The biggest difference between snowmobiling today, versus snowmobiling even 10 years ago, is not the size of the machines, or the speed, or comfort, but the things you can do with them, and the 'interesting' places you can find yourself in. After my first ride on my Renegade 800, I quickly realized that if I wanted to properly utilize my sled and all it's capabilites, I have to learn some new riding skills. These skills, when put to use, will allow you to travel both groomed as well as any remote/rough terrain just like the best SledAddicts out there.
My first ride of the year was a very typical one; A fast ride along a popular touring trail to access some unmarked backcountry where we could ride 'freestyle'. My day began by trailering to Logger's School Road, just 10 minutes west of Corner Brook on the TCH. From there we left and travelled for 30 to 40 minutes to get to the end of the groomed trail and LSC at the base of the Lewis Hills. This first 30-40 minute ride was generally good going, with the exception of a few rough spots along the way. My buddy Doug, told me immediately, to 'stand up' on my sled going over the rough parts. What a difference that made. You can easily travel much more safely and in control at high speeds by standing up. It takes some stamina, but once you get used to it, your riding experience goes up ten fold. There is no shock absorber like your legs, your back will thank you for it.
Cornering can be done sitting or crouching low. It's all about your centre of gravity. The sled will handle best when your weight is equally distributed on both skis, and because of some simple laws of physics leaning way over to the inside of your sled. and bracing your inside knee against those knee pads (see Christmas wishlist article). You can effectively corner faster and more safely when leaning against the turn.
Watching a few minutes of the 2008 Valcourt Snow Cross race shows these skills perfectly. You can see each rider standing over the moguls and then sitting and bracing hard while going into the big turns. I'm not advocating driving at these speeds on our popular groomed trails, but simply using the riding technique to have a more enjoyable ride.
Once we got into the base of the Lewis Hills, our riding style and skill set completely changed. This is where things got real interesting. The 3 biggest skills to learn in the backcountry are Side Hilling, Counter Steering, and High Marking. Our friends at Sled Shots.com have the best videos I've seen of these techniques. Check them out, they're great.
This first video demonstrates the fundamentals of Counter Steering, and can be used to apply to other areas of your riding. It's the first one to practice, as it's the safest. It's a core skill set to know and allows you to get a feel for your sled, all in a safe environment. We used this on some of the open, heavy powdered ponds and while downhilling. It's a lot of fun.
Once you have practiced the first video instruction, I highly recommend this second video to learn proper Side Hilling technique. You need to learn the fundamentals of Counter Steering to do this first, as it's a critical component of Side Hilling.
Side Hilling is obviously fun, but more importantly it is a very practical tool in the ever changing backcountry winter conditions. Just last year my good friend got caught needing to use this skill to navigate around a brook that opened up during a spring day. If not for this skill he and his riding party would have been very wet or 'worse'. My friend said he learned this skill by practicing along the steep ditches of a road in his town. See! You can practice this anywhere.
This third video, about High Marking, combines 3 skills; Counter Steering, Side Hilling, and a new one the 'Pendulum Turn', to show you how to exit those potentially dangerous High Mark turns. Of all the fun you can have in the mountains, High Marking is in my opinion the most exhilarating. With these 3 skills, you can greatly increase the safety factor and riding experience. Already, after one day, I gained a wealth of confidence practicing these techniques on the 'bunny slopes' around my house.
Armed with these skills, the snowmobiling riding experience is much safer, and much more enjoyable. The best riders are often described as great 'finesse' riders, those who can navigate up, down and around steep slopes and rough terrain with the apparent greatest of ease. So get out there and start practicing. You don't need a mountain or a gorge, instead any little hill or ditch will do. The first minute of the Chris Burandt video below, shows how easy it is to get out there and practice these skills. If one of the greatest riders in the world isn't too proud to practice on a 'bunny slope', we shouldn't be either.
Enjoy and see you on the (Side) Hills!
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