks, pops, grinds, and mostly just hurts a little all the time, and if it bends a certain way, out comes the brace again.

  • avatar
    itsgotvtakyo

    I once dated a girl whose family had a place in the middle of a hundred acres in rural Vermont and a couple of snow mobiles. The first time we went out we shared a sled and needless to say being on the back of a sled piloted by a madwoman who I weighed twice as much as wreaked havoc with the handling dynamics and she threw us inside of five minutes. Valuing my life and the continuation of that relationship I decided I knew everything I needed to about driving a snowmobile and opted for my own sled. You know what’s not overrated? Sex on a snowmobile in the middle of the woods on an unusually warm and sunny winter day.


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