Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
His words strike at the heart of what true mountain sledding is. There is no greater feeling than veering off the groomed trail into fresh powder and breaking your own way. However, doing so takes courage, confidence and a developed skill set.
Last February, seven other ladies and I left the designated trail—in more ways than one—at Dan Adams’ first women’s Next Level Riding Clinic.
My dad and boyfriend convinced me to sign up for the clinic. They both attended one of Adams’ first clinics a few years back and hadn’t stopped raving about it since. As their riding level increased afterwards, however, so too did my frustrations when I rode with them. As soon as they heard Adams was hosting an all-women’s clinic, they practically filled out the sign-up sheet for me.
Before I knew it, I found myself nestled in a truck with my dad and boyfriend bound for Togwotee Mountain Lodge in Moran, WY. The farther we drove, the higher the snow piled and the more nervous I became. I met Dan Adams our first night at the lodge on the way to dinner. My first impression of the man was that he looked like an over-sized action figure. His arm muscles looked like he did burpees for a living instead of riding sleds. I understood how he could throw around a 500-pound sled so easily. But how was I going to?
There For Similar Reasons
Day one started at 9 a.m. We congregated in the main lodge fully geared up and swinging our helmets and backpacks at our sides. Adams, along with his assistants Levi and Jason, gave an overview of the clinic and the skills we would work on. They inquired about our riding levels and our incentive for attending the clinic. Surprisingly, we were all there for similar reasons.
“I hit a learning plateau and needed to learn from someone other than my spouse,” said Vickie Saewert, from Indiana.
“I wanted to gain some knowledge and confidence in riding,” said Terri Arnold, from Wyoming. “I figured the fewer times my family has to dig me out the more fun we will all have sledding.”
Eventually we vacated the lodge and tailed furiously down the trail after Adams’ cloud of white. He first led us to an open meadow to practice powder turns. It’s hard to imagine a 130-pound girl like myself tipping a 500-pound sled on its side. But at Adams’ instruction, I put my “opposite foot forward” on the running boards at a slight angle and countersteered while giving the throttle a quick blip and the sled flipped right over. With several feet of fresh snow on top, we all had our fair share of getting stuck. After rolling my sled once, I hoisted myself out of the snow only to bust up laughing at noticing that six of the eight girls were either stuck or tipped over.
Adams and the boys quickly swooped in and got us going again only to watch us ride a few feet and get stuck again. They never once indicated any frustration though ... only laughed and told us we were doing great.
“The excitement and adrenaline of being with a group struggling with the same issues brought out true girl power,” said Saewert.
After tearing up the meadow, we rode over to a moderately steep hill to practice sidehilling. This skill proved to be the most challenging and frustrating for me. Adams lined us up and one by one we made our attempt at the hill. Most of us were unsuccessful at first and ended up making a big half circle before coming back down. Adams reminded us that it was all in the timing—between when we gave throttle, turned our skis away from the hill and threw our weight uphill. Once we got into our sidehill, throttle control was crucial. The guys were constantly yelling out, “Braap, braap, braap” so we knew we needed to blip the throttle when riding instead of pinning it.
When a few of us were still struggling with the sidehill concept on day two, Jason took a more hands-on approach to teaching. One at a time, he sat us down on his sled in front of him and blasted up a hillside with us in tow. Even toting me, Jason effortlessly paddled across the hill.
For Arnold, the best part of the clinic was, “when I left-hand sidehilled for those five awesome seconds.”
Before Adams’ clinic, I blamed my girly weight and strength for my riding struggles. But I watched girls exactlylike me beginning to master all of the elements that I struggled with. The only limitations I ever had were the ones I created in my mind. Adams was constantly reminding us that we needed to trust the techniques and let the sled do the work.
Besides teaching proper footwork and body placement, Adams also stressed the importance of avalanche preparedness. He instructed on using our avalanche beacons and probes to quickly and accurately locate a buried individual. At the end of day two, we conducted a simulated beacon burial. After Jason rode off the trail and buried his backpack, Adams started a stopwatch and we rushed down the hill shouting out distances as our beacons honed in on the backpack. It was an eye-opening and adrenaline-filled exercise.
My weekend riding with Adams and his Next Level crew involved two of the most challenging yet rewarding days of my life. I learned that with proper foot placement, weight distribution and throttle control I am capable of navigating my sled anywhere. I learned that “momentum” is more effective than a pinned throttle. And I learned that, according to Dan Adams, you aren’t ever really stuck unless you have to cut a tree down to get out.
But most importantly, I stood side by side with fellow lady riders as we stared both up and down steep slopes we were told to conquer on our sleds. All of us were scared.
But all of us were committed to excelling in the sport we love and breaking down the barriers that made us feel like we couldn’t do it.