Growing up, I always enjoyed skiing and pretty much anything
outdoors. It's hard to match the feeling that comes with floating off a 50-foot
cliff and landing in bottomless fluff, carving in chest-deep powder or just
flying down groomers.
Although I never had the time for dirt bikes, I certainly
understood the appeal-whether it was exploring technical single track, riding
in the dunes or jumping big.
When I was 14 years old my family bought a couple of old
snowmobiles to access our cabin during the winter. At about the same time I saw
the original Powder Bound snowmobile
film and a light instantly went off in my head. Why hadn't anyone ever told me
about this sport? Here was something that would allow you to explore the
backcountry with unparalleled freedom.
To me snowmobiling combined the best aspects of skiing and
dirt bikes in one sport and then some. While I soon discovered that my 1989 Polaris
550 fan-cooled would not allow me to ride powder quite as aggressively as the guys
in Powder Bound, my passion for the
sport only grew.
Within a few years I saved up enough hard-earned bucks for a
used 1999 Polaris 700 RMK. The possibilities suddenly became endless. I could
fly off cornices, jump huge natural gaps and boondock through canyons of
untouched powder until I ran out of gas. At the age of 16 I set the distance
record of 211 feet (on the 700 RMK) in Slednecks
4, but the backcountry has always been my true obsession. There is no limit
to the ways you can get an adrenaline rush on a snowmobile in the backcountry.
You can drop cliffs, jumps gaps, bust through wind lips and so much more. Over
the years a handful of totaled sleds, a few stitches and plenty of close calls
have taught me some important lessons about jumping sleds.
Cliff dropping has always been my favorite way to tempt fate.
In the right snow conditions with a steep landing, drops as big as 100 feet can
have incredibly soft landings. Every sled reacts differently when dropping so
it's important to start small and get a feel for your sled.
for take-offs that are flat or slightly downhill. Never hit a cliff with a
take-off that is steeper than the landing-it will hurt. On rock cliffs, make
sure there are not any rocks right underneath the snow in the take-off. You
don't want to catch a rock right before you go off the edge of a cliff.
off the gas a little as you roll off the edge. Unlike regular jumps, you are
usually hitting cliffs at slower speeds. Without track momentum, tapping the
brake won't bring the front end down. It's better to err in favor of pitching
the sled on a slightly steeper angle than the landing because you can always
use a little gas to bring the front end up.
let the sled idle on top of a cliff. Crisp throttle response is extremely
important when dropping cliffs; leaving a sled idling while you check out a
cliff might load up the bottom end. You may need to make quick adjustments in
the air and you will need to get on the gas before you land.
landings almost always mean softer impacts, but watch out for avalanche-prone
terrain. The best cliff drop landings are usually in areas with higher
key to a soft landing (besides deep powder) is timing the throttle. When a sled
drops 40 feet and lands in deep powder, it wants to come to a quick stop. Give
the sled some gas right before you land to pull out of the bomb hole created on
impact. Ideally you probably want the
track going a little faster than the sled for the softest possible landing.
It's important to get on the gas at just the right time. Getting on it too
early could bring the nose of the sled too high and result in a hard landing.
Natural gap jumps come in all
shapes and sizes, but there are a few basic ideas that you should always keep
Judging the speed required to clear a gap requires
experience. There are so many variables involved with every jump, including
snow conditions, the size of the gap, the length of the landing, and the angle
of the take-off and landing to name a few.
Start with smaller gaps and tabletop jumps to get a feel for these
factors and eventually a lot of it will become second nature.
For gaps that are flat, you can get a good idea of how
much speed you will need by riding next to the jump and letting off the gas by
the take-off. The speed that it takes to coast just past the landing is roughly
the speed you will need to clear the gap.
While I have found this to be a good starting point for some jumps, I
would never rely on it exclusively. Obviously you will need more speed for
step-up jumps and less speed on step-down gaps.
Don't bite off more than you can chew. Be prepared for
the consequences of not making it and have a plan in the back of your head. If
you are going to come up short really bad, it can be a good idea to get away
from the sled.
Use the gas and brake to level out the sled. Giving it
gas in the air will bring the nose up; braking will bring the nose down. Always
give the sled a little gas right before a landing. The more track momentum you
have, the more effective braking will be. Be careful when correcting with the
brake on high speed jumps.
Deep powder is not always the best snow for jumping big
gaps. The deeper the powder the better for drops, but not always for gaps. Don't
get me wrong: I live for deep powder,
but on higher speed jumps deep powder will have more of a tendency to stop you
on impact/throw you over the bars. If you are hitting an untracked take-off,
powder will rob a lot of your momentum on the ramp, so bring more speed into
the transition. This doesn't mean hardpack is better, just don't trick yourself
into thinking that you can do anything because the snow is deep.
These are just a few tips that
I've found to be helpful when jumping in the backcountry. Of course sled setup is always important. A
solid suspension and a well-tuned motor will make a big difference. Always wear
protective gear; I can't tell you how many times a Tek Vest or knee pads have
Every backcountry jump or drop is
different-that's what makes it so appealing.
Snowmobiles aren't limited to ski resorts, trails (most places) or small
geographic areas. In one day you can
cover a ridiculous amount of terrain and confront all kinds of rock cliffs, wind
lips, potential gaps and everything in between. Understanding the basics of
jumping and gaining experience will make a world of difference and add a little
more adrenaline to your rides.