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December 15, 2009
Riding With Tyler & Zach
As the two brothers peeked over a rocky
cliff face on a ragged ridge in western
Wyoming, you could see the apprehension,
excitement and tension building.
They had dropped this ridge dozens of
times. It wasn’t a matter of how far you fall,
but rather how fast you launch. Once you
roll off the cornice, gravity takes over and
somewhere between 120-135 feet below
you finally catch up to the steep slope falling
down into a steep canyon.
But several factors were in play on this
crisp spring morning.
First, about six inches of fresh snow was
covering the slope—whether it would be
enough to absorb the drop or just enough
to disguise a hard landing. Second, several
small slides had broken the day before,
indicating that the snow was somewhat
unstable. A hard landing could also bring
down the entire slope, putting the rider in
And third, although Tyler and Zach
Ogden were very familiar with the ridge
and the cliffs that line it, it was on that very
ridge where Zach had broken his back less
than a couple of months earlier. Although
he was under doctor’s orders to stay off the
snow for the remainder of the season, here
he was, looking for a good spot to catch
There was quite a discussion as the two
looked for the most inviting spot to drop.
Tyler was holding the trump card. “Zach,
you can’t go first. You shouldn’t even go at
all. I’ll hit it and radio back up if I think your
back can handle it.”
But Zach wasn’t quite that reluctant to
give the upper hand to his brother. “My
back’s feeling fine. Besides, there’s plenty
of cushion to make this a soft drop.”
Ultimately, Tyler won out. “Just wait and
see how my jump turns out,” the Odgen
twin said as he fired up his Ski-Doo Summit
8 and accelerated off the edge.
The launch was impressive. The Summit
stayed flat and flew out off the cliff and
landed rather abruptly well over 100 feet
down the slope. From all appearances, it
was a nice, clean drop. However, as the
Summit raced down the powder-covered
slope, a hidden avalanche slough grabbed
the front end of the sled and catapulted
Tyler another 30 feet down the slope as the
sled followed in true end-over-end fashion.
There was a deathly silence as Tyler’s
body rag-dolled down the slope before
coming to a stop about 30 yards from his
snowmobile. For several moments he just
lay there, before propping his bruised body
up and trying to regain his senses. Slowly
he got to his feet and stumbled down to
where his snowmobile had come to rest.
“Are you okay?” Zach radioed down
from his vantage point up on the cliff.
“That hurt,” replied Tyler.
“What did you hit?”
“Don’t know. But it was hard. And it did
a number on my sled.”
“I’m thinking I need to stay right of
you,” Zach said.
“Zach, don’t be stupid. It’s not worth
chancing it with your back.”
“I’ll be careful. I won’t get as much air
“Don’t be stupid. Just roll off the edge.
Save the big air for another day.”
Although the discussion went on for
several minutes, on this day Tyler won
out, mainly because Zach knew the snow
wasn’t really that great for big drops …
and Tyler probably needed his help putting
the Summit back together for the rest
of the ride.
Riding with the Ogden brothers is much
different that the perception you get from
the stories about them—some of which
have become almost legendary. There’s
probably not a safer, more aware pair of
extreme riders around.
Unlike many who just hit the snow at
full throttle and pound the slopes until
something bad happens, Tyler and Zach
pay attention to snow conditions, weather
patterns and those around them. They
pack radios, avalanche beacons, safety
and emergency gear and common sense.
They both realize that the most useful tool
in their possession is their brain—they
anticipate and try to prevent most serious
If the snow is unpredictable or unstable,
they look to areas that don’t have “death
traps,” or the type of terrain that can take
away one’s ability to react. If a storm is
moving in, they watch the weather, making
sure they aren’t caught in the wrong area if
white-out conditions occur.
They are aware of the riding ability level
of those who may have joined them. And
it’s not uncommon for one to go to a fellow
rider who may be out of his comfort
zone and either show him what to do, ride
his sled through the treacherous areas, or
literally take rider and sled up a slope. And
they don’t do it in a way that is demeaning
or condescending … it’s more like they
are trying to help the other rider get past a
“bad spot” that could ruin a ride.
If you don’t know the Ogden brothers,
it is somewhat hard to tell them apart.
They’re twins, 29 years old, from Idaho
Falls, ID. Both are married to what they
describe as “hotties.” Both have young
children at home, so their personal responsibilities
keep them somewhat grounded.
They also own/manage their own separate
Each year they put about 600 miles on
their snowmobiles (not counting air time).
They do have a favorite location that is
void of groomed trails and has a tendency
to grow some fantastic cornices.
Here is some basic info about Tyler
and Zach that we gained in an exclusive
SH—When did you first start to snowmobile?
Tyler—Zach and I would take turns driving
a dark blue late 80s Polaris.
would take off and tell us, “If you stop,
you’re going to get stuck … so stay on
the gas.” So we would ride double and try
to stay in his track while keeping the sled
engaged at a steady momentum.
Zach—I first started sledding when I was
like 8 or 10. My first real sled was a Polaris
Indy Sport 340. And I loved it.
SH--When was the first time you can
remember that you actually “pushed the
envelope” on a snowmobile?
Tyler—I remember that day like it was
I had a couple of friends who
would always tell me about all the huge
cornices that they hit. I knew they were all
talk, so I took them to the “Creek” (our
spot). Zach was gone, so I was by myself. I
knew where a couple of cliff hangers were
so I went to them and said, “Okay, here
are some cornices.”
My friends all went
quiet, except one. He said: “You’re the
That’s all it took.
I hit every cornice I saw that day and I
got the hang of it and liked it. We rode all
day and I continued to push the limits until
we came to this one bowl—it was incredible.
The cornice was massive, the biggest
by a long, long ways. I knew I would not
feel like the day was a good one unless I
So I went to the top with an
older guy, Blaine Simmons. We were looking
over the edge and Blaine said, “Tyler,
that is too much, that wall is over 30 feet.”
But I was already walking back to my sled
making a boot path.
He started waving his arms and yelling,
“No, wait.” I wasn’t paying attention to
him. I was thinking about what I needed to
and how the sequence of events would
play through my mind.
I took off and as the snow disappeared
into air, I felt the rush. I landed and the
rebound was so intense it knocked my
goggles off. But I knew I made it.
that day my bro (Zach) and I made these
cornices just a part of the ride and that
last cornice is still the biggest hit in the
We taped it and ran out of tape
around 130 feet.
Zach—The first real event was when
we were riding in our favorite area and we
decided to ride up to the biggest cornice
on one of the biggest mountains. It’s a
spot where you either need a turbo just to
get on top of it or you have to ride a very
aggressive knife-edge, wind-blown ridge.
You’re on top of the world, but you can’t
see anything over the cornice … and you
don’t dare walk out on the end of it because
it could break. Some guy at the bottom
directs us one way or another for the right
line. The takeoff was slightly uphill, almost
like a ramp off the edge of a skyscraper. I
just had to commit and let the adrenaline fill
my body and let pure instinct take over as I
started to fall. It’s surprising how much time
I had in the air before hitting the snow down
the slope. The initial rebound was another
30 feet down the slope.
That’s when I knew I was pushing it,
coming off that cornice. There is nothing
better. And that bad boy only shows up on
really good snow years.
SH—Coming off cornices can be pretty
hard on things. What’s the life expectancy
of your sled?
Tyler—Three years … I take care of my
sleds and try not to wreck. Crashes suck.
Zach—I’d say the life expectancy of my
sled is probably better than most. I baby
my sled. I wipe it off with a diaper. It
stays in an enclosed trailer and after each
ride I leave a heater going all night to melt
off any snow or to evaporate condensation.
SH—What would you consider a “perfect
day” of riding?
Tyler—Big air by far; hang time is the
rush. All your veins dilate, everything goes
into slow motion. Your blood vessels and
lungs are able to hold more blood and
oxygen, making you super human for just
a second. Adrenalin is pulsing throughout
your body. That is the reason you do it
again, and again—the anticipation and the
climax. We have all had the taste … but
how neat is it that as a rider you know how
to get that fix if you want it.
Once I had to go to Jackson Hole, WY,
for business. I had to get some blueprints
to bid a job. Zach went riding.
was so mad
that I couldn’t go. So after I got the blueprints,
I drove as fast
as I could down to
the Hoback [just east of Alpine, WY] where
Zach had parked. I didn’t have my sled or
any riding gear. So I started breaking in
everyone’s vehicles to find what I needed.
I found a helmet and overalls in one truck
and a radio in Zach’s trailer. I borrowed a
sled from another trailer. I went up on the
hill and radioed Zach. We hooked up, went
to some big cornices and hucked. I ended
up getting the bid for the job. That was a
Zach—The perfect day would be
about12-18 inches of powder and a good
base. I would want all of my hits to be solid,
with 5-6 good drops on a big loop ride.
Of course Ty or I would be the first to hit
the drops. If you want to really go big, all
the conditions must be correct. The slightest
mistake means a trip to the hospital. I
have broken almost every bone in my body
… this year it was my back on a cliff we
had talked about dropping for six years. I
landed it and rode to where everyone was
sitting, then rolled off my sled and bled.
You have a very extreme style of riding.
Do you tend to have more spectacular
Tyler—I very rarely go down. In fact, the
crash I took the day we rode together was
one of the first in years. I try to be careful
and make good decisions … more brains
Zach—How could anyone forget my
summit speed record up the backside of
Jefferson five or six years earlier? I told Ty,
“Watch this. I’m going to show you how to
use NOS.” Then I held the button down. I
have no idea how fast I was going when I
shot out of the top. I grabbed the brake,
slammed into the over-hanging cornice on
the chute that falls 2,000 feet down and
went end-over-end down the hill. (It was my
dad’s sled so I asked Josh Skinner not to
put the crash in the video.)
When I broke my back last February
making a big drop, the doctor told me I
was lucky to not be in a wheelchair. He said
I broke it as bad as one can without getting
paralyzed. Three weeks later I was out
riding again … and on my last ride of the
season I dropped an 80-footer.
Once I dropped a cornice in flat light
and broke my left wrist, my right thumb
and almost my nose. Tyler laughed at me.
That’s kind of funny, we usually don’t get
too concerned for each other. We understand
that if it’s serious we got each other’s
back. And if not, we just laugh at the other
one rolling around bleeding.
I don’t trust anyone like I do my bro. In
the hills no one ... and that is mutual. I know
if we were to get in a slide he would find
me and I would find him … or die trying.
SH—Does your family worry about you
when you’re out riding?
Tyler—No, they understand I don’t try
to kill myself.
This is just the result of years
of riding and the feel of the sled. You’re
always in control. It’s almost automatic; you
can counter the counter.
Zach—They don’t care. But then, they
have never really seen Ty or I go big. My
wife knew how I was when she married
me—that is why I love her. During my first
year of marriage, I went sledding in a storm
up in the Jefferson area and got ahead of
my group. I went to the top of the mountain
which was 10,000 feet in a pure white
out. I sat there waiting and waiting, but no
one showed. So I went to go down to find
them. But I ended up in a canyon where the
snow never gets set up.
I knew that I would be unable to climb
out. I couldn’t even go downhill without
getting stuck. It was deep and I couldn’t
see five feet in front of me. I radioed to
my brother to call Search and Rescue as
soon as he got out. It took them about 7
or 8 hours to get out. So I dug a snow cave
and waited until like 1 a.m. for the storm
Then I dug a path with my shovel about
100 yards long and four feet wide so I
could get a run to try to climb out. I tried
17 times until I was able to sidehill out of
that canyon. I met Tyler with the Search
and Rescue on the trail about a mile or so
down. An ambulance was waiting with my
wife and a lot of friends.
My wife knows I’m a survivor. Now I’m
on Search and Rescue in Bonneville County
and go out in the middle of the night to
help others, using my skills to help whomever.
Are the two of you competitive
when out on the snow, trying to outdo
Tyler—Of course. We tend to try to out-
air each other, but only once per hit and
are mature enough that whoever
out-airs the other, there isn’t anything said
except a congrats and
it’s off to the next
Zach—Between Ty and myself, Tyler is
probably the most competitive. More than
anything, we want to go bigger than our
friends (we never let them get a bigger
drop). And there is only one other riding
buddy who will follow us off our big hits.
Of the two of you, who is more
likely to get into the most mischief on the
Tyler—Zach. He gets wound up and the
decision-making process is clouded by the
thought of how cool this will be.
Zach—It depends on the day.
SH—What do you expect from your
Tyler—I like performance, a great suspension
I have gone to a
Ski-Doo chassis because I like the way it
feels when I come off the edge of a cornice
or a small hit.
The position of the sled and
the way it sends is so predictable that I can
Zach—I have to trust my sled 100 percent.
It must be reliable with a crisp throttle
response, wanting to jerk the track immediately
when I hit the gas. I want to be able to
sidehill down a road on one ski without the
sled wanting to go one way or the other.
And it can’t be heavy. Heavy sleds can fly
… but they don’t land.
SH—Now that the two of you are getting
a little older, is it affecting your aggressiveness?
Tyler—Not yet. The snow conditions
seem to affect the
way I ride more and
more. When there’s less snow the cornices
are smaller, I have to be a little more creative
and find other hits that I may have passed
up before. Now I tend to have a more optimistic
outlook on existing conditions.
Zach—I’m getting way more aggressive
as each year comes. It seems that if you
don’t push yourself in whatever sport you
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