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Snowhawk Riding Creates a Family Bond

Brothers build camaraderie, competition and an expanded family of riders
Family Ride snowmobiles mountain
“No brake. Just haul ass.”

That’s how one Snowhawk rider described the machine that sledders love to hate. But love ‘em or hate ‘em, these "snow bikes on steroids" have helped Sean and Colton Thain forge a friendship that’s even deeper than the snow they rocket across.

Eight years older than his kid brother, Colton always liked tinkering with any kind of engine. He and his dad spent endless hours wrenching on snowmobiles or just about anything else. As for Sean, not so much. As a kid, he was a video gamer content to be glued to the couch and the console.

“I didn’t understand my brother and my dad,” Sean remembers and adds with a laugh, “Why would you even want to work on those stupid things?”

But Colton and his dad didn’t give up. They kept including Sean, and eventually, he caught the wrenching bug too. Sean had a change of heart in high school and decided he wanted to pursue a career in machining.
Family Ride snowmobile sidehilling mountain
“I don’t know what clicked when I was younger, other than he (Colton) just set a great example,” says Sean, who remembers thinking, “Man, I want to be like him and that’s what I want to go into.” 

Colton helped Sean land a job at the machine shop where he worked. He became Sean’s boss, and the pair worked together for about four years before Colton opened his own shop and Sean moved on to another employer. 

“In my career path, I have learned everything from him," says Sean. "I honestly could never thank him enough for everything he’s done for me.”

Before you reach for the tissues, don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s all sunshine and roses for the Thain brothers. As kids, the brothers often argued, and even as adults, both admit they’re still very competitive. That’s where the Snowhawks came in.
Family Ride snowmobile sidehill
Colton says the machines were invented by a pair of Canadian brothers who came up with a prototype around 2003. But once they proved they could make the machine work, Colton says the inventors essentially stopped doing any further refinements on the machines. Eventually, they sold the Snowhawk name and most of the technology to MST, another Canadian company. A few are still imported to the U.S. 

“If you were to order a brand new one, the base model is $15,000, which is an outrageous amount of money for some old technology,” said Sean. “You should be able to get a used one for about $4,000.” 

“They require a lot of maintenance,” Colton admits. “Every ride you go on, you’re guaranteed you have to do something to it. Tighten a bolt, fix the suspension. Every other ride I was wrenching on that darn thing. We’re riding 2004-05 machines; not many sleds that old are still being ridden.” 

And if something breaks and you need parts? Let’s just say it’s a good idea to know a good machinist. Or two. 
Family Ride snowmobile mountain line
Sean calls the Snowhawk a cross between a stand-up Jet Ski, a snowmobile and a dirt bike. 

“They don’t respond like anything you’ve ever been on before,” says Sean. 

“It’s like riding a Harley or a bullet bike,” Colton explains. “When somebody is riding down the canyon, you turn the handlebars the opposite way you want to turn. People hear Snowhawk and they think, ‘Ugh. I don’t want to ride one of those.’” 

Sean adds, “We roll into parking lots and some people love them and some people won’t even look at us.”

So, who exactly does like the Hawks? 

“Anybody that likes to just open it up,” says Colton.

Colton's father-in-law, Mike Hansen, was one of those riders. Mike’s friend had a Hawk, so he got one, which meant that Colton just had to try it out too. He shakes his head remembering that first ride. He cut the engine and proclaimed, “This is my future. I have got to get one of these!”
Family Ride snowmobile sidehill mountain
And if Colton had the Hawk, you can guess what Sean had to do. 

“If he’s got one, I have to get one,” Sean admits. 

That first ride did not go well. Sean recalls, “We probably went about 100 feet, and I would have to stop and sit there. I was dry heaving because it was so hard!” He laughs and says he told himself, “My brother’s here and he can do it. Obviously, I have to learn how to do it because he can.” 

Five years, hundreds of hours and even more miles later, the brothers are still tearing it up on their Hawks. 

“Sean has actually excelled a lot,” says Colton. “I’d say he’s the better rider just hanging it out, wide open. But he’s so fast he ends up in a tree.” 

Both men give each other a nod and a laugh. 

“Colton is the better technical rider," admits Sean.
Family Ride snowmobile silhouette sunset
When the brothers aren’t on the mountain, they’re wrenching with their expanded Snowhawk family. It’s a group of about ten men, some of whom Colton has known his entire life. The Thains' dad helped them convert an old farm shed into a workshop for the group. 

“We all show up and work on them together,” says Colton.  

And there’s a lot to do. The machines have all been customized to fit each rider’s unique preferences. They’ve modified the rail extenders, suspension, tracks and just about everything else. 

“Stock is OK at first, but once you hop on other people’s bikes, little things make a difference," says Colton. "We’re kind of moving into a phase where we’re building our own frames."

“There’s really nothing better than knowing that me and him are into the same things and always down to do the same things,” says Sean. “We accept each other for who we are. We laugh at each other’s mistakes. We just shake our heads at each other and know that we’ve got each other’s backs.”

Colton adds, “It’s like having a best friend. Wanna go ride tomorrow?” 

“Sure!” Sean says.
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