Honing our skills at Next Level

November 2021 Feature Brady Kay

Crisp blue skies, vibrant sunshine and over 3 feet of fresh overnight fallen snow. Ah, these are the optimal riding conditions we lie awake at night dreaming of as outdoor enthusiasts. While of course Next Level Riding Clinics in Alpine, Wyo., can’t guarantee an epic day of near-perfect conditions for every one of their snowmobile sessions, on this particular day they delivered.

Dan Adams and his wife Irina started Next Level in the fall of 2008 and have been teaching riders of all skill levels how to be more confident on the snow ever since. 

“It takes an amazing team to run things around here,” says Dan, who is quick to deflect the spotlight off himself and toward the others around him. “My wife Irina keeps the entire business running smoothly while my crew of Jason Blair, Dylan Haapala and Austin Cossette help with clinics, sled builds and all the day-to-day stuff.”

Recently, the SnoWest team invaded Next Level, and to highlight my experience after taking my first two-day riding clinic, I’ve created my own top 10 list of reasons you need to take a class. Keep in mind the clinics fill up quickly and they’re already booking for the 2022 winter season so this wouldn’t be a good time to wait it out.

10. Help Is On The Way

After getting a feel for your experience level, Dan and his top-notch instructors aren’t afraid to push you “slightly” out of your comfort zone. Let’s be honest: it’s their job to make you a better rider so if you’re not pushing yourself to your limits, you’re clearly not doing it right. I didn’t mind exceeding my own skill limits; in other words, I got stuck…I got stuck a lot. But before I could cuss myself out for making a rookie mistake, Jason was instantly there to help get me out. It hurt a little to hear, but my co-workers taking the class with me said they’d ride with me more often if I brought Jason or one of the other instructors with us so they didn’t have to be the ones getting me unstuck all the time. Nice friends, huh?

9. My Kind Of Class

With a coaching background in snowboarding when he was younger, Dan is a natural teacher so his clinics are both hands-on and extremely informative.

“I was already teaching friends and other riders some tips and tricks when in the backcountry to help them get the hang of riding snowmobiles, so the basic idea of Next Level was already in play as we built the business plan,” recalls Dan. “As the years went on, the development of the business as well as the partners we’ve attached ourselves to have grown dramatically, making Next Level one of the premier riding instruction destinations in the world.”

8. In The Picture

One of the best qualities of riding in the mountains of Wyoming is the scenery won’t disappoint. Both locals and those from far away states will agree it’s truly inspiring to experience in person. Often you hear about beautiful places, but when you actually visit, reality doesn’t live up to what you’ve imagined. Here you actually feel like you’re inside a painting. Everywhere you look or turn you feel like you’re part of the scenery.

The places we snowmobiled in the backwoods felt like they belonged in the pages of a coffee table photo book. They’re the kind of pictures that make you stop and stare when turning pages and the only reason you go on is to see if the next photo could somehow top it.

7. Safety Is A Priority

At Next Level, safety is not only A priority, but it’s THE priority. Avalanche danger is real and if I could take only the training I learned from the clinic about how to successfully locate someone buried in the snow, it would still be well worth my time. I always wear a beacon and I borrow an avalanche airbag pack when I ride, but to be brutally honest, before this clinic I was never really trained on how to efficiently search for someone. I’ve been packing around a shovel and probe for years and in a real emergency I know I could have figured it out, but after this clinic – taught by instructors who are all level one avalanche trained and up-to-date with their wilderness first aid training – we were all trained on how to search more efficiently when response time is so critical.

“Snowmobiling is an awesome sport, but it comes with the inherent risks of avalanches and big consequences if we take it for granted,” warned Dan. “Providing training to riders entering the backcountry is essential. If you don’t think you need it, you’re wrong! Mother Nature doesn’t play favorites so whether you ride one day or a hundred days in the mountains, you’ve got to be prepared.”

After the clinic it all makes so much more sense and I’m just glad Dan took the time to bury a pack with a beacon inside it as part of the training for us. It will get your heart pounding when you’re caught up in the moment, even in a drill, and this was probably the part I enjoyed most from the hands-on clinic, even though it wasn’t the most fun.

6. Some Sleds Don’t Travel

We consider ourselves locals in Wyoming since SnoWest headquarters are about an hour and a half from Alpine. So loading up our own sleds to participate in this clinic made perfect sense. However, I’m sure the North Carolinian in our session probably appreciated the fact that Dan has plenty of Polaris sleds to rent. I doubt he would have wanted to bring his sled all the way from the East Coast, but that leads to the question of why would you own a sled in North Carolina in the first place? Just saying. There is even a full selection of riding gear at Next Level too in case you forgot something or you’re just ready for some warmer clothes.

5. When The Lights Come On
Dan’s mission is simple: make snowmobiling fun and enjoyable. To do this he has developed an amazing curriculum that truly breaks down off-trail fundamentals and takes the rider from being a reactive rider....to an anticipating rider.

“My most enjoyable times are when a rider has that, ‘lights come on’ moment with their riding and they build confidence from it,” says Dan. “Techniques are just movements and body position changes, but adapting to them and building confidence takes time. My instructors and I are charged from riders experiencing confidence in their riding and that’s what keeps us doing it over and over.”

4. A Curriculum That Works
As you can probably guess, tailoring a riding clinic towards multiple riding abilities would be challenging, but it’s what Next Level does best.

“Oftentimes riders who sign up for a clinic are worried about one of two things: ‘Will I be challenged and pushed at this clinic?’ or ‘Will I be the one holding everyone back at this clinic?’ said Dan. “Either way, the instruction here at Next Level is the same. We’ve developed a curriculum that challenges every rider regardless of ability level and can separate riders into specific groups once on the snow. We are now only allowing private clinics to attend in an attempt to close the gap between riders and ability levels, and so far it’s working well.”

3. More Than Just Snow

The riding in the Alpine area is amazing, but if we take our helmet off long enough to really ponder we’ll realize there are other reasons to come to Alpine. Dan estimates return clientele make up over half of his bookings, which tells you all you need to know about how good these clinics really are. But to be fair, the Alpine area is a great destination location for both summer and winter activities, so those coming to the clinics are most likely checking out other fun stuff to do in the area too, including Jackson Hole that is close by and a known tourist hotspot.

2. Photography 

Some places are just so centerfold perfect they should come with staples. Professional photographers flock to Wyoming’s snow-covered mountains because no matter how hard they try, they simply can’t take a bad picture. In fact, most amateur photographers with disposable cameras could find a way to come back with at least one picture that could hang on an office wall.

This photographer paradise had SnoWest Publisher Ryan Harris busy, while the rest of us stopped for quick cell phone shots any chance we could to capture the scenery around us.

1. Fun In The Sun

And the number one reason you should strongly consider taking a Next Level Riding clinic? It’s fun. I’m guilty of spending countless hours watching YouTube videos of Dan teaching techniques online so I thought I had a good idea of what taking one of his clinics would be like. However, the in-person, hands-on interaction really helped drive home those key points and techniques.

At the end of each day we were exhausted, but it was a good kind of tired. I was happy to be among friends, but there were others in our group who were solo and quickly became our new friends.

Any one of these ten reasons should inspire you and get you heading toward Alpine to participate in a clinic and I’m guessing after you experience one for yourself, you’ll have some ideas on how to expand this list.

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