In the mind of a Newbie Sled Girl

It is no secret.  The first year of snowmobiling is by far the hardest, for there are many skills that seem to defy common sense.  We as women tend to be a little more emotional and analytical than most men, causing us to question and examine every aspect of snowmobiling until it makes sense to us.

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Turn my skis to the left to go right? Yes counter steering is one of those skills that takes repeated effort to make sense of.  Counter steering is a fundamental skill that allows one to maintain control and direction of the sled using geometry rather than muscle to direct a snowmobile.  Start by focusing on the suspension set up of your snowmobile.  From factory most snowmobiles are set to accommodate a 175 to 185 lb man.  You will want your suspension soft enough to allow you to get your machine on edge easily.  The stiffer the suspension the more difficult it will be especially if you are a lightweight.

To get the feel of counter steering the optimum place to practice would be a large meadow with powdery snow rather than hard packed spring snow that can buck you unexpectedly. Tracked out snow especially with frozen tracks from days before could also buck you unexpectedly so look for a place with fresh untouched white goodness.

Start with a moderate speed.  There is no need to go mach chicken to lay a nice smooth Carve. My violin teacher used to challenge me when I was young. “you need to play that run slow before you can play it fast” which often proved difficult for my hyperactive speedy personality that wanted to sloppily race through everything I played.  When you practice slower you can work on control while learning a skill.

Generally the throttle side is a rider’s weaker side for sidehilling and carving, so as a beginner it is a great time to practice both sides to develop skills equally.  While in motion, carving is a combination of turning your skis, shifting your weight on the running board opposite the direction your skis are pointing and a little extra blast of the throttle which will create your 3 steps to success.  This combination will create a carve in the direction your weight has shifted.

You will have a sweet spot on your running boards depending upon your machine, so play around with it to get the feel.  The more you practice, the more second nature this skill will become, to the point you will not have to think about each step to execute a carve.  Wrong foot forward riding will come later, and absolutely has its place in your arsenal of sled skills.

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I see so many riders wanting to jump immediately to wrong foot forward style of riding because it looks hip and fly before getting the fundamentals down pat. For the most part, especially with today’s geometrically balanced snowmobiles, straddling your seat or having two feet on a running board will suffice for most carving and sidehill maneuvers for a beginner rider.  Yes wrong foot forward looks cool in pictures, but develop your fundamentals and you’ll become a confident well-rounded rider.

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But I am leaning!  Many new women riders will shift their upper body, head shoulders and torso and become frustrated because the snowmobile isn’t responding.  The power is in your butt.  Your machine will not respond if your but is centered over your seat even if your shoulders are leaning to one side.  Pay attention to where your butt is and you’ll find your sled will respond accordingly.

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Watch out for that tree! No don’t.. don’t look at the tree but rather focus on where you want your sled to go paying attention to the track path, not the ski closest to the tree well.  That ski doesn’t really matter for your track will carry your sled through that well trap as long as you are under momentum.  Do not slow down to a crawl or gravity will suck you in.  Controlled throttle not mach chicken throttle equates to success when it comes to tree wells.

Going down.  Here is where it get’s interesting.  The last thing you want to do when descending a steep hill is slam on your brakes.  This is where your throttle truly is your friend.  I know, the throttle makes you go faster, except when going down, for a little feathering of the throttle will allow the motor of the snowmobile to slow the sled down in a controlled manner.  If you were to slam on your brakes the result would be a fish tail trip down possibly resulting in a roll over.  Practice the feel of using the throttle to slow you down on gradual slopes so you feel confident going descending steeper terrain.

When in doubt, throttle out.  This is probably the most useless words of advice to give a new woman rider.  We analyze everything until it makes sense.  Not every situation requires a wide open throttle. Throttle control, and getting used to using your throttle is perhaps a better thought train.  There will be situations that you need to bring the hammer down, so get comfortable with acceleration so you can control your machine under a higher rate of speed.  Last ride out, we had an open creek crossing, with a steep narrow climb out of the creek.  Kev and our buddy Steve were waiting on the other side to catch me should I go off course.  As I crossed the open water and prepared the climb out I yelled at the guys “get out of my way!”I climbed that bank, and did get a little off course but in true Turkey Tail Stander style I wheelied to high ground totally looking like a bad ass.  Had I laid off the throttle I would have been embedded in the snow bank, but being comfortable with given’ er I made it up without a problem.  When someone tells you the old, “when in doubt throttle out”. nod and smile.. they simply do not know how our female mind thinks.

Getting Stuck Everyone gets stuck.  That is a fact, but it also sucks being a woman learning and getting stuck.  None of us really want to be “that girl” among a group of men requiring continual unsticking.  Just shake it off and remember, everyone, be it a man or woman had to start somewhere. Here’s some things to think about.  You are a woman and while you may not have a lot of muscle mass, you can absolutely help getting yourself and others unstuck.  If you are stuck analyze the situation.  Many sleds will pop out with a simple ski pull, so to aid this grab a hold of your front bumper and start to pack in the snow underneath your belly pan.  That is the snow that is causing you to become hung up.  You can free the suction from around your running boards by either digging out or stomping down the snow around your boards.

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You can get your sled out by yourself in powdery snow by utilizing the roll over.  Dig around the snowmobile and the side you wish to roll your sled towards, dig it out a little more to allow gravity to facilitate.  You may be able to continue the roll from that side by grabbing the high ski and continuing the momentum.  If that seems too difficult, walk to the other side of the snowmobile and use your legs to continue the roll.  Once it is upside down, you can either push out on the ski or on the track to get it to roll completely over.  It will end up facing down hill, allowing you to ride it out.   Sometimes I’ll utilize the roll over simply to get the snowmobile on its side allowing me to fill in the crater and pack down the snow that was under my belly pan.  Pop it back and you’re rolling again.  you will have to giver gas to get back into snow that isn’t determined to pull you back into your stuck.  Get stuck smart if you can. It’s important to not stop facing uphill, and please don’t dig to China if you find you’re getting stuck.  Just stop, and prepare for a ski pull.  Sometimes if I find myself in a predicament in the trees and start to get stuck, I’ll lay my sled on edge rather than creating a crater.  When I pop it back down I’m ready to roll with a calm cool and collected head.  Even if you’re a new rider, lend a hand to everyone out there in your group.  You can help and make a difference.

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Sometimes you have to get a little creative when unsticking a buddy

Pressure Free Learning.  When you are learning, it’s important to have people around you who support you.  When you are with riders who know you’re new and are there to help you learn it makes all the difference in the world.  Avoid situations where you’re being thrown to the wolves as a tag along on a ride with people who are out for themselves that day and are not really into the whole helping thing.  Pushing you beyond your capabilities will result in a loss of confidence and a truly horrible experience.  Everything will be new to you, and the people around you need to recognize that.  Your significant other can be a world of support as long as you leave the relationship baggage at home.  Any lingering fights, issues and disagreements do not belong in the back country.  Yes, he didn’t pick up his socks, but when you’re out there it truly doesn’t matter.  My husband can be a little tougher on me than the other guys out riding.  “Why did you hit that tree and smoke your bumper!” .. Seriously I didn’t see you yelling at Steve or Dylan I think to myself.  I usually retort “I woke up this morning and said to myself.. Today Trish you will find the largest conifer and ram into it”.  Humor can be a saving grace.  The other guys usually crack a funny which snaps my husband out of his husband like mentality and he realizes how ridiculous he’s being.  Stuff happens.. . to everyone.  Sometimes the loves of our lives have unrealistic expectations and can get a little cranky.  It’s at that time one of your other sled friends can step in and help you figure things out.  Once you get the foundation skills under your belt you’ll find your skill development will happen at an accelerated rate! Have patience with yourself, and recognize the success you are having without focusing on the stucks, tree well encounters and whoopsies that always come with learning.

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Married on the Mountain Kev and I said “I do” not only as husband and wife, but as sled buds.

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