5 Habits To Work On

April 2019 Feature

--By Matt Entz

Simply put, snowmobiling is the single greatest activity on the planet. I think I saw a recent meme in which President Trump confirmed that.

There are many different ways to enjoy snowmobiling, including boondocking, hillclimbing, jumping, racing, tree riding, powder turns, trail riding and the list goes on and on. We all have our favorite aspects. I am extremely fortunate not only to enjoy this sport myself, but I also get to spend every day on the snow helping others get more out of the experience as well.

At Mountain Skillz (www.mountainskillz.com) we specialize in working with people focused on technical off-trail riding. We welcome and enjoy working with riders of all abilities. This includes a variety of skillsets and experience levels from beginner to advanced and everything in between.

Sidehilling and tree riding are the primary aspects that we spend time teaching about and fine-tuning. Generally speaking, there are five riding technique-related habits that we continually have to break down and recreate with our clients.


Vision/awareness is where it all starts in regards to technical riding. There are two incorrect items that I catch people constantly looking at: their ski tips and objects, usually trees. If you don’t look up and ahead, you will never know what possibilities you have.

When looking at your ski tips, you aren’t aware of what is around and in front of you. In this instance as your sled approaches an obstacle, you will recognize it at the last second, which causes hesitation. This is usually followed with a mistake leading to getting stuck or hitting the obstacle.

When a rider focuses on an object, chances are they are going to head toward that object. The solution is to always keep your head up, looking for possibilities and staying aware of your surroundings. If you know what gaps in the trees you can get through and focus on that, you are much more likely to successfully navigate between and around the trees.

I often tell my clients that they give the trees way too much respect. It’s important to recognize that they are there, but our focus needs to be on where we can and want to go. The farther ahead you can see, the farther ahead you can plan and execute smoothly. Good awareness at all times will help keep us safe. This means looking around in all directions so that we can recognize changes in the terrain as well as in the snow. 

Throttle Application

There are many ways to use the throttle that are appropriate for different situations. The key is knowing how much throttle you actually need.

As odd as it sounds, most of the time too much throttle gets people in trouble. If you’re climbing a hill, racing across a meadow or cutting a long open sidehill, you can hold the throttle wide open or steady in one position and be just fine. However, when you mix in varying terrain and trees, too much throttle will lead to too much speed and getting out of control. Continuous partial throttle leads to many mistakes on the mountain also. Constant throttle means constant direction. When riding tight trees, you are always making directional changes. We typically initiate a directional change on our snowmobile by letting off of the throttle for a brief moment to cut the forward momentum.

Just as the momentum is altered, we provide a slight body and/or steering input. As this input creates action to one side or the other from our machine, we are quickly back on the throttle to complete the execution of the maneuver.

In my riding area we are always dealing with different snow conditions. We don’t pick and choose the conditions. I ride every day and love all snow conditions. The less consistent the snow is, the more precise you must be with your throttle. Constant partial throttle in this condition will lead to track spin and trenching. You guessed it: now you’re stuck. In this situation, quick on/off blips of the throttle help keep your sled on top of the snow. Staying on the throttle creates a sawing action by the track in the snow as it’s constantly clawing through whatever snow it can grab ahold of.

However, with the quick blips, for the brief moment that you let off the throttle, the track stops sawing and digging and it has a chance to freewheel and coast on top of the snow. Your thumb is responsible for this action. The quicker and more aggressive you can operate the flipper, the more successful you will be with this technique. 

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