No Snow, No Problem
If we were to ask 10 sledders what they say the downside is to snowmobiling, nine of them would say, "We can't ride year-round."
The other one would mumble something about having to share his sled with his brothers and not enough seat time or something like that. And he wonders why he doesn't get asked to go riding very often.
Aside from that one sticking point of not having year-round snow, there really aren't many downsides to snowmobiling. We've learned to cope with the summer off-season, and while we many not like it much and end up counting the days until the snow flies, we deal with it.
Most of us, that is, except Canada's Cody Borchers.
He's one sledder who figured out a way to fuel his passion year-round-with or without snow.
Picture this. It's August 14 this past summer. It's between 76-78 degrees F (or 24-26 degrees C if you're really into the metric system) and there is not a snowflake in sight. We follow Borchers from his suburban Calgary, Alberta, home to the countryside where he turns off the paved road onto a dirt road and drives a couple of klicks through some tall pasture grass and then we see it-Borchers non-snow training grounds. Borchers has built a ramp, a landing pad, a water trough (we'll get to that later) and an oval-shaped groomed trail (well, groomed is stretching it a bit) leading from his landing pad to his ramp.
Since there just aren't many places where you can practice on snow year-round (unless you're a rich sheik and have your own indoor snow dome, i.e., skidubai.com) to hone your skills, Borchers had to figure something out if he wanted to take his game to the next level. What we saw before us was just that-a place where Borchers works nearly every day to make it to the jump from the wide open backcountry to fan-packed venues with ramps.
Borchers isn't exactly new to the sport or a wanna-be freerider. The Canadian has his share of screen time on some of the best backcountry videos in the snow biz. He's good at what he does in the backcountry but his next goal is to go from the solitude of backcountry freeriding to the ramp crowds at the X Games and other such jumping venues.
To get there, Borchers spends as much time as he can at the Rockalta Compound, as he calls it. Borchers' friend Kevin Hoar owns the acreage where the ramp is located and the spot owes its name to one of Hoar's many business ventures, including owning Rockalta Trailers. Borchers met Hoar through, what else, snowmobiling. "Kevin gives me the opportunity to use his land and lets me practice here so I can hopefully have a future in freestyle sledding," Borchers said after a practice round at Rockalta Compound.
Borchers' ramp and outdoor summer practice sessions certainly aren't novel in the world of freestyle riding, but they are a necessity if riders want to learn new tricks, hone the tricks they have in their bag and stay sharp while the rest of us are mowing the grass and doing whatever else it is we do in the summer months.
The obvious question for Borchers though, is: why the new course of riding? Especially in light of the fact that he's a successful backcountry freerider? He has, after all, been a team member on the Slednecks crew for a while now and has even made the back of one of the Slednecks video covers. That's pretty big stuff in the sport of snowmobiling. "The back cover shot is so close," Borchers said. "My absolute dream is to have the cover of Slednecks some day."
Again, why the move to freestyle? "My new direction in snowmobiling is riding contests and demos more," he said. "But I'll never forget my roots in backcountry sledding." That will include trying to hit the qualifiers for the X Games, which means more travel for Borchers.
Borchers appears to be realistic about what he's up against in the world of freestylers, many of whom have been focused on that niche of riding for many seasons. "I know there are guys who have many years on me" with regards to jumping, Borchers said. "Hopefully with this ramp, I can catch up."
That includes honing skills learned in the spectacular mountains of British Columbia and learning new ones that are a must if you want to place, let alone win, in ramp-specific freestyle competitions. At or near the top of that list of new tricks is the backflip, which Borchers has been working on. During one conversation this past fall, Borchers let us know he had pulled off several successful backflips at Rockalta Compound.
Speaking of Rockalta Compound, it is a Borchers original. He designed, created and built everything from the ground up. Borchers was obviously proud of that, as well as the fact that he wrenches on his own sleds, which include a Ski-Doo XP 154 and Ski-Doo 600 race sled. The XP is for the deep snow and backcountry freeriding while the short track is for when the snow is really set up and springtime riding. The 600 is also what he uses at Rockalta Compound. We're not sure how common places such as Rockalta Compound are, but we found a couple things about Rockalta pretty interesting.
One is the water trough. When we followed Borchers out to the Alberta countryside to Rockalta, we couldn't help but notice the large water tank on the back of his 1998 Dodge diesel pickup-named Kokanee. We just assumed the water tank was for Borchers' full-time job, a landscaping business-B Brothers Landscaping-he owns with his brother Chad. Seemed logical to -that is, until we saw him back up to a trough alongside his track at Rockalta Compound. There he filled the trough from the water tank. The trough serves as a cooling tank of sorts for Borchers' sled as he drives through it on every loop before he hits the ramp. A closer look at the track (i.e., groomed trail) at the compound shows a layer of carpet along the entire loop leading to the ramp and from the landing pad. That certainly keeps the dust down.
As Much As Possible
How often does Borchers hit the ramp? The answer, with Borchers' girlfriend Rhaena nearby and listening was, "I try to ride as much as possible but there needs to be a fine balance." Translation, at least as near as we could tell, is just about every day after work.
Borchers and his fans, as well as his sled sponsor, Ski-Doo, will know soon enough if that daily grind has paid off this winter if he qualifies for the X Games and makes it into any of the sponsored ramp freestyle events spread out across the snowbelt.
If indeed that happens, we don't think that will be the end of the journey for Borchers but just the beginning of another chapter in his relatively young (he turned 31 years old last August) rider's life. Borchers stressed that he doesn't want to replace backcountry freeriding ("I'm obviously still going to do that backcountry filming thing"), he just wants to expand his freestyle skills. It's obvious this Alberta born and raised sledder loves all that the backcountry experience offers-especially up the rugged British Columbia mountains: deep powder, challenging terrain and a long riding season. "I like the technical stuff," Borchers said, "Descending through the trees and jumps-all in the same day."
And that kind of riding doesn't get any better than in Borchers' favorite top three riding spots: Revelstoke, BC; Whistler, BC; and the Valdez/Thompson Pass area in Alaska. It seems almost silly to ask Borchers why Revy is at the top of his list simply because of the reputation Revelstoke has among snowmobilers but we ask anyway. He said, "I first started riding in Golden, BC. Revelstoke was next. The snow is unbelievable. It's champagne powder. When it's deep, it's neck deep. And all the terrain. It's incredible." And it's only about a five-hour drive from Borchers' home in Calgary.
Borchers' quest to do all things snowmobiling in the freestyle and freeride segments developed over the years, most likely starting 14 years ago when he started sledding. The first sled he ever owned was a 1976 Olympique 300 he earned by mowing his uncle's acreage for an entire summer. And Borchers definitely had plenty of time to think about snowmobiling during his days as a derrick hand in the oil fields, a job he worked at for 13 years, mostly in southcentral Alberta, where there's "no trees and lots of wind," he said.
During the 14 days on/7 days off grind of the oil fields, Borchers knew he wanted a change and wanted to be home more.
"It was time to start working for myself, not someone else," he said. "That's the goal in life: to be your own boss." So he and brother Chad started the landscaping business.
He added, "At the end of the day, it's more rewarding to work for yourself. That's why I like snowmobiling so much. It's more rewarding. At the end of the day it's not someone else who did it, it's you."
So if Borchers finds himself someday on the gold medal stand at the X Games or the winner of some other freestyle competition or even on the cover of the latest Slednecks DVD, he'll know he's arrived. All those revolutions and jumps on the ramp at Rockalta Compound will have been worth it.
And then, we suspect, Borchers will push himself to do something more in snowmobiling-with or without snow.