One of the most common questions that I am requested to answer is simply, "What technique do I need to work on to improve my ride?" The answer is easy really: practice and refine your skills and put yourself in more extreme terrain.
More and more as I teach riding skills, I am finding that many sledders are applying the technique that is portrayed in the Schooled video series. And with a few tips they can engage themselves in backcountry riding the way it is meant to be.
So how did they get to this point? Was it the video or was it passed down from someone who attended a riding clinic? At any rate, if the rider is willing to lose a few bad habits and commit to the technique the way it is intended, then it is just a matter of practice, right? Well, almost. Practice is good to a point. If a rider isn't willing to push himself he will not advance. The rider will advance by riding in progressively steeper and more intimidating terrain and by simply committing to the technique and applying himself to the task at hand. Don't weaken.
I was on tour in Norway last spring conducting a series of riding clinics. Fredrick, whom I have ridden with in Colorado, was in attendance. He was hell bent on learning some new tricks. He kept asking me to watch him ride so I could coach him into being a better rider. He was applying the technique properly, although he was a little rough on the edges and a bit aggressive and he had the basics. He just needed to hone his skills. He might have even lured me into a tree once-wait a minute, that's my role. As we worked into the trees and steeper slopes it was evident that Fredrick could apply himself, he just needed a riding companion who could challenge him.
On another ride I remember some very skilled riders who wanted to improve. The thing is they didn't make any mistakes. They were good and had been practicing a lot. This all was in the absence of hazards. When challenged by trees and other obstacles they were completely shaken up and could not concentrate on using the technique.
If you want to advance your skills it is a matter of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Get stuck. Run over a tree. When you find your riding limit, ride outside the boundary of your limits. Soon you will find there are no boundaries and no dead ends.
Some friends and I came up with this idea once of marketing an energy drink called "Talent." The thought is that when I rode upon the likes of Sanchez-or better yet-Burandt in a tree well or something a little more severe, I could whip out a can of Talent and say, "Ran out of talent didn't you?" So if anyone likes this idea I will expect to see Talent on the shelves of C-stores across the snowbelt. It's too bad we can't just take something that would help us develop better skills. Guess I'll just have to go the old-fashioned way with hard work and a lot of practice.
The practice is the part that is difficult if you have a 40-hour a week job. Now I have always said that a job is a bad habit and there should be a support group for recovering job addicts. So this is where the practice part works really well because it helps to get your mind off of that job addiction.
Consider someone like Chris Burandt who normally rides seven days a week all winter long and halfway through the summer. He is completely over having a job and while I'm not sure he still needs any practice, he is still improving. And I have plateaued. I don't know what's up with that, but I suppose now he will be able to catch up to my skill level. (Just kidding, Burandt.)
So what's the deal with this practice thing? I see that participants in my clinics gain a tremendous amount of ability in two to three days of training. Then they go back to the daily routine and it might be two weeks before they are able to get back out in the snow. By now the training is not fresh on their mind and it takes the best part of a day to catch up to where they left off. Then it's back to the routine and two weeks later it takes most of the day again to catch up.
It seems like if a sledder doesn't stay with the program he won't improve. Perhaps. So let's not lose perspective on why we like to ride sleds-besides the competitive nature. It's the out that we get from our normal everyday routine. It's the pleasure of being in the outdoors. It's about being close to nature and sharing it with your riding buddies.
Unless you are a pro rider and can get out several times a week, you may not improve rapidly. Just remember it's about the experience. Get out and enjoy our great outdoors. And practice. You never know when you might run into me somewhere in the backcountry. This will be your opportunity to lose me in the trees somewhere.
Rasmussen, who owned and operated a snowmobile dealership for 25 years, is a long time competition hillclimber, holding multiple world championship titles, and is a founding member of RMSHA (Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Hillclimb Association). He currently owns and operates Snowmobile Research Services, a consulting firm dedicated to advancing the development of mountain sleds and furthering the sport of backcountry riding with his ride clinics. See his web site at www.riderasmussenstyle.com.