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Weakest Link

Published online: Jan 12, 2012 Column Steve Janes
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Amidst the snow flurries on that cold January morning, a group of four snowmobilers wound their way through the rugged backcountry in the Salt River Range east of Alpine, WY.

Poor visibility due to the flat light made for difficult riding conditions as the group carved across the slopes and traversed the sidehills while picking their way through tight canyons. An old access road carved its way above a steep drop-off which fell down into a flowing creek. However, deep snow on the steep slope crowded the road to the point where even the slightest track wash would cost a rider the sidehill.

For the last rider in the group, most of the good lines had already been trenched out or polished down to the frozen earth, leaving little good snow to set the track or create new lines. Suddenly, the back end of the sled slid sideways across an exposed rock and dangled over the 100-foot drop to the creek. With a frantic grab of the throttle, the rider pushed the sled into a drift of snow which secured it to the mountain.

About 15 minutes later, during which time a lot of shoveling occurred to get the snowmobile leveled on a narrow platform where it could be driven back to safety, the other three riders returned to celebrate the scraping off of the tail rider.

Over the years I've learned one important truth when it comes to snowmobiling: You don't want to be the weakest link in your group.

By being the weakest link, you usually find yourself in situations that are just a little beyond your comfort level. Regardless of where you start out in a ride-second, third or fourth in line-you usually work yourself back to the rear. This is both good and bad. The good is you can take a little more time to assess the terrain before you make a commitment on your line. The bad is that the trenches get deeper, the bumps get harder and the availability of fresh lines becomes much more scarce.

Being the weakest link also makes you vulnerable to the butt of the jokes. And the only thing worse than being the weakest link is being the weakest link and not knowing it.

Usually, riders assemble in groups of close equality in riding abilities. Although there is usually a "pecking order" in who leads and who follows, not everyone is always on the top of their game. In other words, the weakest link can vary depending on who's riding well and who's not (sometimes it's whose snowmobile is running strong and whose sled is just not making power that day).

Regardless, it's always good to look around your group before the start of each ride and try to decide who's going to be the weakest link . and then do everything you can to be just a little bit better than that guy on that ride.