Dan Adams is one of several experts who conducts classes that teach snowmobilers how to become better mountain and backcountry snowmobile riders. We had the opportunity to take one of the Dan Adams Next Level Riding Clinics in Wyoming, and the story appeared the December 2013 issue of Snow Goer magazine.
It seemed as though my ability to ride snowmobiles in the mountains was going backward, like I’d lost a step. I was never an expert, but I’d always felt like I was a decent backcountry rider who possessed enough confidence in his skills, but without too much confidence that could get me in trouble.
My first trip west was in 1997, and then again in 2000. This was back when mountain sleds were still essentially trail sleds with longer tracks and narrower ski stances. Riders had to muscle those machines to run sideways across a mountain. We relied heavily on hoops over the handlebar, and both feet stayed planted on the running board. Fifteen years later, the technique for riding in the mountains has changed.
With new mountain sled technology, it’s no longer necessary or correct to point a hip into the hill, yank on the handlebar and then lean off the sled in order to carve in the powder, but this is what I kept doing, and I usually ended up head-first in the powder with the sled on top of me because I pulled too hard on the perch. I was mixing old techniques with modern chassis designs, and it just wasn’t working.
Since attending a Dan Adams Next Level Riding Clinic (NLRC) last spring, I understand the basic principles and techniques to drive a modern mountain sled in the backcountry so I can maintain better control of my machine, use less energy, have more fun and ride more safely. Equally as important, I have a better understanding about avalanche preparedness.
What Is The Dan Adams Next Level Riding Clinic?
Next Level Ride Clinics are hosted by backcountry riding expert Dan Adams. A friendly former Slednecks movie star and freeride athlete, Adams founded the NLRC in Alpine, Wyoming, to help riders improve their backcountry snowmobile riding ability and learn more about avalanche safety.
Most NLRC clinics are two-day schools that focus on footwork, dexterity, better handling, decision-making and avalanche preparedness. Three skill levels are offered: beginner, intermediate and expert. Each clinic starts with a discussion about avalanche safety and preparation for mountain riding. After the group gets out on the snow, instructors conduct individual skills assessments to learn each participant’s ability and to find out where riders need to improve before working through instructor-designed drills and gated courses.
Day 2 involves more opportunities for riders to practice on gated courses, tricky lines and weird challenges posed by Adams. Depending upon the group’s ability, more advanced lessons might be taught, too. There’s also a simulated avalanche recovery where the group is timed to recover a buried pack that has a beacon stuffed inside. Each day starts with a stretch period to prep the body for a physically demanding ride.
Adams is an ambassador of backcountry snowmobiling and outdoor recreation. He’s former snowboard coach who says he enjoys teaching and seeing people improve their skills. Adams is a Wilderness First Responder with certifications in First Aid/CPR and Level 1 Avalanche. While Adams is a patient, encouraging and helpful instructor, he takes a no-B.S. approach in clearly explaining fundamentals and insisting that students follow instructions. Students are expected to participate in drills and put forth a solid effort.
Next Level Riding Clinics: Essential Fundamentals
Participating in a NLRC is an active, involved, real-world backcountry experience, and riders and their sleds need to be prepared for the challenge. Alpine was incredibly scenic and covered in deep snow, but riding with Adams and his two instructors wasn’t a joy ride through the Wyoming backcountry. Instructor-designed drills put our small group into difficult situations that forced us to implement skills and new techniques.
Adams taught the group a lot of fundamentals, but learning the basics was the best return for my effort in the class. I practiced flipping my sled up on the left ski quite a few times. Sometimes I’d succeed, but other times I would fall over, and it took a lot of energy to right the sled and set it up for another try. After completing the clinic, I’m more confident in my ability to flip a sled up on the left ski and balance it there while stepping in the snow alongside the machine to make a 180-degree turn, but I need to practice turning to the right.
Riding often also allows a person to build muscle memory and strength. It boosts cardiovascular health, makes a rider more aware of his or her abilities and the abilities of the machine. All of this results in better techniques and improves ability to handle different and more challenging terrain.
Unlike perfecting a slap shot, mountain riding takes a ton of energy and it’s really tiring — especially for riders like me who aren’t acclimated to the thin air at altitude. It would be beneficial to practice sidehilling for hours on end, but it was exhausting because I usually got stuck in the deep spring snow, so I was only able to make a half-dozen runs each day.
After the first day of the NLRC, my ass was whooped. Adams said he likes to see his clients do a drunken walk after a day of learning mountain riding skills, and I must’ve looked like I was plowed because my legs felt like rubber.
Next Level Riding Clinics: Practicing The Techniques
A basic, important technique I learned is what’s known as wrong-foot forward. This is used for sidehilling or making a sharp turn. For a sidehill attempt from right to left, for example, where the snowmobile is tipped onto its right ski and the left ski is in the air, the rider puts his or her right foot off to the right side of the snowmobile while the left foot is in the right footwell. This keeps the rider’s shoulders and hips facing forward with the knees slightly bent and a strong box, Adams said, between the arms and torso with the arms slightly bent.
Back in the olden days when I first rode in the mountains, we crammed both of our feet on the running board near the footwell, our hip was pointed at the hill and shoulders faced the center of the sled. If we caught a rut or the outside ski started to fall toward the snow, our bodies weren’t in a good position to react. Riders also relied on a center grab strap on the handlebar to get more leverage and pull the ski off the ground, but those straps are off limits at NLRC. Adams won’t let his students use them. Adams is so opposed that they’ve been pulled of his Polaris Pro-RMKs because they’re crutches that cause bad habits, he said.
At one point Adams had us drive up a steep hill, loop out at the top and then bring our machines to a stop on the slope with the nose facing down by jerking the bars back and forth and digging the skis into the snow. Then we were supposed to restart the sled and sidehill. After a few tries I brought my sled to a stop, and as Adams coached me I made progress holding the sled against the grade and driving it across, but I wasn’t able to master the lesson. One thing he stressed was to always try to fall back to the hill to stop and take a breather, and I’ll be more likely to remain in control of the sled. Adams also urged not to become separated from the machine to help reduce the chance of a wreck.
While a lot of time is spent working on riding skills, Avalanche preparedness and recovery is equally important at the NLRC. After several discussions about slides over the two-day course and a classroom lecture about how to recognize avalanche prone areas and rescue procedures, the class performed a mock rescue. Adams buried a backpack on a slope and built extra stress into the situation by timing our rescue, which took us 7 minutes, 30 seconds to establish an airway to the pack.
Next Level Riding Clinics: Exhaustion, Frustration, Success
After two exhausting days of instruction, frustration, success and humility, I have a better understanding of the fundamentals of mountain snowmobile riding so that when I ride in the mountains again, I will have a solid foundation of techniques that will help me carve a smooth powder turn, flip a sled up on one ski with nearly zero physical effort and spot potentially risky riding areas. With more practice I’ll hold longer that elusive sidehill, and be able to drive through a narrow hallway of trees.
Go to the Dan Adams Next Level Riding Clinics website to learn more about classes and scheduling.