SHERIDAN — When winter hits Wyoming, snowbirds will head south for the winter and others will bundle up inside under blankets and drink hot cocoa as they watch snow fall.
Other Wyomingites don winter coats and snow suits, strap on a helmet and hop on a snowmobile to explore the mountains across the state.
Mandy Fabel said snowmobiling allows riders to see the backcountry of Wyoming in the winter, feel freedom another experience cannot provide and the activity brings out the playfulness in any adult.
Fabel grew up with snowmobiling and moved away from the activity as she got older. Three years ago she joined friends on an outing with snowmobiles and rediscovered her enjoyment of the activity. She bought a sled and even convinced her husband to join in the activity.
Now Fabel and her husband, who moved to Sheridan last summer, are off on a snowmobiling adventure every weekend, traveling to the Tetons, the Snowy Range near Laramie and a few times in the Bighorns.
Fabel used to backcountry ski but it did not provide the same experience as a snowmobile once she rejoined the activity. Unless she was going downhill, Fabel did not feel the same sense of freedom as a sled provides.
Snowmobiling allows Fabel to cover more ground. She can cover 30 miles in the backcountry, something she would not be able to accomplish on skis.
Fabel said there is something about being on a sled and going through fresh snow that releases a playfulness and inner-child in her and those around her. She has heard grown men giggle like a child during her outings.
Sheridan native and long-time snowmobiler Jeff Shanor said there is no other feeling in the world than entering a meadow in the backwoods of the Bighorns and seeing an untouched field of fresh powder.
Shanor said it is like driving on a cloud and provides a feeling like any other.
Shanor, a former snowmobile guide at Arrowhead Lodge, said the Bighorns attract non-Wyoming residents as well. Riders from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and other northern Midwestern states travel to snowmobile in Wyoming.
These are the closest true mountains for the riders from those states, Shanor said. The Black Hills in South Dakota have some good riding areas, but they do not receive the same snowfall as the high country of the Bighorns.
Shanor said the Bighorns are also attractive for riders because it offers a variety of terrain to match the skill levels of the riders. There are steep hills, narrow drainage ditches and heavy tread areas that challenge even the best riders. There are open fields and trail systems beginners can navigate with ease and build confidence on a sled.
Shanor received his first snowmobile when he was 3 years old and has been riding in the Bighorns ever since then. Starting around age 10 he was on a sled powerful enough to take him through the backcountry and has been a backcountry rider since then.
Backcountry riders use the established trails to move them deeper in to the mountains before they go off of the trail and explore through trees, searching for open meadows to play in.
They will go wherever they are allowed.
Fabel said riding in the backcountry means you will probably get stuck at least once in the snow. As a rider gains experience, they will learn how to avoid getting stuck or how to free themselves from the snow with ease.
Riding is a full-body sport. Digging out can be tiring but even getting the machine to turn requires the entire body.
Shanor said when a snowmobiler is creating their own path through fresh snow, the skis do not help with the turning very much. A rider needs to shift their weight on the sled to get the machine to turn. Sleds are a few hundred-pound machines and require a lot of effort to turn.
It is a tiring activity, but the experience it provides keeps riders going back out every chance they get.