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Off-Road ATV Riding in the Mountains of Montana

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Montana: Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam (roamed?) and the deer and the antelope play… until they are scared off by a Polaris ATV

In This ATV Article You Will Discover:

  • The Best Way to See Montana
  • Awesome Off-Road Machinery
  • And More!

“Be careful if you step off your machine,” our soft-spoken guide instructs. “There could be rattlers in the grass.” Uneasy glances cascade through our group of a dozen. Rattlers? Like, as in rattle snakes? Where are we?

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Cascade, Montana — true Wild West cowboy country.

Cascade, Montana. Home to cowboys, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, half-million-acre ranches, about 20,000 residents and, apparently, about that many rattle snakes too. Montana is a freak state — in the nicest way possible.

While the great USA is known, to Canadians anyway, for being a crowded country where their towns have populations larger than our cities, Montana feels more like a Canadian province than a state. Less than a million people call Montana home, similar numbers to Saskatchewan or Manitoba (although it is a fraction of the size of those prairie giants). Here, towns are towns. Cities, by modern standards, don’t even exist.

What does exist is rolling, smooth-base-to-jagged-top mountains — this terrain covers about one-third of the state, and creates a true cowboy landscape right out of Golden Age Hollywood films. But I’ve never been much of a horseman — I’m more into horsepower. So when Polaris Industries offered to pay my freight and food while I visit the Stetson State and test their new line of ATVs, how could I say no?

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Big Boys Toys: The Polaris Ranger Rzr. For about $14,000, it can be yours…

All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) or OHVs (off-highway vehicles) as they are sometimes known, have a certain duality among the populous. Some, like myself, find them an absolute hoot to ride, others buy them as invaluable ranch tools — like our hosts at the ranch outside Cascade (which they asked us not to name in print) — and still others see them as habitat-destroying, animal frightening, fossil-fuel burning hillbilly machines better left in the annals of Hummer-driving history than the Green 21st Century. (Polaris, with their new line of electric and clean-diesel ATVs, hopes to change this.) However, I say “all things in moderation.” While I respect the natural environment to no end —  I never bushwhack with my machines, always staying on-trail — I do love riding dirt bikes and ATVs.

And Montana has just about the finest riding I’ve ever experienced.

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A fleet of media, testing the capabilities of Polaris Industries’ 2011 ATV lineup.

At a quarter-after-nine in the a.m., myself and the other media-types here to experience Polaris’ 2011 ATV lineup roll out of base camp in a makeshift Congo line and wind our way through short, stunted pine trees, across mountain creeks and higher up-slope to the tree line in a slow-motion exploration of the Montana landscape. In the distance, flat-topped mountains dot the horizon, now visible from our elevation. Birds sing. Sun drenches the dry valley. It is not lost on me, though, that the pronghorn antelope and mule deer we had seen in abundance during the drive in this morning are nowhere to be found at this moment. It’s ironic that the nature I am exploring in this ATV is quite literally fleeing from me as I approach.

I’m piloting the sweet new side-by-side Polaris Ranger Rzr, and it’s pretty much the most fun you can have on four wheels. Like a dune buggy on steroids, this 50-horsepower, rally-inspired fun-machine is fast, maneuverable and puts a smile on my face I couldn’t shut off if I tried.

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David Webb and his top pick of the day — the Trail Rated Rzr.

I rave about the machine to one of the local ranch hands.

“Those side-by-sides are dangerous,” he tells me. “While back, two guys rolled one down this mountainside. They rolled for a mile before the stopped. Both died, shaken to death.”

Ranch hands are so nonchalant about everything. But he’s got a point — one is belted inside a side-by-side. I prefer the open-air mount of a conventional ATV. If I start rolling down-slope, at least I’ll be tossed free before I’m, um, “shaken to death.”

I trade in the Razer for a Sportsman 850 Touring, the Cadillac of ATVs. Boy, I can’t wait to get out of this Congo line and let loose a bit…

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Somehow, this scene would look more dramatic if we had stallions and Stetsons….

Two work-mates and myself flag a Polaris engineer and convince him to take us on a side-trip.

“I want to see what these machines can do,” I suggest, slyly. He gets it. One doesn’t become an ATV engineer by accident.

In a car, 50 horsepower is meager. In an ATV, it’ll snap your head back and send you barreling for the Great Blue faster than you can say, “Ride ‘em cowboy!” We unleash hell on the Montana mountainside, topping 100 km/h on trails barely wide enough to contain all four wheels. I’d have taken one of the machines home with me that night, if they didn’t cost upwards of $12,000. Yes, you read that right. There were even a couple that topped 15 grand… for a single-purpose, non-street-legal toy.

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Taking a beverage break, deep in the mountains of Montana.

And no, the deer and the antelope were still nowhere to be seen. Except when I left for the night. As our quiet-by-comparison bus trundled us home for the evening, the antelope multiplied in the roadside fields; foreign-looking beasts, resembling escapees from the African Serengeti. They seemed glad we were gone.

OK, antelope. You win. Next time I visit Montana, I’ll bring horses, not horsepower.

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

5 comments… add one
  • ride on cars May 17, 2015

    Hi, yes this piece of writing is genuinely goopd and I have learned
    lot off things from it about blogging. thanks.

  • Erin Apr 11, 2011

    Wow you are really handsome David Webb!

  • Jacinda Green Mar 31, 2011

    Cool blog. You really gave me a different view of Montana.

    Those mountains are absolutely beautiful and I might just have to visit some day.

  • Zablon Mukuba Mar 28, 2011

    this is a really fun way to travel and site see

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