Matching Your Talent With Your Machine

Published in the September 2010 Issue Column Bret Rasmussen

It doesn't matter how good your sled is if you don't have the talent to ride to the sled's ability.

An investment in riding techniques might be a better way to spend your cash. Sled modifications, when done right, are always good if the rider can respond to the hyper sled.

Another aspect to consider is durability of a modified sled; working on a sled in the backcountry is a good way to spoil the day for your buddies.

I have been in the backcountry many times and run into sledders who have spent endless amounts of their riches on a sled with all the latest and untested modifications. Of course, it wouldn't run. I guess we have all been here at one time or another just trying to get a little more out of our sled, to get that edge we would need to one-up the riding buddy. The thing is that he will have one excuse after the other trying to defend what he has done to the poor sled. After all, with the investment he has in the sled, he has to like it.

Now one individual, whom I'll call Bob, came to me recently with a sled that he had a $20,000 investment in. I really didn't know how good of a rider he was, but riding his sled even made me look like a bad rider. I figured he should have spent some of that 20 grand on some riding lessons, but who am I to suggest that? So I spent a day in the shop tweaking it here and tweaking it there, adding some new cam arms for the clutch, making adjustments to the turbo and sharing some of my secret programming to the Boondocker fuel control box. Then I was all ready for a test ride.

I called Bob to see when he could meet me as he had to drive from out of state. We scheduled a time to meet in Preston, ID, and wow, what a difference in the sled. So the sled runs; now it's time to work on the rider. How do I suggest that he needs some lessons? It seems that many of the guys who spend the most money on their ride are the most egotistical and they have the attitude that they should be teaching the old man (yours truly) how to ride.

Now Bob wasn't a bad rider, it's just that he had a lot more sled than he could handle. It seems that today's hopped up sleds making more than 200 hp at altitude can be very fast and require quick decisions on the rider's part when maneuvering through the trees at Mach 1.

A few years ago I did demonstration rides for Arctic Cat and found myself in a new area and with new people daily. Most of the time I hadn't ridden the area nor did I know the riders. Typically there would be at least one hotshot kid who was hell bent on schooling me and I could pick him out of the group a mile away. Note to self: keep an eye on the fool with the '09 M8 with loud pipes and funny smelling exhaust.

I would lure the sled jockey into the trees not more than a mile from the truck and have him begging for mercy less than a mile later. I know this sounds kind of dramatic and maybe it is, but you see, it's the element of surprise that I use to throw him off. He does not expect me to be in the off-trail mode only a mile from the truck. Even though it is his home court riding area, he has never been off the trail this early and finds out there is a challenge that took him by surprise. I simply didn't know any better and hated to pass up the trackless powder adjacent to the main corridor which most likely led to more tracked up snow.

It's not that I am that much more talented than the next guy; it has everything to do with the fact that I am on a sled almost daily and I ride from early November to late June every year. It's my job. (That's a whole other column.) I can think of only one other person who rides more than I do, my good friend Chris Burandt. Now that's a cushy job.

I have become a student of backcountry mountain riding and learned to evaluate and execute the maneuvers that are required at any given time to maintain sled control and direction while preventing another stuck.

In more extreme terrain we have to maintain more momentum to execute a line with higher speeds requiring quick decisions and being able to predict the sled's position and attitude before it gets there. It's about confidence in your sled's ability and your ability as a rider and being able to commit to a maneuver and follow through with it. Have you ever found yourself at the point of no return and realize there is no way out? Please, somebody call me a helicopter. When you learn to execute maneuvers on extreme terrain with confidence then you can get in and out of hairy situations with ease and avoid the dangerous and embarrassing situation of spending the night in the backcountry.

Now in Bob's case, he had the sled that would work in the gnarliest of conditions, but lacked the riding techniques that would give him the confidence he needed to make it all work out. He was riding behind his sled; he couldn't anticipate the terrain nor could he anticipate what his sled would do. What he needs now is some professional rider training and a lot of seat time.

My riding clinics are generally geared to more experienced riders; however, I adjust to the specific needs of the students and customize the clinic to the size of the group. I do clinics for riding groups, dealerships, clubs, search and rescue organizations and more, even individuals.

I've found it is a great opportunity to improve your ride without spending mega bucks on your sled.

And more importantly, it's a way to leave your riding buddies in the snow dust.

Rasmussen 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

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