For Dan Adams, teaching people how to ride well in the Rocky Mountain West is more than a job – it’s a passion.
The 37-year-old extreme rider from Jackson, Wyoming, started his Next Level Riding Clinics four years ago after a scary avalanche that buried a close friend. It nearly cost that friend his life, and it opened Adams’ eyes and startled him into action. Now, teaching riders not only how to have more fun in the West but also how to keep themselves safe is at the center of his life. And each of his Next Level courses also includes avalanche safety training.
The Next Level courses attract everybody from western riding veterans looking to hone their skills to flatlanders who are riding in the mountains for the first time. On a recent meeting with Adams, we asked him for advice for the later group – the large mass of folks who have spent their lifetime burning down trails in Minnesota, Michigan or Maine but want to go on a big western adventure. Those riders often find themselves completely out of their element in powder riding.
Our question to Dan for this week’s Friday Fast Five: What are the five most frequent mistakes made by first-time western powder riders.
1. The guy who has 44 years of snowmobiling experience is still a mountain beginner — “I have plenty of riders who sign up for the intermediate class when they really should be in the beginner class.” Past snowmobile experience can certainly help somebody with throttle control and such, he said, but some butt-in-the-seat riders actually have habits that are counter-intuitive to powder riding.
2. Riders who look down at their ski loops — “Always be looking ahead.” If you’re picking your way through the trees, Adams explained, you should be looking far enough ahead to pick out options A, B and C ahead, but if you’re too focused only on what’s directly in front of your sled, your options narrow quickly ahead.
3. Riders who forget to breathe — When you’re working hard powder riding in the mountains, “oxygen is running out of your hands,” Adams said. Fatigue can quickly set in, and that leads to slower reactions at key moments.
4. Riders with a bubble helmet and Midwest riding gear in the mountains — Aside from quickly fogging your helmet, which has its own obvious risks, overheating in your over-insulated gear again leads to fatigue.
5. People who have all the necessary avalanche equipment and have no idea how to use it — Read the manual for the beacons, and learn how to use them. Practice, practice and then practice some more. Because, remember, when the worst case scenario happens and somebody gets buried, that’s not the time to learn how to use the gear. Panic sets in, and every second counts.