Winter sports: snowmobiling

Disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of snowmobiling. It’s noisy, it’s smelly and I was terrified the whole time that we were going to roll the thing and die.

Snowmobiling seems like a great idea. To sit on a machine and be carried across a gleaming mass of ice and snow under a vast blue sky. Which is why I decided to bite the bullet and go for it.

We drove down to Mýrdalsjökull (of ice climbing fame), stopped off to get kitted up in overalls and big boots and balaclavas and helmets and then we drove off in a massive jeep halfway up the side of the glacier where no road-going vehicle should be able to go.

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At the glacier base, we got our snowmobiles, which live in sheds up there, paired up and off we went. Snowmobiling is generally done in pairs and you’re supposed to pay a supplement if you go alone. Fortunately, I was spared that as the group was an even number and I was paired with a French girl called Laura, also travelling alone. Laura, angel that she is, volunteered me to be the first driver.

I hadn’t really anticipated the noise snowmobiles make. Pristine glacier, not a soul in sight, nature being really big and epic all around you – all to the soundtrack of a deafening high-pitched whine of the motor equivalent of a Jack Russell – a teeny tiny engine that thinks it’s a T Rex. And the smell of two-stroke is just what you want on a glacier!

Complaints about the inevitables of riding a ferocious little machine aside, snowmobilies are scary. Glaciers are not flat and they’re not smooth and with two people riding, I felt the snowmobile was a bit top-heavy and I didn’t feel like I had perfect control over it at all. Maybe people who are used to motorbikes would get on better. It rocked and it wobbled and I struggled to get it moving smoothly – not so slowly that it spluttered but not so fast that I lost control. I didn’t roll it but there was one point where it felt very close and I squeaked quite a few times. Someone else did roll theirs on the way back and we all had to stop while it was righted and the riders put back on. There was no damage done to vehicle or passengers but I still don’t like the idea of knocking it over.

The biggest shock was when I downloaded my GPS data when I got home and found that we never made it over 15mph. Between the noise of the little motor and the scale of our surroundings and the fear of the snowmobile, it felt like we were flying.

When we reached the highest point, we had photos taken with our snowmobiles and then fog and snow came in.

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I had to ride back down on the back, hanging onto Laura, with things wrapped around my helmet so that the visor steamed up, more or less blind, careering through fog, downhill and with no control whatsoever over the snowmobile. It was a bit scary. Actually, it was a lot scary. And despite the warm clothes, it was so cold. Who’d have thought, travelling at speed on a glacier in a snowstorm is a bit chilly?

But it was worth it for photos like this when we reached base.

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I didn’t get a chance on our wild run across the ice to take many photos of what was going on around me or of the view, especially given that for the bit where we got off the snowmobile, it was mostly nothing but fog, but I really like this photo.

So, snowboarding is probably a bit high-octane for my tastes but even I can’t deny that it was fantastic to drive across a wild icy wilderness.