The easy and tempting way to describe Craig Warner's first mountain snowmobiling experience is that he was like a fish out of water.
Easy yes, but far from the truth.
That's because when the world champion Warner hopped on a sled and took to the mountains of central Utah last winter, he was pretty much a natural.
Craig Warner might not be a household name in the snowmobile world but in the world of jet ski racing, the two-time IJSBA world champion is a force to be reckoned with. No doubt with a little more seat time on a sled he would turn a few heads in the snow world as well.
About the only thing that really separates Warner from his newfound enthusiasm for snowmobiling and his full-time job of racing is the composition of the water on which he rides. He spends much of his time playing and competing on a much more liquid surface than most of us snow lovers are used to.
But after a day of snowmobiling it was obvious Warner was a home on both the white stuff and, well, the whitecap stuff.
We spent a day last February with Warner riding the mountains east of Heber City, UT, in the Mill Hollow area. Although it wasn't the first time the 31 year old had been on a snowmobile, his first ride could hardly be considered a ride and definitely nothing close to what he experienced when we played in the deep powder last winter. Warner's first ride was in 2004 on a Ski-Doo 550 fan as part of a motorsports triathlon. The triathlon featured racing on a Sea Doo, Ski-Doo snowmobile and ATV. Two Pros from each of those three disciplines of racing competed against each other with Warner one of those from the watercraft racing segment. He won the triathlon but didn't throw a leg over a sled again until he borrowed his friend Dr. Lincoln Clifford's Arctic Cat M 1000 to ride in Utah with our group.
Talk about baptism by fire-your first real snowmobile ride using a 1000cc sled at elevation. Riding a sled was a little awkward at first for Warner but it didn't prevent him from riding everywhere the group did. He didn't shy away from tough spots like drainages, off camber hills and tree riding and it wasn't long before he was jumping small wind drifts-and going off on his own. We had to do a little search and rescue a couple of times.
He trains on a stand up (jet ski) so stand up riding on a sled was fairly natural to him. Warner did provide a few moments of comic relief for the rest of the riding group but all were impressed at how quickly he picked up riding on a more frozen form of precipitation than he was used to.
:: "Until I Got Stuck"
So what was Warner thinking after the first hour or so of mountain riding? "Okay, this is easy. That's what I thought until I got stuck," he said. Warner trains and lives at sea level and we were riding at 8,000-plus feet so that had something to do with him trying to catch his breath-that and riding a 1000cc sled. "Elevation makes a big difference," Warner said. "I train hard at home. I hardly ever get winded but when we were digging out that first time, I got winded."
So did we.
By mid day he was saying, "Actually, I want to go buy an 800." More recently he told us, "I'm now getting ready to come back up for some more snowmobile adventures. Snowmobiling is my new favorite sport and I should have my own sled for next year."
The same determination that helped Warner earn his two world titles and, more recently, a second place in Pro GP Runabout at the world championships in Lake Havasu, AZ, in October and an impressive win in the Dana Point to Avalon Offshore Race (across the open ocean from Dana Point, CA, to Santa Catalina Island and back) this past summer was evident as he worked to get the hang of the right body position for the varying terrain we rode on. Warner was especially determined to get the hang of laying the sled down in the powder without falling off, a feat he pretty much got the hang of by the end of the day.
While he admitted to getting some arm pump while sledding he said, "All of it's upper body to me. My legs never felt any different." Maybe that's because of his serious workout program and the fact that his preferred method of training is on the ocean in rough waves. "I just look for the roughest water," Warner said. "Anyone can be fast on flat water. It's the rough water that separates people."
That's our kind of thinking.
Warner's typical workout at home begins with a 45-minute all-body workout in the gym, followed by a mountain bike ride for one-half to one hour in the mountains around his house in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA. Then, three times a week, he goes surfing (for shoulder strength and fun) or jet skiing. If the waves aren't decent for surfing, he goes jet skiing-he can be to the launch ramp in 15 minutes from his home.
That kind of preparation is necessary to be competitive in jet ski racing, especially when it's racing across the open ocean for 50-60 miles on rough water. The preparation to race professionally is brutal Warner said. "It's a grind preparation-wise," he said. "It's a grind to be in shape, but that's all on the athlete. What keeps me going is the competition. I love passing people and bumping them. I love banging people."
A competitive PWC racer since 1998, Warner has been a factory rider for Kawasaki since 2007 and considers it a full time gig, along with owning a printing and packaging company in Southern California. He even used to race dirt bikes-what Southern California motorhead hasn't?-at an amateur level and is now dabbling in off-road racing. "We have been building an Unlimited class UTV to race this year but we fell behind due to the new racing hulls we built," Warner explained. "The plan is to be ready for 2012 off-road racing if the budgets all come together."
The hulls Warner is referring to is a somewhat new venture for him. He said, "This year we engineered our own personal spec racing hull and I have been selling replicas to the public of what we produced. We have been bounding ideas around for a couple of years now and I finally got the okay and the budget to spend some racing development time on what we all agreed on making. The new race boat is the same look as a production hull but about 200 lbs. lighter and 2.5 inches lower. The idea behind this was to lower the center of gravity down so we can create more corner speed without getting pitched off."
Just imagine if Warner got real serious about snowmobiling and started working on sleds.
Although Warner did take a liking to snowmobiling, he said if he could pick any other sport to be a Pro racer in, it would be surfing.
We did ask him what he liked about his snowmobile ride in Utah. "The endless journey of mountains and not knowing what's coming up. The whole thrill of the whole deal is amazing."
His first love remains water in its melted form. "I like being in the water," he said. "If I do not get in the water at least once a week I get grumpy. My wife tells me to `go get wet'."
(ED-A special thanks goes to The Hyatt Escala Lodge in Park City, UT, for providing accommodations for Craig Warner and his family during our ride in Utah. The Hyatt Escala Lodge (www.escalalodges.com) is a ski-in, ski-out "architectural triumph" of 85 spacious and luxurious residences. The Escala Lodge even has information on snowmobiling on its website, a definite bonus in our thinking.)