November 3, 2010

Sledheads' Backcountry Riding



Instruction Manual

You need help. Your feet are all  over the place, your eyes are wandering, your grip is all wrong and frankly, it looks like it’s your first attempt. 
And you haven’t even made it out of the john at the gas station. We’d hate to see how big of a mess you are once you’re on the snow.
Lucky for you, SledHeads is here to help. With more than 75 tips from the sport’s top riders, we’ve assembled the ultimate big mountain backcountry rider’s guide. 
And if you find yourself in another bind, it never hurts to have a little extra paper lying around.
Big mountain riding can be a bit intimidating. Make sure you and your buddies stay together and communicate.  You already know that you are in avalanche terrain so be aware. Don’t be afraid to yell at that guy (yeah, you know who  you are) who always sidehills across two avy bowls above all his friends. That guy needs to hear it. Not only is he putting himself in danger, he is putting all his friends in harm’s way as well. Use your avy training and don’t beafraid to talk about the conditions and about the zone you are in. Shred safely because your loved ones want you to return.
-Rob Hoff

This picture was taken at the Lost Trail Hillclimb held on Chief Joseph pass near Salmon, ID. Those of you who are notfamiliar with RMSHA, I will give you a quick rundown. There are gates and flags staggered all the way from the bottom of the mountain to the top. There is one racer on the course and the racer must go through the gates or he will have a highmark wherever he turns out. This particular picture was taken when I had a hard right corner coming up. What I did was position my right foot forward and apply pressure to the front of the running board. My left foot was kept in the middle of the running board for a good balance point. My body was shifted to the right but not too much so I could keep my balance and momentum in check. I made sure I had a line picked out around the corner and proceeded to make my way around the corner and set my front end down after I had my sled pointed in the right direction.
-Keith Curtis

Plan your outcome. If you want to get to the top of the hill, across the hill, through the trees, what are you going to do? What happens if it doesn’t go as planned? Where do you go if it all goes bad?
-Marty Sampson

Filming tip: When filming in deep powder, try backlighting the rider. Position yourself in a way wherethe powder that bursts off the sled and athlete will be brightly lit up by the sun. Also looks amazing for still photos. Simple to do, just have the rider come toward you in a line drawn from the sun to the camera.
-Jim Phelan
Read the terrain, up, down, left, right, where is my sled going to want to go? Always look ahead for the lay of the terrain, not in front of your skis. You need to be able to predict where the sled is going to want to go by understanding the contour of the terrain you’re riding over. Without looking out over the area that you’re riding in you can’t make that prediction. It sounds simple, but we all have ridden up to someone in some horrible position and asked, “Where did you think you were going?”
Once this is mastered you’ll ride with much less energy and let the terrain call out your routes and maneuvers instead of fighting it. Eventually you may master this to the degree that you can do it by feel instead of sight; that’s where you can become one with your sled and surroundings.
-Marty Sampson

When carving down hill, the use of the brake is more important that you would think. Keeping one finger on the brake to control the down hill descent is key. This slight on-and-off braking keeps the sled’s nose down and driving into the powder, giving you that “over the head fresh” powder feeling. Different angles of slopes mean different or even longer holds on the brake. Some slopes require heavy braking and leaning forward and driving the sled into the snow as you turn. Other slopes that are deeper in powder and have less slope require both braking and then a quick blurp on the gas to properly execute.
-Brad Ball

Skiing with an engine, as I call it. Nothing like ripping a 3500-foot downhill descent. Even better is when I pass some of my skier and snowboard buddies lol. It depends on how steep the slope is and on what sled a person is riding as well as snow conditions, as thicker or dryer snow affects how much effort is needed to lean the sled. Usually I will be in position over the front of the sled and give a combined effort of counter-steering, throttle and leaning my body in the direction that I want to go. It is a practice-makes-perfect kind of thing.
-Rob Alford

When a rider looks down, their skills go down. Some of the negative effects are that a rider will back off or hesitate while giving throttle input. This action results in the loss of forward momentum that can cause a rider to lose control of a sled while in a sidehill attitude or get stuck. If a rider is looking down it compromises that rider’s balance and confidence along with their mental preparedness to ride the terrain in front of them.
-Amber Holt



Get off the beaten path.
-Dan Gardiner


Turbos help. The turbo allows you to make a mistake and recover at the push of the throttle. With a stocker the rider will pretty much have to have the sled pinned to the wall and if you make a mistake you’re stuck or finding a way out the bottom.
-Tony Jenkins
Transition when crossing a gully. I use the weight of the sled and gravity to help me pull the sled over before I cross a gully. Notice the right side ski never touches down in the gully. Slight counter-steer to help maintain balance. I have my body weight forward, with some wrong-foot-forward technique to help counter balance weight of engine as I cross the ravine.
Photos: Ryan Harris
Once across the gully I move back on the running board slightly to maintain an upward line. Notice that I am focused on the terrain in front and not on my skis. I’m using a more aggressive counter steerpulling the sled into the hill. There is good traction so I don’t need a lot of throttle, just good momentum.
Here I am into the apex of the turn, still looking at my destination, body position is coming back towards the center of the sled. Anticipation is important at this point of the maneuver. If I wasn’t thinking ahead of my sled I would probably continue in a left hand turn and come right back down the mountain.

Even this late in the maneuver I am pushing off with my free leg for sled balance. I have full control because I didn’t let it tip out of the turn.
As I come out of the turn I steer into 
the circle to lean the sled outward, thus 
straightening my line. My bent elbows 
show that I am starting to climb forward 
on the sled to help to keep the front end 
down and controllable. 
Here I have entered the turn, stepped far back on the running board to help push the rear of the sled downward, bringing the front around. Steering is straighter. It is simply an adjustment to maintainproper sled balance. Notice again where my eyes are focused.
Notice that I use my free leg to push off and keep the sled balanced. I always over-balance the sled into the hill because it is easy to push it away. If it goes over-center down-hill then I have lost it. Still counter-steering with a little more throttle as I prepare to turn up the hill, notice that I am looking up at a possible line.
As I get closer to the turn I am at full counter-
steer and aggressively pulling the sled 
into the turn.
As I advance into the maneuver I am always looking further forward to calculate my next move.
As I come out of the turn I  bring my free leg into the running board and can then easily step over the seat to a more neutral position, still under full power and continuing to move my body position forward, controlling transfer.
-Bret Rasmussen




This picture was taken at the Beaver Mountain Hillclimb held near Logan, UT. There were a few different scenarios going on and the first was the front end lifting due to the grade of the hill and also hitting a large mogul. In order to keep my momentum up I kept on the throttle as much as possiblewhile staying in control. In order to control this I put both of my feet at the back of the foot rest on the black bar and used it as a pivot point. This allowed me to carry momentum and speed up while shooting for a win in the class. Another reason the sled was pulling such a big wheelie was because the BD turbo was working phenomenally. At the point I was pulling a wheelie there was also a sidehill and I was pullingmy sled to the right by doing a few things, including pulling my handlebars to the right hand side, using my body weight to balance the sled, and pushing down on the running board with my feet. When I reached the next gate my front end was ready to come down so my skis could make contact with the ground. When I planted the front end in the ground I was then able to make the right hand corner.
-Keith Curtis

When riding trees look ahead and stay focused. Anticipate your next move. Counter-steering, weight transfer and throttle control are the only way you can maneuver a 600-pound snowmachine through tighter than sled width areas.
-Justin Cowett
 
A rider who understands and implements correctly the three elements of The Pivotal Pyramid Concept will be able to execute a maneuver or cross terrain fluidly within their rider skill level. These three elements are the rider’s body English, the sled attitude and throttle control. 
-Amber Holt
Like skiing, keeping your shoulders straight and even with the horizon helps you keep your balance and center of gravity. If you “chase” the sled you will be uneven in your riding and you will fatigue faster. Keeping the body square and allowing the sled to move under you like a gyro will mean less tension as you ride. Even on aggressive turns you can center your body and keep square even if the sled is onquite an angle. Standing on the very edge of your running boards to do this is needed.
-Brad Ball

Be prepared out there. You don’t want to be that guy who is always asking for someone’s spare belt or extra sandwich. When filling your pack in the morning think about what you may need: food, water, spare belt, plugs, emergency overnight kit, tow strap, etc. Also be selective about who you ride with. If you are heading out on an epic big mountain adventure, don’t take the novice who doesn’t know howto use his transceiver. Make sure everyone is on the same page and is avy savvy. I can’t stress it enough. Learn how to route find your way through avalanche terrain. And make sure everyone can use their beacons efficiently. Practice. So many folks know how to turn their beacons on but have they practiced searching with them? Get your friends to practice. Make sure they can search out a beacon in two minutes or less. If one of your buddies has an old beacon that he struggles with, find a friend who has a good spare and teach your buddy how to use it. You never know, he might be searching for you one day. Always remember, a great day can turn bad in an instant. So be prepared.
-Rob Hoff

Now it’s no secret that I like to jump. That’s clearly my favorite part of sledding. Even as a kid, it’s all I wanted to do. The one tip I would give anyone who wants to start sending it is start small. There is a learning curve with jumping just like there is with any part of riding. Don’t think that you have to find the biggest cliff or hip and hit it as fast as you can and hope for the best. Start on something that you are comfortable with and work your way up. Before you know it you will be hucking just like the boys in the sled films and will limit the broken bones along the way.
-Paul Thacker

When I’m scoping a drop I’m looking for the transition.  Is it steep? Are there rocks? How is the run out? Could it slide? What am I going to do if it does? Where is the sweet spot on the landing? Up top I’m looking to see if the approach is flat, what angle I want to take and how much speed I’ll need. Speed is very important. Too fast could put you in the flats and too slow could put you in the rocks. It’s all about the sweet spot 
-Jeremy Simmons

This picture was taken at the Lost Trail Hillclimb held near Salmon, ID, on Chief Joseph Pass. What I was doing was getting my track to make contact with the snow faster so I could gain some time on the course. While my feet were up in the front of the footrest I had my body pulling back on the sled. I was pulling on the handlebars and throwing my body weight to the back of the sled so I could make contact with the snow. I eased into the throttle as the track hit the snow and then pinned it to the next corner.
-Keith Curtis

Failure to keep the center of gravity square and the chasing of the sled in the turns will lead to a Top Gun movie moment. The sled will control you and will have you saying “Eject, Goose,” throwing you over the side.
-Brad Ball

Take a level 1 avalanche class. Now.
-Dan Gardiner

Where you look is where you go. When a rider’s head position is up and looking forward in the direction of the line they wish to travel, it ensures that a rider maintains stability, balance and confidence. Correct placement of the head carries through a rider’s stance and optimizes the six rider positions, body mechanics and allows lead time for the rider’s brain to process the terrain in front of them.
-Amber Holt

Use your big muscle groups like your legs to share most of the burden to keep your small muscle groups like your arms from wearing out prematurely. I try to use my legs as much as possible in steering the sled, especially in initiating a powder turn or a sidehill. I usually keep my feet close to the foot wellof the running board and close to the edge of the running board. When I start my sidehill I press down firmly on the uphill side of the running board and start my counter steer at the same time so that it is my leg that is starting the sidehill and not my arms. A powder turn works the same way. If you want to turn to the left then you use your left foot to start making the sled come over rather than using your arm muscles. Another thing I find myself doing during powder turns and sidehilling is straightening out my arms all the way so that my arms are not flexed. By doing this you are not using your arm muscles as much and can keep your arms from getting tired faster. With that said there are a lot of times when you do want your arms bent so they can act like a shock absorber.
-John Summers

In certain situations, riding the brake can be a helpful technique when trying to initiate downhill turns. Understanding what your sled needs to lay into a left or right hand turn is where you need to start. As you counter-steer, get your body in the right position and if needed, apply the brake. This will help you hold your line as your sled starts to move towards the fall line. You may need to continue riding the brake as your sled picks up momentum. Basically, you are allowing the slope to give you the speed necessary to direct the sled. Once you have decided your line and are ready to continue your turn on the gas, try applying throttle in short bursts. This type of “on and off “ throttle will still give the sled momentum, but keep you in control. 
Since most of the time applying the brake to help control your turn happens when you are in the trees, try to practice riding the brake in areas where your exit to the slope is wide open. As you get more comfortable with this technique, move to a more difficult spot and continue the challenge.  Over time, this tip will get you heading in the right direction and hopefully out of trouble, which most of us “wood riders,” tend to get into. 
-Dan Adams

Look ahead and flow with your machine, try not to hurry your movements.
When tree riding looking very far ahead is hard so be ready to act fast and smooth when you see a line. Try and keep forward motion and good throttle control. If you get in a spot where you know you probably are going to get stuck don’t bury it; save yourself time and energy by getting off your sled. Find a good route that will allow you to get going and walk a path about 10-15 feet long. Take  your time and walk it a couple of times, making sure that it is as wide as your sled skis. This will allow you to get going without even lifting or even breaking a sweat. Hopefully you made a path that goes somewhere and you can get back to having fun.
-Troy Johnson
Sled prep: always check your sled out. Just because it was running fine last ride out doesn’t mean your suspension bolts didn’t loosen up or your belt isn’t worn out. Clutches will be dirty and nothing kills clutching like belt dust and oily residue from when you flipped it over and that oil you spilled filling up your oil that last morning ran and dripped onto your clutches and belt. Grease your suspension every 300-500 miles. That will also allow you to look for cracks or broken bolts. Clean your sled, pull it into your heated garage every now and then and wash it, degrease it and check it out. Not one of your friends likes to ride your butt out double because of stupid. Accidents aren’t so bad but stupid just ruins a lot of fun. I know I do speak from experience on both sides.
-Troy Johnson

When picking a line through trees most would think to pick from tree to tree. My personal best advice would be to keep your head up and look ahead a good 30 to 40 feet. That way you can keep consistent lines that your buddies won’t be able to follow. Also, you won’t see yourself  center-punching a tree when looking ahead. 
-Tony Jenkins

When breaking in new hifax, ride up the trail for a mile or two and then stop and cool it down rapidly by kicking snow on it, then continue this process four or five times (even if ice scratchers are installed). This radical temperature change hardens the composition of the material and increases long-term durability.
-Amber Holt
Hanging a leg: “Why are you always hanging your leg off of your sled?” I get this question a lot and this technique has really become a standard rider position for me. First of all, it allows me to have more weight/leverage on the uphill side of the sled. This allows me to be able to hold my sidehill on steeper slopes. It also puts me in the proper position to “pedal” my sled (basically pushing with my foot) when I start to lose momentum and still want to continue my sidehill.
-Chris Burandt
My experience over the years sledding in the trees has been several bent bulkheads, broken A-arms, sleds upside down in tree wells or head-on collisions with trees or better yet, mid-air collisions. Having said all this, I have to say tree riding is my favorite part of sledding. The trick to riding in the trees is not to be timid and ride aggressively, scouting out smart routes that you think your sled can make. It takes years to get really good. The best tree riders look ahead of where they are as if they have already ridden over all the pow that is in front of them. You have to not be afraid to commit even if the consequences are a two-hour dig fest.
-Rob Alford

Deciding on your best handlebar position can take time. For me, I have explored a ton of different options only to find benefits to just a few. I am only about 5-foot-8 and have often wanted my bars to meet me where my arms are fully extended in a stand-up position, although having a taller bar setup can in many cases put you in a bad position. What happens to your position is you end up reaching for your bars and putting too much of your body on the wrong side of the sled. You will feel this happening when sidehilling and having to make quick direction changes on a slope. On the other hand, a bar and riser set up that makes you reach down to them as you are standing on the sled can lead to shoulder and back pain throughout the day. My advice is to meet in the middle and find a set-up that creates a happy medium, one that gives you a fair amount of extension to your arms in a stand-up position but is also close enough to your sled to stay in control when the terrain changes. Determining bar  width is another personal preference that will ultimately make your riding better. I have found that a slightly shorter distance between my arms has given me a greater advantage in all types of terrain. Remember, much like a driver seat in a vehicle, putting your body in a good position will help you stay in control and will lead to less rider fatigue. 
The easy answer to handlebar position would be to stand on your sled on the shop floor and figure it out. Unfortunately, these decisions are a bit more involved than that. It’s almost like determining the type of riding you do the most that solves this issue. Having a riser setup that allows you to go up and down given the terrain is your best option. Otherwise, be prepared to make changes as you discover what works best for your height and rider type.
-Dan Adams



I like my feet forward—about eight inches back from the front of the foot rest. I also like putting my chest over the bars with my eyes over the front of sled looking. I’m always in this position looking for the sweet spot on the big jumps and drops. 
-Jeremy Simmons


Having options: When riding in very technical terrain, you have to be able to make split-second decisions to avoid getting stuck or even worst wrecking your sled. In this particular shot I ended up continuing my sidehill but as you can see I was scanning the terrain below establishing my plan B and C in case plan A didn’t work out.
-Chris Burandt



Start small and work your way up. Get comfortable with what your sled does in the air. You will be going big before you know it.
-Jeremy Simmons
I think that breathing is very important, I know when I start to get tired I make myself exhale deeply and inhale deeply and hold it in for a split second to give my lungs time to work before I exhale. That seems to get my breathing back to normal. 
-Lyle Dahlgren

Counter-steer. Always initiate your maneuvers with counter-steering, not pulling, tugging,  jumping, reefing, etc. If you don’t get this, start off by riding across a flat field with some powder in it, stay centered on the sled with your feet on each running board, then turn the bars … the sled will roll the opposite way and you will most likely fall off—but you will start to see how counter-steering will work for you and with some practice you’ll learn to control it. This is the basis for most maneuvers.
-Marty Sampson

Downhill turn in June snow while overcoming gravity: As most know, spring snow can weed out the riders in a group, finding that its the hardest time to ride and the snow is as fast as ice on a roadway. For most of us professionals we find spring snow to be some of the most exciting riding. Doing a downhill turn in June snow is really not hard when following some simple steps. The main step would be commitment. Second of all you want to make sure before the rider turns to counter-steer to the opposite direction the rider wants the sled to go. Third, jump to the side you’re going to turn on and use your wrong foot forward motion while using your heal side of your foot as a rudder and pulling the sled on its side with the brake on. Once you feel the sled start turning on its side, let off the brake and use throttle control. Once you’ve done all these tips you’ll find that the sled will be going on the side of the hill instead of straight down.
-Tony Jenkins
Being physically fit can help the rider out a lot. How many times have you had arm pump? You know exactly what I mean when you can’t even take your hands off the bars to give your buddy a high five. Problem solved when I work out in the gym. I grab on to a pull up bar and just hang while focusing on the bar. Try this for 60 seconds for three different sets; after a few of these step it up to 120 seconds. Keep in mind that each time you try these you need to keep beating your time as the conditioning moves on. Another thing that I do to keep me from fogging up my goggles is to run a few miles a week and ride the bicycle, to keep a good stamina.
-Tony Jenkins

When picking tree lines I try to paint a line around the trees. Pretend you’re John Madden with his magic pen and draw a line through those trees. Once you drop in follow that line. Don’t freak out, just be confident and solid. Make smooth, deliberate turns and shred your way through. Make sure the snow is plenty deep so you can carve your way through without catching a ski. If you screw up, you’re going to t-bone a big pine tree. If you need to go left, jump to the left side. Pull hard, burp the gas and kick that outside leg out the way you want to go. By doing that you will kick the sled up on edge and hopefully out of harm’s way. Worst case you will slide into the tree sideways, hopefully with the track hitting the tree. There is nothing worse than sliding down and smashing the whole front end of your sled into a tree.
-Rob Hoff
Be physically ready to ride. Backcountry riding demands some upper body strength, a good grip, fast feet and some endurance/cardio. If I had to pick one quick workout that hits all these areas I would set aside 15-20 minutes a day and grab a jump rope which is killer cardio for good forearm, shoulders, arms, legs and calves. Change it up, speed jump, both feet, alternate feet, also changing arm positions will work different muscles as well. This will up coordination and help eliminate arm pump. Most mishaps happen later in the day due to being flat out of shape and worn out. Start early, get in shape and be ready to rip it up all day, every day and when your buddy has a mishap  you can park at the bottom and jog up the hill to help.   
-Jared Sessions


Boots that have too much heel rise or pitch can incorrectly shift the rider forward of their center of gravity and balance. Choosing a boot with a shallow heel rise allows for optimal leg work by increasing lower leg extension and flexibility. The result is better leverage and balance for a rider.

-Amber Holt

Here is a perfect situation where proper foot position saved my butt. In this picture I was sidehilling a steep slope at a pretty slow speed which kept making the back of the sled want to “wash out.” To counter-act the rear end sliding down the mountain I positioned my foot as far forward as I could in order to keep as much weight on the ski as possible.  Keeping your weight more forward on the sled will help keep the machine more balanced front to back as you traverse a steep sidehill.

-Chris Burandt


Gear drives last longer when “lashing” is avoided and gear oil is changed every 500 miles. Get into the habit of always gently squeezing the throttle until the rpms come up into that “clutch engagement zone” before applying any further aggressive throttle input. This is very important in the situation when the sled is parked in an uphill attitude and the rider proceeds to disengage the brake resistance. Try to gently bring the rpms up while releasing the break pressure at the same time. This will prevent gear teeth from breaking or chipping at the point when the sled’s initial tendency is to roll backwards. Without this fluid transition harsh engagement and damage may occur.

-Amber Holt

 

A re-entry on a snowmobile can be one of the most fun maneuvers you will ever learn on a sled. Having a strong sense of throttle control and knowing your sled’s capabilities will help you accomplish this move. The re-entry could best be described as a vertical pirouette on the snow. Essentially, the sled needs to be pulled away from the snow so that just the track is the only contact. As you begin to practice this move it is important to decide your more natural side. I have had great luck with re-entries on my left side. In many cases I force myself to learn them on my right side but choose my left if I want to try and make the move bigger. Once you have decided your direction, you will want to select an obstacle that will put the nose of the sled up in the air. The best natural re-entry obstacle is a cornice. Most cornice outcroppings have a smaller side than the other. You can begin practicing re-entries on the smaller sections and build up to the larger areas as you improve. Here are the steps to pulling off your first re-entry: 

Approach a cornice in a neutral position at a rate of speed that will allow you to get off the gas just moments before you begin pulling back on the handlebars.

Your sled should be heading almost straight up so the skis will have solid contact with the cornice and initiate your handlebar pull.

As you near the bottom of the cornice, hesitate on the gas just for a second and then apply full throttle to the sled.

The sled will want to start trenching up the face of the cornice and that is exactly what you want it to do.

As you continue up the face, full throttle, you will begin to pull back on the handlebars enough to get the skis up and away from the snow.

Continue to pull back on the handlebars as your sled begins to wheelie up and away from the lip of the cornice.

At this point you should still be in a neutral position with your feet on both running boards and set back a bit to help get the sled vertical.

The keys to this move are next. You want the sled to start heading either left or right, depending on your original direction. To do this you need to lean towards the direction you want to head to initiate the pirouette.

Once the sled has started to turn, counter your body weight to the uphill side. This will get you in position to land in a neutral stance and will lay the sled back on both skis as you finish the turn.

As your sled begins to re-enter the cornice, be sure to stay on the throttle and maintain your neutral position. Once it is clear you have successfully made your turn, prepare to bring the nose of the sled back down and keep a strong upper body to brace the impact. Keep your head up and ride away.

Remember that the re-entry is an advanced maneuver and should be practiced over and over on small obstacles until you are ready. There are a number of risks associated with the re-entry and you should always wear the proper safety equipment.

-Dan Adams

This may sound dumb, but I see people all the time get tired and worn out before they even get to the fun stuff. What I discovered is that people forget that in the mountains most the time you are starting at an elevation that is higher than where you are from and that you are gaining elevation as you ride. This is where everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I remind them to breathe when they are riding. Not necessarily while trail riding, but when you are working your machine up hills, through trees and up creek beds. People have the tendency to hold their breathe, which deprives your body of the very thing it needs most: oxygen. So remember to breathe when working your sled hard, that way you’re not tired and weak.

-Troy Johnson

Riding tip (climbing): When climbing a steep hill and you see avy debris boulders (spring climbing) or a rock under the snow or any other sort of bump, bend your knees, relax your legs and loosen your grip on the handlebars. Prepare for the impact your rear skid will take and if it’s not too big, you should go right over it. With your legs and arms relaxed, there will not be near as big of a reaction to the impact.

-Jim Phelan

Have confidence. Snowmobiling is like any other sport when you have confidence and you’re “on” things just happen smoother. Knowing your sled is prepared is key, if all you have to worry about is riding, just imagine knowing your sled is prepared and capable of the task at hand. Something to check daily or more often as risk is greater is the belt. Check the deflection, which is key for throttle response for those tight technical trees and those short run drops and cornice jumps. Check for pulled cords and excessive wear. Belt failure during a climb can spell catastrophe. Check for proper track tension and keep things clean as it makes it easy to spot a potential problem.

-Jared Sessions


So you want to start hucking off cliffs, huh? Well, start off small. Find yourself a small drop. I mean small, like six feet or so. The first thing you want to learn is how fast to go off it and when to let off the gas. I tend to let off the gas when my body reaches the edge of the drop. Speed is your call. You don’t want to over shoot your landing, but you also don’t want to come up short. It’s your judgment call. Once you have mastered that 6-foot drop move yourself up to something like 10-15 feet. This is when the fun begins. The bigger you go, you will start to understand how fast you need to go and how crucial it is that you let off the gas at the right time. The last thing you want to do is let off the gas too early or too late. Trust me: handlebars to the face is no fun.

-Rob Hoff

Look at the gaps, not the hazards. It is important to look beyond the hazard to find your way through. Notice my eyes are focused forward and not on the trees. By focusing on the hazard you will find yourself parked in the tree well or creek bed every time.

-Bret Rasmussen



Training... well, let’s just say that if you want to really be solid about your riding you need to stay in shape all year round. I try to ride my mountain bike and my dirt bike as much as I can throughout the summer months. I feel that by pedaling hard I am keeping up my endurance for those winter epics to come, as well as by riding my dirt bike. It seems like I use a lot of the same muscles that I use on my sled. Another thing that I firmly believe in is stretching. Every morning, take five minutes while you’re waiting on your coffee to brew and stretch out. One more thing to remember is when you’re done putting your sled away after your day, stretch again to release all that lactic acid that has been building all day. Most importantly, stay hydrated. I drink water all day long. This will help with that arm pump that happens from time to time.

-Rob Hoff

Don’t ride over your head, that’s when you can get hurt. Don’t let your ego override your skill level and that means practicing in open spaces so that when you get in a tight spot you know what you’re doing.

When dropping drops (cornice, cliffs) stay centered on sled and steady on the throttle until airborne and that will help the machine stay in a more neutral position. Before you hit make sure to be on the gas so you don’t stick it.

When riding in extreme conditions always keep an eye out for an escape route—either a turnout or a safe place to stick it.

-Chad Jorgensen

While making downhill pow turns on steep slopes remember to counter-steer to initiate the turn, brake hard and then throttle up to finish the turn (just like cornering a dirt bike).

Justin Cowett



Remember when you are eating your lunch, keep your shovel, probe and beacon on. A man died a couple years back while eating lunch when an avy swept over him and everyone else’s packs and shovels (they ran to get away as it buried their sleds and gear). They had nothing to dig with and no probes to hasten their search.

-Jim Phelan

Downhill turn into elevator to change levels on a steep sidehill in the trees.

Have a line picked out.

Have a bail out option.

Here’s a scenario: trying to get of a ridge, you have found an opening in the trees a short distance down another group of trees and so on. You need to be able to sidehill above the group of trees in order to get to the next opening and then change levels to get to the next gap. Step No. 1 is point the sled downhill with both feet on the same side of the sled with the wrong foot forward. Counter-steer by pulling the sled towards you and as you start down the hill keep your weight forward and in a counter-steer. This will keep the front of the sled and A-arms dug into the snow to control speed. Once you have cleared the grove of trees reach out with your “right foot” and step it into the snow and pull the sled towards you while still in a counter-steer. You will need to control the throttle and change you foot position “wrong foot” towards the rear of sled, causing the rear of the sled to wash. When the sled begins to wash, adjust foot position on the running board to control pressure on the running board controlling wash. Throttle control is also very important in this maneuver. Not only will more throttle propel you forward, it will also cut into the snow, controlling the speed of the wash, preventing you from catching the downhill track edge. Once you are in a controlled sidehill and approaching an opening where you need to change levels, while controlling the throttle, pull the sled even further into the hill-side until the track starts to come out of the snow and the sled begins to “pan out” slide on the side panel. Adjust your body position more forward in order to prevent wash out. Once you have changed levels, increase throttle and begin to tilt the sled back into a sidehill position and repeat as needed to traverse the terrain. Boost is also helpful.   

-Jared Sessions







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