With the snow in northern Sweden ”deep enough to drown in”, ex-Londoner Gerald Laffey explains the trials and tribulations that come with a new snowmobile.
It has snowed A LOT in recent winters. We’re fairly keen walkers but winter up north is not really designed for strolls through the meadows. If we had attempted a stroll to the shore of our lake I’m pretty sure we’d’ve drowned under four metres of snow before we’d walked very far.
It’s serious snow up here in Norrland. Even our cats, all giant Maine Coon monsters, built for harsh winters, rarely venture outside other than for their obvious necessities. And even then, they come back looking like abominable snowcats.
But it is beautiful, especially as the days get longer and the sunny days become more frequent. We want to be outside as much as possible, especially as it’s been a relatively mild winter up here – it’s rarely dropped below -15C. All that snow and no way to explore it (not without a snorkel anyway).
Pop went my hamstring!
I considered Nordic skiing but my dodgy, football-wrecked knees put me off for the first five years. When I eventually did give it a go I really enjoyed it. For the first 400 metres. Then I overstretched while ascending a gentle incline and – pop! – there went a hamstring muscle.
Determined to enjoy the outdoors, I decided to get my snowmobile driving licence, and then, after a lot of encouragement from our friends, we bought a snowmobile, or snöskoter.
Anders, my snöskoter-crazy friend, took us shopping. I tried a mammoth Yamaha Viking that would probably have accommodated myself, my wife, our sons and our cats. But Anders said it was too big for a beginner.
“If you get stuck on that, you’ll need a helicopter to rescue you.”
After a further three or four test-drives Anders found us a Lynx Yeti that was ideal. It had a wide-track (bredband), which meant it offered stability and traction and it was big enough to allow two people to ride comfortably. At first, in the relatively shallow snow, just after Christmas, riding it was a breeze. I even ventured off-trail (something I’d been warned not to do) and made my own tracks in the huge expanse of virgin snow that our house backs onto. The sense of freedom it gave us was thrilling. We could venture out to places that had been hitherto inaccessible.
This is easy-peasy!
My English friend, Paul, who’s been here seven years, had warned me that I would come a cropper at some stage – “everybody does”.
“Ha,” I thought, “I’m obviously a natural, this is easy-peasy.”
A couple of weeks ago, we had another huge dump of snow. Sunday, dawned bright, sunny and glorious. I togged up and I hopped on the snowmobile to firm up the track down to the lake (a skoter is a fine tool to make walkable paths over deep snow). After about 100 meters I could sense that the terrain had changed. The skoter wobbled around at low speeds and was proving difficult to turn. After 200 metres, I was starting to panic – I was heading towards the trees at the edge of the lake and the bloody thing would not turn.
Then I made the first error of the day – instead of accelerating out of the spot of trouble, I slowed down. The skoter, robbed of its momentum, dipped its left side into the deep, fresh snow and threw me off. I was flipped into deep snow. I was like a turtle stranded on its back – I could not move. Eventually, I righted myself. But I couldn’t shift the skoter.
Luckily, my wife, Sara, sons and Anders were only 200 metres away and Anders trekked back to the house to fetch a shovel. Thirty minutes later we were free and Anders jumped on the back and off we went again.
Ice-cold and dangerous
We found ourselves stuck a further three times – on the last occasion, in order to free the skoter, we dug up enough snow and ice to build a competitor to the Ice Hotel. This is nature ice-cold in tooth and claw.
Until now, I’ve forgone proper snow boots and not bothered with a snowsuit. Both oversights have been rectified but I’ve not ventured out since. I have to admit, I’ve lost my bottle slightly. It is really lovely out there and very exciting. But it’s a beauty tinged with glacial danger. And I’m not quite ready to take it on again yet.
A version of this article previously appeared on TheLocal.se
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