December 15, 2009

Riding With Tyler & Zach




As the two brothers peeked over a rocky 
cliff face on a ragged ridge in western 
Wyoming, you could see the apprehension, 
excitement and tension building. 
They had dropped this ridge dozens of 
times. It wasn’t a matter of how far you fall, 
but rather how fast you launch. Once you 
roll off the cornice, gravity takes over and 
somewhere between 120-135 feet below 
you finally catch up to the steep slope falling 
down into a steep canyon.

But several factors were in play on this 
crisp spring morning.

First, about six inches of fresh snow was 
covering the slope—whether it would be 
enough to absorb the drop or just enough 
to disguise a hard landing. Second, several 
small slides had broken the day before, 
indicating that the snow was somewhat 
unstable. A hard landing could also bring 
down the entire slope, putting the rider in 
jeopardy.

And third, although Tyler and Zach 
Ogden were very familiar with the ridge 
and the cliffs that line it, it was on that very 
ridge where Zach had broken his back less 
than a couple of months earlier. Although 
he was under doctor’s orders to stay off the 
snow for the remainder of the season, here 
he was, looking for a good spot to catch 
some air.

There was quite a discussion as the two 
looked for the most inviting spot to drop. 
Tyler was holding the trump card. “Zach, 
you can’t go first. You shouldn’t even go at 
all. I’ll hit it and radio back up if I think your 
back can handle it.”

But Zach wasn’t quite that reluctant to 
give the upper hand to his brother. “My 
back’s feeling fine. Besides, there’s plenty 
of cushion to make this a soft drop.”

Ultimately, Tyler won out. “Just wait and 
see how my jump turns out,” the Odgen 
twin said as he fired up his Ski-Doo Summit 
8 and accelerated off the edge.

The launch was impressive. The Summit 
stayed flat and flew out off the cliff and 
landed rather abruptly well over 100 feet 
down the slope. From all appearances, it 
was a nice, clean drop. However, as the 
Summit raced down the powder-covered 
slope, a hidden avalanche slough grabbed 
the front end of the sled and catapulted 
Tyler another 30 feet down the slope as the 
sled followed in true end-over-end fashion.

There was a deathly silence as Tyler’s 
body rag-dolled down the slope before 
coming to a stop about 30 yards from his 
snowmobile. For several moments he just 
lay there, before propping his bruised body 
up and trying to regain his senses. Slowly 
he got to his feet and stumbled down to 
where his snowmobile had come to rest.

“Are you okay?” Zach radioed down 
from his vantage point up on the cliff.

“That hurt,” replied Tyler.

“What did you hit?”

“Don’t know. But it was hard. And it did 
a number on my sled.”

“I’m thinking I need to stay right of 
you,” Zach said.

“Zach, don’t be stupid. It’s not worth 
chancing it with your back.”

“I’ll be careful. I won’t get as much air 
as you.”

“Don’t be stupid. Just roll off the edge. 
Save the big air for another day.”

Although the discussion went on for 
several minutes, on this day Tyler won 
out, mainly because Zach knew the snow 
wasn’t really that great for big drops … 
and Tyler probably needed his help putting 
the Summit back together for the rest 
of the ride.

Riding with the Ogden brothers is much 
different that the perception you get from 
the stories about them—some of which 
have become almost legendary. There’s 
probably not a safer, more aware pair of 
extreme riders around.

Unlike many who just hit the snow at 
full throttle and pound the slopes until 
something bad happens, Tyler and Zach 
pay attention to snow conditions, weather 
patterns and those around them. They 
pack radios, avalanche beacons, safety 
and emergency gear and common sense. 
They both realize that the most useful tool 
in their possession is their brain—they 
anticipate and try to prevent most serious 
situations.

If the snow is unpredictable or unstable, 
they look to areas that don’t have “death 
traps,” or the type of terrain that can take 
away one’s ability to react. If a storm is 
moving in, they watch the weather, making 
sure they aren’t caught in the wrong area if 
white-out conditions occur.

They are aware of the riding ability level 
of those who may have joined them. And 
it’s not uncommon for one to go to a fellow 
rider who may be out of his comfort 
zone and either show him what to do, ride 
his sled through the treacherous areas, or 
literally take rider and sled up a slope. And 
they don’t do it in a way that is demeaning 
or condescending … it’s more like they 
are trying to help the other rider get past a 
“bad spot” that could ruin a ride.

If you don’t know the Ogden brothers, 
it is somewhat hard to tell them apart. 
They’re twins, 29 years old, from Idaho 
Falls, ID. Both are married to what they 
describe as “hotties.” Both have young 
children at home, so their personal responsibilities 
keep them somewhat grounded. 


They also own/manage their own separate 
businesses.

Each year they put about 600 miles on 
their snowmobiles (not counting air time). 
They do have a favorite location that is 
void of groomed trails and has a tendency 
to grow some fantastic cornices.

Here is some basic info about Tyler 
and Zach that we gained in an exclusive 
SledHeads interview.

SH—When did you first start to snowmobile?


Tyler—Zach and I would take turns driving 
a dark blue late 80s Polaris. 
Our dad 
would take off and tell us, “If you stop, 
you’re going to get stuck … so stay on 
the gas.” So we would ride double and try 
to stay in his track while keeping the sled 
engaged at a steady momentum.

Zach—I first started sledding when I was 
like 8 or 10. My first real sled was a Polaris 
Indy Sport 340. And I loved it.

SH--When was the first time you can 
remember that you actually “pushed the 
envelope” on a snowmobile?

Tyler—I remember that day like it was 
yesterday. 
I had a couple of friends who 
would always tell me about all the huge 
cornices that they hit. I knew they were all 
talk, so I took them to the “Creek” (our 
spot). Zach was gone, so I was by myself. I 
knew where a couple of cliff hangers were 
so I went to them and said, “Okay, here 
are some cornices.” 
My friends all went 
quiet, except one. He said: “You’re the 
movie star.” 
That’s all it took.

I hit every cornice I saw that day and I 
got the hang of it and liked it. We rode all 
day and I continued to push the limits until 
we came to this one bowl—it was incredible. 
The cornice was massive, the biggest 
by a long, long ways. I knew I would not 
feel like the day was a good one unless I 
dropped it. 
So I went to the top with an 
older guy, Blaine Simmons. We were looking 
over the edge and Blaine said, “Tyler, 
that is too much, that wall is over 30 feet.” 
But I was already walking back to my sled 
making a boot path.

He started waving his arms and yelling, 
“No, wait.” I wasn’t paying attention to 
him. I was thinking about what I needed to 
do 
and how the sequence of events would 
play through my mind.

I took off and as the snow disappeared 
into air, I felt the rush. I landed and the 
rebound was so intense it knocked my 
goggles off. But I knew I made it. 
After 
that day my bro (Zach) and I made these 
cornices just a part of the ride and that 
last cornice is still the biggest hit in the 
.Creek.
We taped it and ran out of tape 
around 130 feet.

Zach—The first real event was when 
we were riding in our favorite area and we 
decided to ride up to the biggest cornice 
on one of the biggest mountains. It’s a 
spot where you either need a turbo just to 
get on top of it or you have to ride a very 
aggressive knife-edge, wind-blown ridge.

You’re on top of the world, but you can’t 
see anything over the cornice … and you 
don’t dare walk out on the end of it because 
it could break. Some guy at the bottom 
directs us one way or another for the right 
line. The takeoff was slightly uphill, almost 
like a ramp off the edge of a skyscraper. I 
just had to commit and let the adrenaline fill 
my body and let pure instinct take over as I 
started to fall. It’s surprising how much time 
I had in the air before hitting the snow down 
the slope. The initial rebound was another 
30 feet down the slope.

That’s when I knew I was pushing it, 
coming off that cornice. There is nothing 
better. And that bad boy only shows up on 
really good snow years.

SH—Coming off cornices can be pretty 
hard on things. What’s the life expectancy 
of your sled?

Tyler—Three years … I take care of my 
sleds and try not to wreck. Crashes suck.

Zach—I’d say the life expectancy of my 
sled is probably better than most. I baby

my sled. I wipe it off with a diaper. It 
stays in an enclosed trailer and after each 
ride I leave a heater going all night to melt 
off any snow or to evaporate condensation.

SH—What would you consider a “perfect 
day” of riding?

Tyler—Big air by far; hang time is the 
rush. All your veins dilate, everything goes 
into slow motion. Your blood vessels and 
lungs are able to hold more blood and 
oxygen, making you super human for just 
a second. Adrenalin is pulsing throughout 
your body. That is the reason you do it 
again, and again—the anticipation and the 
climax. We have all had the taste … but 
how neat is it that as a rider you know how 
to get that fix if you want it.

Once I had to go to Jackson Hole, WY, 
for business. I had to get some blueprints 
to bid a job. Zach went riding. 
was so mad 
that I couldn’t go. So after I got the blueprints, 
I drove as fast 
as I could down to 
the Hoback [just east of Alpine, WY] where 
Zach had parked. I didn’t have my sled or 
any riding gear. So I started breaking in 
everyone’s vehicles to find what I needed. 
I found a helmet and overalls in one truck 
and a radio in Zach’s trailer. I borrowed a 
sled from another trailer. I went up on the 
hill and radioed Zach. We hooked up, went 
to some big cornices and hucked. I ended 
up getting the bid for the job. That was a 
perfect day.

Zach—The perfect day would be 
about12-18 inches of powder and a good 
base. I would want all of my hits to be solid, 
with 5-6 good drops on a big loop ride. 
Of course Ty or I would be the first to hit 
the drops. If you want to really go big, all 
the conditions must be correct. The slightest 
mistake means a trip to the hospital. I 
have broken almost every bone in my body 
… this year it was my back on a cliff we 
had talked about dropping for six years. I 
landed it and rode to where everyone was 
sitting, then rolled off my sled and bled.

SH—
You have a very extreme style of riding. 
Do you tend to have more spectacular 
crashes?

Tyler—I very rarely go down. In fact, the 
crash I took the day we rode together was 
one of the first in years. I try to be careful 
and make good decisions … more brains 
than balls.

Zach—How could anyone forget my 
summit speed record up the backside of 
Jefferson five or six years earlier? I told Ty, 
“Watch this. I’m going to show you how to 
use NOS.” Then I held the button down. I 
have no idea how fast I was going when I 
shot out of the top. I grabbed the brake, 
slammed into the over-hanging cornice on 
the chute that falls 2,000 feet down and 
went end-over-end down the hill. (It was my 
dad’s sled so I asked Josh Skinner not to 
put the crash in the video.)

When I broke my back last February 
making a big drop, the doctor told me I 
was lucky to not be in a wheelchair. He said 
I broke it as bad as one can without getting 
paralyzed. Three weeks later I was out 
riding again … and on my last ride of the 
season I dropped an 80-footer.

Once I dropped a cornice in flat light 
and broke my left wrist, my right thumb 
and almost my nose. Tyler laughed at me. 
That’s kind of funny, we usually don’t get 
too concerned for each other. We understand 
that if it’s serious we got each other’s 
back. And if not, we just laugh at the other 
one rolling around bleeding.

I don’t trust anyone like I do my bro. In 
the hills no one ... and that is mutual. I know 
if we were to get in a slide he would find 
me and I would find him … or die trying.

SH—Does your family worry about you 
when you’re out riding?

Tyler—No, they understand I don’t try 
to kill myself. 
This is just the result of years 
of riding and the feel of the sled. You’re 
always in control. It’s almost automatic; you 
can counter the counter.

Zach—They don’t care. But then, they 
have never really seen Ty or I go big. My 

wife knew how I was when she married 
me—that is why I love her. During my first 
year of marriage, I went sledding in a storm 
up in the Jefferson area and got ahead of 
my group. I went to the top of the mountain 
which was 10,000 feet in a pure white 
out. I sat there waiting and waiting, but no 
one showed. So I went to go down to find 
them. But I ended up in a canyon where the 
snow never gets set up.

I knew that I would be unable to climb 
out. I couldn’t even go downhill without 
getting stuck. It was deep and I couldn’t 
see five feet in front of me. I radioed to 
my brother to call Search and Rescue as 
soon as he got out. It took them about 7 
or 8 hours to get out. So I dug a snow cave 
and waited until like 1 a.m. for the storm 
to clear.

Then I dug a path with my shovel about 
100 yards long and four feet wide so I 
could get a run to try to climb out. I tried 
17 times until I was able to sidehill out of 
that canyon. I met Tyler with the Search 
and Rescue on the trail about a mile or so 
down. An ambulance was waiting with my 
wife and a lot of friends.

My wife knows I’m a survivor. Now I’m 
on Search and Rescue in Bonneville County 
and go out in the middle of the night to 
help others, using my skills to help whomever.


SH—
Are the two of you competitive 
when out on the snow, trying to outdo 
the other?

Tyler—Of course. We tend to try to out-
air each other, but only once per hit and 
usually we 
are mature enough that whoever 
out-airs the other, there isn’t anything said 
except a congrats and 
it’s off to the next 
set.

Zach—Between Ty and myself, Tyler is 
probably the most competitive. More than 
anything, we want to go bigger than our 
friends (we never let them get a bigger 
drop). And there is only one other riding 
buddy who will follow us off our big hits.

SH—
Of the two of you, who is more 
likely to get into the most mischief on the 
mountain?

Tyler—Zach. He gets wound up and the 
decision-making process is clouded by the 
thought of how cool this will be.

Zach—It depends on the day.

SH—What do you expect from your 
snowmobile?

Tyler—I like performance, a great suspension 
and reliability. 
I have gone to a 
Ski-Doo chassis because I like the way it 
feels when I come off the edge of a cornice 
or a small hit. 
The position of the sled and 
the way it sends is so predictable that I can 
maintain control.

Zach—I have to trust my sled 100 percent. 
It must be reliable with a crisp throttle 
response, wanting to jerk the track immediately 
when I hit the gas. I want to be able to 
sidehill down a road on one ski without the 
sled wanting to go one way or the other. 
And it can’t be heavy. Heavy sleds can fly 
… but they don’t land.

SH—Now that the two of you are getting 
a little older, is it affecting your aggressiveness?


Tyler—Not yet. The snow conditions 
seem to affect the 
way I ride more and 
more. When there’s less snow the cornices 
are smaller, I have to be a little more creative 
and find other hits that I may have passed 
up before. Now I tend to have a more optimistic 
outlook on existing conditions.

Zach—I’m getting way more aggressive 
as each year comes. It seems that if you 
don’t push yourself in whatever sport you 


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