Notes from the Road: Outdoor Sports You’ve Never Tried: Snow Biking

This is the third in a new series that we like to call, “The Best Sports You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Living in Montana’s Yellowstone Country means having access to a whole host of athletic opportunities. But while mainstream sports abound, there’s somewhat of an alternative trending in this area of people who want to take already extreme sports to the next level. Today, we’re talking about snow biking.

What it is: Snow biking is motorized bike travel over the snow. Imagine that a dirt bike (or a motorcycle) and a snowmobile had a moto-baby; that’s essentially what a snow bike is.

What gear you need: This is another one of those sports that are a little costly. Not only do you already need to own (or need to buy) a compatible dirt bike, but you have to buy a snow bike kit, which is comprised of a single front ski and a back tread; basically, a thinner version of a tread like what you see on a snowmobile.

And it helps to have a mechanic in the family; the snow bike kit is relatively easy to assemble, after you’ve taken the dirt bike’s wheels off, but you’ll need yourself some tools and some basic mechanical know-how.

How the sport developed: In the snowmobiling world, riders love that they can get deep into snow covered terrain, but there’s always the concern about the logistics of actually getting there on sometimes unwieldy sleds. Backcountry skiers—who also seek out untouched powder stashes—love it because it means they can get to prime ski spots without spending a night in the woods or an inordinate amount of energy.

As already mentioned, snowmobiling in the backcountry can have a few technical difficulties, primary among them being the fact that big sleds have a hard time going anywhere off-trail or on the side of a mountain. Occasionally, snowmobiles will slip out from under the rider due to their weight and unstable snow conditions. This leads to a lot of digging out of stuck snowmobiles and much less time actually enjoying the backcountry. Additionally, going downhill on a regular snowmobile can be a harrowing experience, since they have a wide-ski stance and make turning and maneuvering difficult.

At some point, someone decided there had to be a better way. Hence, the creation of the snow bike, a light-weight, extremely maneuverable variation on a theme.

What’s the benefit of this sport? For diehard snowmobilers out there, snow biking is a way to go faster and farther without the hassle of digging out a huge sled or being confined to groomed trails.

Snow bikes are about 200 pounds lighter than the average snowmobile, which means that they maneuver a lot easier. While going uphill can be a bit of a challenge (smaller machine = smaller engine), snow bikes can get off trail, go between trees, slide across narrow snow bridges and tackle side hills without tipping over. And just like a dirt bike, going downhill is a lot more fun. The rider can go off-trail in between the trees on fresh snow, like a dirt biker would, in the summer time.

What are the rules? Snow biking is a relatively new sport, so the Forest Service hasn’t made rules specific to snow biking. Thus, follow all snowmobile rules (stay on trail in National Forests and National Parks). Snow biking on private land can prove a bit more lenient, where most landowners only regulate side hilling and going off-trail.

Where can I see one of these things? Thought you’d never ask. West Yellowstone (the veritable Mecca of snowmobiling) is having their annual Snowmobile Expo from March 14-16. You can watch snowmobile races, check out the 2014 models and demo a snowmobile (provided you have the right gear). And, of course, check out a few snow bikes while you’re at it.