There are three general types of snowmobilers: the beginner or “newbie,” the intermediate rider and finally, the diehard sledhead. The classifications are not necessarily based on riding skill alone, but also one’s passion for riding.
Kris Kaltenbacher is a sledhead in every sense of the word. He is the sort of guy who spends all winter dreaming about the next riding day and all summer dreaming about the first snowfall of the next season. His passion and energy for snowmobiling is contagious and he not only constantly pushes and improves his own abilities, but his energy also makes everyone around him a better rider.
Kaltenbacher made his debut on the snowmobile film scene in Elevation: Season 4 by Team Summit. Since that time, he has had numerous starring roles in the Boondockers and Elevation film series. His segments depict a well-rounded rider—someone who can hit big cliffs and jumps, carve beautiful powder lines and isn’t scared to get technical in the trees and canyon bottoms. He even manages to pull some big climbs on a Pro RMK whose only mods are an SLP single pipe and clutch tuning.
Outside of snowmobiling, Kaltenbacher is an all around outdoorsman, although he clearly prefers sports of the winter variety, as shown by his license plate that reads “SMRSUX.” He is a devoted father and husband and the only thing he likes to talk about more than riding is his two boys, Karson and Kohen. I sat down with Kris to talk with him about his passion for sledding and help readers get to know the man known as “Smasher” a little better:
:: When did you start snowmobiling?
I started riding in 1981 when my mom and dad bought a 1981 Polaris Star. We lived in Bethel, AK, and used the snowmobile to train sled dogs. I was active in dog sled racing until about age 12. We moved to Dillingham, AK, when I was 12 and that is when I really began my passion for sledding. The town had a population of 2,500. I rode my sled to and from school, the grocery store, friends’ houses, camping and hunting. I rode it everywhere. It was just a normal part of life growing up.
:: At what point were you hooked on riding?
Living in Dillingham there seemed to be more kids in that area that rode sleds than ran dogs. My parents bought a new Yamaha Bravo and then I eventually bought my own sled which was a 1986 Yamaha Exciter 570. This is when I knew sledding was for me. I enjoyed the power and the speed. As time went on, the sleds progressed and improved so much it made life in the sled world so much more exciting to me.
:: What was your first sled?
The first sled that I could actually call mine was my dad and mom’s 1981 Polaris Star. I eventually bought a 1986 Yamaha Exciter. After that I did not buy another sled until I graduated from college in 1991 and it was a 1996 Polaris Ultra.
:: Describe your perfect day of riding:
My perfect day would be about 2-3 feet of the freshest powder, temperature around 0 degrees F so that the snow is light and fluffy. The sun is out so that you can see the crystals in the snow dust. Utah powder looks like this. The perfect riding day also includes my best riding buddies. The day continues with a variety of tree riding, some nice drops and to top it off some perfect powder turns. No break downs and not a lot of stucks. I can say I have had these days and they are some of the most enjoyable days of my life.
:: What do you think about the advances in snowmobile technology over the last 10 years?
I can’t believe the advances, it is unreal. Look at the horsepower that sleds are putting out now and how well the suspension works, it is mind blowing. Some of my old friends and I talk about this from time to time and laugh about what we could have done as kids with the sleds we have today.
:: Where do you see the sport going in the next 5 years?
This is mind boggling to me. As of now, we have Levi LaVallee doing double back flips, Paul Thacker jumping football fields, Heath Frisby doing backflips with variations. Then you have backcountry riders such as Chris Burandt, Geoff Kyle, Chris Brown, Dan Gardiner, Geoff “Phatty” Dyer, Rick Barker and so many others I could name, doing insane drops. Don’t forget Dan Davidoff, Mark Mesenbrink and Dan Bush who have already pushed hillclimbing so far into the extreme, I can’t imagine what the next generation is going to bring to the sport of sledding.
:: How did you start riding in snowmobile videos?
This is a long story but I will try and shorten it up the best I can. Well, it really started with three of my buddies John, Al and Joey. These three guys used to tell me all the time that they felt like I was good enough to ride in videos and they encouraged me to pursue being in videos. So with their encouragement I contacted Kirk Zack, owner of HMK. Kirk told me to call Jeff Aiello, producer of the Team Summit videos. Jeff then called Anthony Oberti and told him to take me for a test ride, so to speak. I went riding one weekend with Anthony and Jesse O’Rourke from the Team Summit videos. I rode a few times with them and Anthony called me and said that they were going to film on April 19 and they wanted me to come. I went for that ride and that was my first experience with filming. Just from this one ride I got to meet a few great connections and soon to be new friends. One of the people that I got to meet was Dan Gardiner, who later on that weekend gave me his phone number and told me to make a trip to Utah and ride with the Boondockers crew. Everyone says follow your dreams which is great, but I say ‘step outside of the box.’ If you never take this risk, you’ll never know what could have been. This is all because three good friends encouraged me to make one phone call.
:: Can we expect to see anything more from Team Summit?
Unfortunately, I think the Team Summit films may be gone. I do not know this for sure. Shane Kelly has tried to keep it going after Jeff Aiello handed it down, but it has been a trial for all of us to continue. I heard rumors of Team Summit videos teaming up with another film but as far as I know it’s just a rumor … you can watch the TeamSummit.net web page for updates if you are a fan.
:: What are your favorite riding areas?
Currently, my favorite is Utah. The riding there is always epic. The snow is champagne powder and the sky is the limit. Second, would have to be Canada. If you have never been, save your cash and get up there … it will blow your mind. The mountains are amazing; the snow is always perfect, it is truly mind-blowing. If you like tree riding get to Colorado. I rode outside of Kremmling this last year and the tree riding will test your skills. My hometown of Reno, NV, and Northern California are not too bad. Watch the weather and storms just right to get great snow, but we have a lot of area to ride and some great boondocking.
:: If you could ride anywhere, where would it be?
Revelstoke, Canada. Every time I see pictures it looks epic and the terrain looks sick. I will be there this year for sure on a cold powder day.
:: What is your favorite style of riding?
I love boondocking, technical lines through the trees and steep sidehills. Don’t get me wrong. I like to push it on jumps, drops and some climbs—but I love having a sick line through the trees. Follow the leader in the trees boondocking not knowing where you are going is my favorite riding hands down. First one to get stuck loses.
:: What’s up with that Anthony Oberti character? Why does he talk so much smack?
You mean Tinker Bell, Back Cracker, Muscle Man, Big Head, Mr. Look-at-Me? Nothing is up with Anthony, he is a has-been, or a never was, he likes to think he can ride with me or hang with me and the truth of the fact is that he can’t plain and simple. I let him hang out with me because it makes him feel good about himself. Anthony likes to talk trash about all the riders he can’t beat so that’s basically everyone that rides a sled.
Just kidding. If you know Anthony, then you know he is all talk. He just likes to play around a lot that’s what makes Anthony so much fun to have around. Anthony has become one of my most favorite friends in my life. I have only known him for a short five years but I feel as if I have known him my whole life. Anthony will be the first person on the trail to share his knowledge about sleds and be more than helpful with helping anyone fix their sled. Furthermore, I just want people to know that if you ever talk to him he is my sidekick and always has been and don’t let him tell you different.
:: What is your current sled?
A 2011 Polaris Assault, with SLP Performance pipe and head, SlyDog skis, BetterBoards, Zbroz front end, Fastrax front bumper, CoBe Motorsports rear bumper and 2 Cool Air Vents. It rips.
:: Does it make you nervous to think about your kids doing the same stuff as you someday?
Yes, so much. I now know how my dad and mom used to feel and still do feel about my riding. The funny thing about this question is my 6-year-old son, Kohen just got hurt riding his quad the other day and it scared the heck out of me. My 9-year-old, Karson is pretty mellow on a sled but my youngest Kohen he is out of control on a sled, with no fear whatsoever. I just want to make sure that I teach them about safety so that they can enjoy the sport as much as I do.
:: What helps you progress your riding skills?
You would think the older I have gotten the more tame I would be, but in some aspects I think I have pushed myself a little harder each year which kind of scares me but I keep going. Riding with better riders has been huge in progressing my riding. I also like to see the outcome at the end of the season and to look back and see what I have accomplished. Doing what I am doing right now has been a lifelong goal and a dream and now that it is here I want to take full advantage of my opportunity.
:: What was your scariest moment on a sled?
My scariest moment ... I guess I would have to say last year in Canada when I did a 60- to 70-foot cliff drop. I really wasn’t feeling it that day, did not like the landing or the rocks below. I just had a weird feeling about the drop. Phatty was down below taking pictures; Dan Davidoff was up top with me filming along with Ryan Nelson. We had to wait for the sun to come out so I just stood up top looking over the edge thinking about whether it was a bad idea. This is when everything that could potentially go wrong runs through your head. There was so much anticipation of the drop as time went on the more and more I became consumed with it. Dan told me if I didn’t feel it we could move on, there were plenty of drops out there to do, but I felt so compelled to do it for some reason. Finally there was a break in the clouds and Davidoff said I had to go now. As I ran back to my sled it took everything I had to make my legs move, I started the sled to go, then hit the brake in hesitation, then tapped the throttle again as I went over the edge. As I dropped I remember hitting the brake just a little in the air to bring the nose down. After that it felt like I did it too much so I pinned the throttle which brought the nose up a little too much, which in turn made for a harder landing. The landing was off camber and slanted to the left, but I could not see that from the top because of the shadows so when I hit I kind of tweaked my right wrist and almost lost the sled. As I rode down to where everyone was I could feel the adrenaline in my body. I was trembling when I got off my sled. Everything worked out for the best and it made for a great photo. Funny thing is I have put myself into worse situations and not been as scared as I was looking over the edge of that cliff. It felt amazing to put my fear aside and push myself over the edge. That shot is in my living room now just as a reminder.
:: How do you stay fit in the offseason?
Well I would not say that I am fit but I do try and ride my mountain bike, play basketball, ride my quad and if time allows I go to the gym. In my line of work I do get a lot of exercise. I also stay agile chasing my two young sons.
:: What advice do you have for riders that want to become sponsored or be in videos?
I have learned a lot in the past four years about riding in videos and being sponsored. It is not all about your riding and how good you are. It is also about what you can bring to the table, how you represent yourself and how you promote yourself. You need to actively keep in touch with your sponsors. They like to know how you are doing, what you are doing and ultimately how are you promoting their product. We are also testing their products and they want our feedback to help make improvements. Just be yourself, go out and ride have a good time—that is what sledding is all about.
:: Is there anyone you would like to thank?
I would like to give a big thanks to John Oppio owner of Sierra Sport and Marine for the sponsorship of my sled and so many parts that I cannot begin to list, the hours of work on my sleds, to make sure I am up and running for the next big day. I would also like to thank my mechanic Justin at Sierra Sport and Marine for the nights that he has stayed late to fix a blown motor or some bent part that he had just fixed the week before. Thank you John and Justin for always believing the sled needed to be finished ASAP because the upcoming weekend “is the biggest film day of the year.” I’d also like to thank Kirk Zack at HMK for all his support he has been a friend for a number of years. Not only helped me get started in the video industry but now sponsors me every year with his clothing line which keeps me warm, comfortable and dry. I would like to thank SLP, SlyDog skis, BetterBoards, Zbroz, 509 Goggles, 2CoolAirVents, Truckboss decks, CoBe Motorsports, Fastrax, Haber Vision and Mountain Machine Performance. They are all wonderful sponsors and supporters. Thanks to my dad and mom for supporting me and helping me out when I was a kid and introducing me into snowmobiling. My riding buddy Charles Bluth, the man never gets lost no matter if I take some jacked up line he will find me. You never have to worry about Chuck. He will take a picture or video without hesitation even when it is cold and uncomfortable for him. He will go on a road trip at the drop of a hat, will ride in rain or snowstorms and even when he drives more than 2,000 miles and then only gets to ride 12 miles due to a busted up sled, he never ever complains. He is just happy to be riding, thanks buddy. Last but not least I thank my family. Thanks to my wife Tracy and my two boys Karson and Kohen for all their support, as they watch me weekend after weekend follow my dream to ride sleds all winter long. They make my sled life easy. Even when they are missing me they always wish me the best and hope that I am having fun so I thank my family for their support. Love them.
Please do a snow dance for this next season. I am hopeful that we will have another epic winter. Hope to see you out on the snow, remember when in doubt, pin it.