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Backcountry Basics By Amber Holt

Published online: Oct 05, 2013 News By Bill Badgley
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(ED-We referred to this story in the October issue of SnoWest Magazine, "Amber Addresses Critical Need," page 10.)

Learning the fundamentals of riding snowmobiles just made so much sense to me when I registered for the Backcountry Basics course taught by Amber Holt, and now on day one of the class I was about to discover whether this was a sport that I could step into and enjoy or a sport that I should set aside once and for all as too difficult for a man in his mid-60s to enter.

Inside the Seven Devils Lodge near Council, Idaho, Amber started the day with a session on avalanche dangers. The equipment to carry, awareness of the terrain, safe practices while riding, beacon use, conducting the search, and recovering the victim were all covered thoroughly. It was evident that this class was going to cover the basics.

By mid-morning we were on the sleds and headed for the practice area. The wide-open high country meadows near the Seven Devils Lodge provided the perfect training area for this class.  More than sufficient snow depth, gentle slopes and plenty of room to spread out for practice gave each of us a chance to learn in a more forgiving setting while also enjoying the incredible beauty surrounding us here.

Then the work began.  By the end of day one, we had been introduced to throttle control, engaging the clutches, the counter-steer, getting the sled up on pivot, and-most important-where you are looking. Amber introduced each maneuver with a thorough introduction, then followed with a presentation of it as she put her sled through the paces before asking each of us to try it. When it was our turn, we went one-by-one to give her ample opportunity to discover our individual mistakes (and there were plenty), then provide the instruction that would help us overcome those mistakes. As each class member took their sled through the maneuver, it also provided the rest of us with an opportunity to watch and learn.

On day two of the class, Amber began putting the fundamentals together that we had learned on day one. In the morning it was more pivot training, but this time with real-life situations. It was incredible to realize that just yesterday, we were introduced to getting the sled up on pivot and by the next day we were actually turning that sled around a very tight circle-without strong-arming the sled to make it happen. At one point, after watching one of our class members use a lot of muscle to pull the sled over, Amber stopped the maneuver and announced that the next time she saw one of us trying to pull the sled over with muscle, that she would have us drop down for twenty push-ups. In the snow?

By late afternoon on day two, we were all tired and hoping for a change-up in the training regimen when Amber introduced a maneuver that all of us had fun with and repeated often. This was about how to cross a small stream when any other way across the stream would involve another more dangerous route or an alternative route was just not available. This maneuver brought us back to throttle control and for those who like to throw the throttle at it, this was their moment-although it had to be controlled. 

At the end of day two, training was complete. Day three was a backcountry ride for sheer enjoyment-and for me, the complete novice, a chance to appreciate that my skill level had just undergone a miraculous improvement.

Amber Holt's Backcountry Basics course won me over. I came to this class to see if

snowmobiling was something that I truly wanted to continue to learn and enjoy or was it something to set aside once and for all. With less than 300 miles of total snowmobile experience, I was ready to set the sport aside. In just that short span of experience, I had already injured my shoulder in a roll-over, experienced the terror of sidehilling a mountain in powder snow and the even greater terror of any speed over 20 miles per hour on groomed trails that were anything but flat, level or smooth and wide. I was done, ready to sell the sled and stay with sailing.

Then came Amber. I knew from the moment of my first phone conversation with Amber that she was a person dedicated to the joy of watching her student gain, assimilate and put together what she was teaching. True education happens when there is a transfer of knowledge and skill from the teacher to the student and this is exactly what took place for each of us in Amber's Backcountry Basics course. 

The experience level of the riders in our class ranged from my very novice level through many years of riding and each of us took much home from this course. The backcountry ride on day three was my opportunity to appreciate just how much I had gained as I enjoyed a whole new level of confidence and capability along with greatly improved performance. As I drove home, I found myself wondering if my budget would work for a new sled before next season.

Bill Badgley

Class of February 1-3, 2013

Seven Devils Lodge

Council, ID