Graduation Day

Column Ryan Harris

This spring will mark the end of a lot of riders' first or second seasons as snowmobilers. When the snow has melted and the sled is sitting on a block of wood, some of them will consider themselves well-rounded mountain riders. But don't get the cap and gown out yet. There's more to graduating from the College of Western Riding than making it through a season in one piece. In fact, there's a whole list of required courses you must pass before you can start talking the talk with your riding buddies.

Powder Riding
This is a basic course outlining the skills needed for riding through deep mountain powder without getting stuck on flat ground. This includes not stopping on an uphill incline. If you did get stuck on level ground on any of your last five rides, you need to repeat the course. Which brings us to the next class on the list.

Getting Unstuck
You've likely found that the guys you ride with used to help you get out, just as a friendly notion. Now when you stick it, they scatter like scared fish. If it takes you longer than five minutes to get yourself out of any self-inflicted hole (with the exception of a creek in the bottom of a sharp canyon, in which case you might as well abandon riding, because no one's going to want to take you anymore anyway), you need to repeat the course.

Intro to Hillclimbing
This 3-credit course introduces the beginner to riding a snowmobile uphill. This course also helps identify whether or not the rider possesses basic human instincts, like equilibrium and common sense. Riders must be able to turn out of a climb before getting stuck. If you get stuck, no one should help you out, reinforcing the idea that no one else wants to park on a steep hillside to pull on your ski. Oh, and if you roll your sled because you couldn't decipher advice to "lean uphill" from "flop off the sled like a wet otter," you must take the 025 course: Intro to Gravity.

Advanced Boondocking
Here you should develop your skills of tree riding. If you made any of the following purchases this year, you failed: front bumper, exhaust pipe, hood.

This is a 400-level course reserved only for those who have passed the common sense prerequisites. This course focuses on turnout judgment and skills, avalanche awareness, and current life insurance policies.

Advanced Trailering
Pulling a trailer is one thing, pushing it is another. This course tests your ability to back an 8-foot wide trailer into a 9-foot slot, with 6-inches of fresh snow on the ground, a hot cup of coffee between your legs, a cell phone in your hand, and a truck with dirty mirrors. This test must be completed at night in an unlit parking lot with a blown trailer light fuse.

Effective Excuses
This English course addresses the distractions that can make initially good excuses go bad, especially excuses to go riding. For example: "I have to go riding with Jim because his girlfriend left him and I have to make sure he doesn't go ride off a cliff, if Jim can even make it up to the top of that cliff, because last week he could only get about two-thirds the way up, which was way below my mark, and he said he didn't care if it cost him his love life, he was going to beat me next time, and I think he might because he spent six grand on that new motor and now he might get to the top and I have to go to make sure he doesn't jump off, and if he does, that his sled doesn't go with him."

Trash Communications
This, the only required speech course, teaches the rider the proper ethics and adjective usage when talking smack. Over the course of one season, the new rider's poor skills-"You can't go higher than me because you ride a piece of crap"-will advance to more refined, effective means of communication-"You think you can top that? Ha! You couldn't get half that high if you were smokin' weed! Even if you made it to where I really turned it on, your sled would implode from the lack of air pressure and you would float off into outer space. And you still couldn't get to my mark."
If you passed these courses and consider yourself a college grad, congratulations. But don't think it's downhill from here. Now you're stuck in the 20-year master's program-ask any seasoned rider, once you've made it this far, there's no dropping out.

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