December 5, 2008

Really Living



Mod Sleds, Avalanches And Life-Changing Experiences: Jared Sessions’ Story

Jared Sessions sits at a small desk in a corner of an upstairs office, accessible only by walking through the fabrication shop at Boondockers’ headquarters in southeastern Idaho.

Sessions is on the phone, explaining the technical specifications of a Boondocker turbo kit to someone on the other side of the line. It’s a conversation he’s had a hundred times before. But you can still catch a tone of excitement in his voice. This guy loves snowmobiling.

Sessions has been through more than his fair share of ups and downs in the sport. A backcountry rider at heart, he’s built some of the trickest sleds over the past few years, many of which have been featured on covers and in the pages of SledHeads. You can catch his impressive, on-edge riding action in the latest DVD from Extreme Team Productions, Danger Zone 3. He’s also battled with huge avalanches and a family tragedy, losing a brother in a snowmobiling accident.

Borrowing a page from ESPN the Magazine, we feel that Sessions’ story is best told by Jared himself.

 

I grew up in Tremonton, Utah. Sledding was not always my childhood dream. We did have snowmobiles growing up, but when we were younger we (my four brothers and I) had the option to either downhill ski or snowmobile, as it was too expensive and winter was too short to do both. I loved the thrill of going fast and chose to downhill ski, always trying to improve my skills on the slope and in the air. But that’s not to say I didn’t have a part in wearing out the snow in the field behind the house on our Yamaha Snoscoots.

In the summer of 1992, my family made the move to Island Park, Idaho, to follow my parents’ dream of the outdoors. We purchased a lodge in Last Chance to operate a fly fishing guide service in the summer and snowmobile rental operation in the winter. That’s when things really got started for me in my snowmobile career. I got the opportunity to work with my family in the rental business and we hooked up with Polaris that winter.

I helped out after school and on the weekends to keep the small fleet of sleds in operation. I hung up my downhill skis and started riding sleds every opportunity I got. I was 14 years old then, riding an Indy Sport 440 and lurking for any chance I got to ride the Indy 440 SKS or the 500 SKS to pound on the hills. I can remember while learning to ride we would leave Last Chance and head to Mt. Jefferson. We would make it to what we called Windshield Ridge (for obvious reasons) and spend the day in the meadow and pound at the hillside with my family. Being the oldest of five boys, I would just cringe watching my younger brothers climb and sometimes roll as we tried to outdo each other.

I spent my first couple of years mainly riding with my family and a few high school friends and any of the rental clients who needed or wanted to be shown around.

 

In 1996, I bought a couple sleds—a Polaris Indy 500 RMK and 600 XCR (that I converted into a long track) and my dad and I joined the RMSHA hillclimb circuit. I competed in the Stock 500 and Stock 600 classes and had a great time meeting and learning from the best snowmobiling had to offer. I faired well for a rookie climber and qualified in Stock 600 for Jackson. I didn’t place, but a shot of me wound up on the back cover of the World Championship Hillclimb video of that year.

After that year of climbing I knew I could be competitive but it cut into all of my mountain riding time, so I decided that my true sledding passion was backcountry riding.

In the fall of 1996, my dad sent me to Polaris school where I received my MSD service technician certification for snow, ATV and watercraft. In 1997 I purchased a 700 RMK, which was the sled that started my mod tinkering habits. There were a lot of these sleds around, so the competition was upped. I worked with Starting Line Products on the head and with PSI on the twin pipes. With a little clutching and some cosmetic work I had a great-running sled with a different look from the rest of the sleds on the snow.

 

In the summer of 1997 my family sold the lodge and the new owners did away with the snowmachine end of the operation. By then I knew I was a motorhead for sure so I headed to West Yellowstone and found a job working at a service station that had a small rental fleet of sleds that I could service and keep on the snow.

In the fall of 1998 I went to Brad Loomis at Polaris West and got a job working on their rental sleds. By the start of that winter season, Brad had noticed that I had some skill and took pride in my work. I moved up from working on rental sleds to working on customer sleds. I take great pride in the work I do and get my drive and satisfaction out of making someone’s vacation or their ride more enjoyable. It did not take long for me to gain a reputation for the work I was doing in the shop.

After a year in the shop, learning the service end of things and learning more and more about modifying sleds, Brad gave me an opportunity to start with a little shop project sled. It was a 2000 Polaris 700 RMK with a 136-inch track. The mods were simple bolt-ons, cosmetic changes, track change, SLP twins, reeds and heads. Though the changes were subtle, they were enough to get the sled noticed nationally and I appeared in two sled videos that year with it Born To Ride 2 and Gravity Melt Down.

Brad realized that the shop sled builds were good for business as parts and accessories sales started to rise along with the shop sled’s exposure. The sleds sitting in front of the shop would also draw people to stop and take a look and even strike up some good conversations that built customer relations. In 2000, I started taking on more responsibility with the parts counter and ordering parts and accessories. In 2000, we connected with Brad Madison from Klim and placed a order with him for a second clothing line, as people were not as brand-loyal as in the past. We were hesitant to bring the line on because of its retail price compared to some of the other lines on the market. Klim hooked up Brad and me with a set of gear and after a short time we were hooked and realized we had made the right decision and taken on the best aggressive sled wear available. That year Brad and I took our 2001 Polaris sleds and our Klim gear to the SnoWest Deep Powder Challenge and dominated the test with our dealer setup. That earned us the cover shot on the magazine, which was mine and also Klim’s first cover shot. I thought that was pretty cool, especially looking back now as Klim seems to be the dominant force in outerwear.

 

In the 2002-03 winter season, I was excited as Polaris had released the 800 Vertical Escape and the aftermarket presence was stronger than ever. Boondocker had come on to the scene with a new, reliable nitrous system, so I met with Rocky Young from Boondocker and made Polaris West a dealer.

That year was one of the best. The big bores were all over but they couldn’t keep up with the nitrous. By the end of that season I knew the plan for next year: big bore, light weight and Boondocker nitrous.

In 2003-04, the new sleds came in early. The lightweight parts were showing up. Titanium front end, Fox Float shocks, billet spindles, ti drive shaft, Holz rear skid, Boss seat, Outlaw hood and more. The engine went to Straightline Performance for a 910cc big bore. We added the Boondocker 4-pound carbon fiber bottle kit and SLP race pipes.

This was my biggest build so far. One day, Brad and I were hanging in the shop looking at our stripped-down sled trying to find ways to take more weight out of the sled when Brad said, “Let’s drill the track.” I said, “What?” I walked to my tool box and grabbed a drill and a one-inch hole saw. We grabbed an old track from the scrap pile, decided on a pattern and technique and went to drilling. Within a week, the SnoWest magazine guys were there to pick up their Polaris fleet sleds for the year. We grabbed Ryan Harris and Steve Janes and said, “Check out this track.” Ryan took pictures and put a blurb in SledHeads, titled “Holy Track.”

When that issue hit, the phones started ringing. Everybody wanted to know how, why and will it work. We didn’t yet have the answer, but we had a good idea that it would—and it did.

That was one of my most memorable builds. I made the cover of SledHeads magazine with that sled.

For 2004-05, I had my work cut out with the new Polaris 900 IQ RMK. A new chassis, new engine and EFI. I had Carl’s Cycle build us a 975cc big bore and we used Crank Shop twin pipes and went to Boondocker for another nitrous kit and a way to tune the big bore EFI. I had a great year on the 975, again making the cover of SledHeads magazine with this build.

By now I had a reputation in West Yellowstone with my mod sled experience and was working on all brands. My role at Polaris West had changed and I was now the assistant manager and working primarily at the parts counter, specializing in customer service and in the shop when any spare moments came around. I was taking care of any sled with mods, both repairing and building them.

 

In 2006-07, Polaris released the 700 Dragon RMK. I wanted to do something special with this sled, so I called down to Boondocker and talked to Rocky. He told me he was working on a turbo setup for this sled and he was interested in teaming up on this project so that we could do the R&D and swap information and he could release a reliable, well-tested turbo kit. I got the sled all set up: EZ-Ryde rear suspension, Timbersled front end, SLP skis, Avid drivers and many other cosmetic and lightweight parts. Then it was off to Boondockers to hand-fit a turbo kit to this sled. The guys at Boondocker had a turbo on the sled by late that same night. With a briefing on the EFI Control Box, I was on my way to figure out a clutching combo. I spent every day that I had off riding with Rocky, testing, tuning and comparing setups, working on that sweet combo that would work for all riding styles.

During that time, Rocky kept saying to me that I should come work for him, as we worked so well together and got along so well. I did an American Snowmobiler mod feature write up with Boondocker, since Rocky told me my sled looked and ran better than his. I always told him the only reason my sled ran better than his is because it was always polished and so clean. (One of the questions SledHeads gave me for this story was why do I always keep my sleds so clean? It makes it so easy to tell if you have a leak or any problems and I always want to represent the products I support and display on the sleds I ride to the best of my ability.) This turbo project was right down my alley. I love a tuning challenge and this was it. It turned out awesome, as seen on the cover of SledHeads magazine and in the article inside that issue.

After the ‘07 season, I had a lot of things going through my mind. I had really enjoyed the turbo project so I was trying to decide if it was time to make a career change. I really loved the relationship I had with Polaris West and all the friends and customers. The experience working with Polaris West was so valuable to me. After a long time thinking, I decided it was time. I went to Brad Loomis and talked to him about my decision. I was grateful for his support in the decision I had made and the friendship we had built over the years. I have a lot to be grateful for in my years with Polaris West; it opened up a lot of relationships in the industry and Brad gave me his trust to build sleds and represent Polaris West.

 

I started working for Boondocker on July 1, 2007. My job is R&D and product development and I help out in any other spot I can. My first year at Boondocker has been great. It has been a great learning experience for me. I went from riding and tuning on only Polaris sleds to learning to ride and work on all brands on the snow, not to mention in the mud, on the street and in the sand. I went from riding mainly the Island Park and West Yellowstone areas (with the exception of my yearly B.C. trip) to riding everywhere in the West and in all snow conditions. I ride on a regular basis anywhere from B.C. with Boondocker Canada guys and friends, to Utah with dealers and customers, to local test areas (Island Park, Palisades, Alpine and more), to Colorado with Chris Burandt. All in all, it has been a great work environment. The product testing and development has made huge advancements as Boondocker still leads the way in product development and quality standards in all products offered and we will continue to work hard to keep up with the industry as it changes.

 

I would have to say my favorite area to ride locally would be the Greys River area near Alpine, Wyoming. There is such a wide variety of riding, from tree bashing, meadows and the some of nastiest climbs around. My favorite out-of-town riding area would have to be Revelstoke in beautiful B.C. The area is so huge and the scenery is breathtaking.

 

I would say my worst snowmobiling experience came on May 26, 2003. I had been riding with a group of friends in Revelstoke. The weather had changed for the worse and we decided that morning that we would head south to pursue a new area that some of the guys had been to before. We headed up the mountain just outside of Nelson in B.C., known as the Meadow Creek area. The weather had not changed much; it was still drizzling rain. We decided to unload and see what would happen.

There were a couple of groups that had combined so there were 16 of us in the group. By the time we got into the riding area that afternoon, the weather had let up. We were all sitting at the base of a ridge and we started playing around. Everything was going fine when all of the sudden people were screaming, “Avalanche!” I turned and looked uphill and it was huge. I had no option but to run. I took off running as fast as I could. I made it into the trees just as I felt the snow hit my feet as the slide was coming to a stop. I was buried just to my knees, so I was able to break free. The group I was standing with were all accounted for, with one rider buried up past her waist but unharmed.

I turned to Shawn Hastings and said, “They’re in trouble over there.” Assuming the worst, we ripped of our jackets to get to our beacons as there was only silence from the rest of the group. Only six of the 16 were accounted for. Ten riders were still missing and one of them was my younger brother. I started out in the direction I had last seem him, yelling his name, “Jade,” in panic as I stumbled through the huge chunks of broken snow. I stopped for a split second and said a small prayer to ask for help, because I couldn’t imagine taking a body home with me and trying to explain how I could let this happen.

It took five minutes to crawl through the avalanche debris to reach where we had last seen anyone. One by one, we started finding people. Some were buried, battered and bruised, but still alive. There were still three riders missing after 20 minutes of searching: my brother, Jade; a friend, Kyle and Jim Phelan. As I made my way to the end of the bench that the avy had slid over, I could hear someone yelling for help. It was Jim. I yelled to him, asking if he had seen the other two. He yelled back, “I think there is someone down at the bottom of the hill.” I immediately headed that way. I could see the two figures near the bottom, about 400 yards down. I broke out in tears as relief swept over me, knowing everyone was still alive.

 

With everyone located and confirmed alive, the work started. We set up a base camp, started a fire and put together a plan to get everyone to the base camp and warm and stable. Most of the sleds were buried and/or missing. Out of 16 sleds, I think we had six sleds in operating condition. Our biggest task was to get Jim to the camp, as he had a broken leg and was half a mile from camp. We gathered up a group of guys and some rope to build a harness to get Jim out. After some time, we had everyone to camp. We had sent for help, but it was getting late. We started to double up and get everyone moved to a forest service cabin a few miles away, beginning with the most severely injured. By midnight, we were all at the cabin where some help had finally arrived from a local snocat ski lodge. Many joyous tears and emotions were expelled knowing how lucky and blessed we were. By morning the news had spread of our experience. There were news crews and helicopters in the area, surveying the avalanche damage and getting interviews of our experience. It was long ride back home to our families. Jade and I had a lot to be thankful for, going through that experience and realizing how short life could potentially be. We learned not to take anything for granted and always enjoy life to the fullest.

After were returned home, we were contacted by The Today Show with Matt Lauer and had the opportunity to tell the story of our experience and share the importance of avalanche safety and how you can be prepared as we were in that kind of situation. All of the riders in that group were prepared and had the proper gear.

 

That was the last ride of the year, since our sleds were as battered as we were. I had the summer to put Jade’s sled back together and think about what had happened to us. Jade was my inspiration to keep going and as we finished putting his sled back together with a few of my touches, he peeled off the backing to a sticker and put it on the hood. That sticker read, “Everyone Dies But Not Everyone Lives.” That’s a pretty strong quote.

 

I think of that quote often now. I received the worst news of my life almost one year after that avalanche. It was during the 2004 World Snowmobile Expo in West Yellowstone. I was sitting down at a table playing cards when one of my good friends came in and told me that Jade had been in a snowmobile accident and was not breathing on his own.

My family and I rushed to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls where Jade had been life-flighted to. It was not good. He had a broken neck. They quickly transported him to Salt Lake City to see if there was anything they could do for him. There wasn’t. He had a severed spine and none of his organs were functioning.

Jade was one of my best friends and always a great inspiration to me. As I visit his grave site, the saying “Everyone Dies But Not Everyone Lives”—etched in his headstone—is my constant driving force. My wife and kids are also a driving force and I am grateful for the support they give me in the career I live. Some people ask me how I can still ride after all that has happened in my life. I just give a brief explanation with that quote. My mother is also part of my backbone; I know she worries every time I am on the snow and wishes I had a desk job, but she still supports me and the rest of my brothers as we all enjoy riding snowmobiles with Dad as a family. My riding style has not changed; it is still advancing as I continue to challenge myself to become a better rider and advance with the technology.

 

Since I started working at Boondockers, a typical week in the winter would consist of five to seven days on the snow working to advance Boondocker product, testing and tuning. That is a pretty tough schedule to keep up with physically, so I try to stay in shape in the summer. I am in the gym five days a week, working on strength training and cardio. In the winter I hit the gym early in the mornings and if I am working in the shop I spend my lunch breaks there as well. Eating habits are also a chore when on the road, but I do my best to eat healthy and stay in shape so I can do my job to the best of my ability.

 

Riding technique is everything. It doesn’t matter what that sled is I am testing, I seem to be able to handle it very well [Ed. Note: We like to compare Jared to Jack Struthers, in that they’re both smaller-framed guys who can ride circles around most anyone, no matter their size or strength. We asked him what the trick is.] I do believe that confidence in your ability to ride and confidence in your sled plays a big factor. If you lack confidence or hesitate, that is when you mess up. Keeping in top physical shape seems to help as well and endurance is key.

 

As far as a favorite sled, that’s a hard choice. For climbing nasty chutes I prefer the M8 turbo with 12 lbs. of boost. It is a very stable and predictable chassis. The Yamaha Nytro is a great point-and-shoot sled since the horsepower and pull is amazing. I like to ride the Nytro at 18-20 lbs. of boost. The Polaris Dragon RMK is the sled that I would have to pick for boondocking because it carries the front end light and nimble for a great feel.

 

I enjoy riding with lots of different people. I like to display Boondocker products and enjoy listening to comments about people’s experiences on our product. I would say riding with Chris Burandt was probably the freakiest riding style I have been exposed to. Head to the trees and pick a line—thick or thin, it didn’t matter. A lack of confidence or moment’s hesitation and you were done. But I did learn, following him as he picked lines through the trees. I had an awesome experience riding with him in Colorado on his Boondocker turbo sled.

 

If I had to pick a form of snowmobile racing to compete in, it would be hillclimbing. There are a great class of guys I’ve had experience with, from being involved with the circuit years ago to sponsoring the best of today names like Tapio Racing, Dennis Durmas, Rick Ward, Darrin Gould (Team Teton), Jeremy Osler, Zollinger Racing and many more to come.

 

I would say the most innovative aftermarket product would have to be just Starting Line Products as a company. They continue to produce top-notch products and continue to promote the snowmobile industry as a sport and fight to keep riding areas alive and open for us to enjoy.

 

As a Klim-sponsored rider, I am grateful for a company that puts so much effort into keeping me comfortable and dry. As I depend on my sleds, I always take for granted being warm and dry after every ride. I have been riding with Klim from about the beginning and have witnessed the advancements. I am here to tell you, if you are an aggressive rider, you depend on good gear. The Klim F4 is the first helmet I have been able to wear a breath deflector with and not feel claustrophobic, thanks to the breathability and venting of this helmet. My favorite jacket to ride in is the Stow Away. If it’s super cold, I choose the PowerXross pullover with the Inversion jacket for layering. I like the lightweight feel and the grip I get with the Inversion gloves. In deep powder I prefer the bibs to keep the snow from going up my back, and for spring I choose the pants. The Adrenaline boot is by far the best boot I have ever found. I look forward to continuing riding in and enjoying the advancements of the Klim line.








Wahl Brothers Racing
Yellowstone Adventures, Inc.


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