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    Shepherd's X Games Journey

    Posted by Ross Halvorson
    on Tuesday, February 03, 2015

     The X Games is the pinnacle of a snowmobile race career. It’s a chance to showcase the very best athletes our sport has to offer on a worldwide stage. But, just does it take to be one of the few chosen to compete in X Games? AmSnow’s Toby Shepherd recounts his journey to a dream come true, competing in his first X Games this past January in Aspen, Colo. Here’s how he got there in his own words: 

    What a great opportunity I had to qualify for X Games! I was extremely excited to get the race juices flowing again and was excited to compete head to head! There were three classes Stock, Improved and Mod. Both Saturday and Sunday races would be finals! It was like having two races on one weekend.

    I felt I had a great start in the stock class as I was able to get in the final and place 5th. In the Improved class I was able to get in the final, although placed 6th. In the Mod class, I fell just short of getting in the final when my sled had a bog and died just before the finish line, which left me out of the final.

     On Sunday I knew I would have to perform well in all three classes to get into the X Games, so I set the bar high placing 1st in the finals of the Stock class, winning all of my heats that morning.

    I had a great run in the Improved class and placed 4th in the final. Going into Mod class the cloud cover was getting bad, the course was getting rough and the light got very flat! I had two good heats in Mod, but in the heat to get into the finals, I took a downhill jump too hard and couldn't see in the flat light. I caught the back tip of the track and it endoed me over the bars. That ended my Mod run! 

    Even though the Mod class did not go as planned, I felt I had a great weekend and had a chance to beat all the competitors in the Stock class. The course had large jumps, two tight corners with a good incline to the finish line with a large booter. I was overall impressed with the course and the layout and felt it was a great experience. 

    After a successful qualifying weekend by any account, Shepherd had earned an invite to the X Games as an alternate. But he was still left to wonder if he would get a chance to compete. 

    I originally traveled down to Aspen to be an alternate for anybody who may have mechanical issues or get hurts in practice. I planned to go see the events and enjoy the weekend. From the minute I arrived it was full bore preparation for hillcross. I was told Carl Kuster couldn't make it down so I had a chance of getting in. We immediately got sleds unloaded, got our athlete passes, and went to tune and practice on Friday afternoon.

    When I got back I found that another alternate was chosen due to brand, as there was no ranking for alternates. I would still be waiting as an alternate, which I didn’t mind, but after the initial adrenaline rush it was a bit of a letdown.

     We were able to check out the vendors, the events, and the athlete lounge. I was impressed with all of it. The X Games does an incredible job taking care of its athletes with a warm lounge, food and drinks, massages, TV’s, couches and a place to lay out. The vendors were awesome and the setup was unbelievable.

    It was impressive to watch the big air and the half-pipe up close in person! The last event of the night was the long jump for snowmobiles. We were able to watch from the pits and right at the landing across from the crowd. It was an incredible event! It’s really fun to be able to experience the magnitude of the event.    

    Saturday was an early morning as sleds had to be up the hill before the events started. I had found out Levi LaVallee had flat landed the night before in the long jump due to mechanical issues and was questionable for the hillcross event. About two hours before the hilcross, I found out I was going to compete in place of Levi. The adrenaline hit me like a freight train as I was going to be on national television competing with the best athletes in the world. I was nervous and pumped all at the same time! 

    Even after being informed that he was going to compete, getting to the starting line was anything but a sure thing for Shepherd. 

    It couldn’t get much better, but then I had a problem in practice when my fuel pump broke and my sled quit about 30 minutes before qualifying. I nervously began running down the hill with tools to get the other fuel tank off of my other sled in the pits at the bottom of the hill. I was sprinting to the pits wondering if I was going to be able to make it back in time. After getting the other tank, I was sprinting up through the crowd with a fuel tank to get back to the hillcross pits. Fortunately I made it just in time to get a qualifying time in.

     I didn’t get a chance to practice much because of my sled failure, and the light was getting flat, although I had a blast and had a clean run. It just so happened I was in the first heat and pulling up to the line, the whole thing became real and the flag was about to wave!

    I got a great jump off the line and was neck and neck with everyone, when two riders blasted in front of me! It was chaos! I remember seeing one sled under another in the air, and a third sled completely sideways in the air! By the time I navigated around the wrecked rider, I was back to 5th. Another rider hit a jump and wrecked and I was able to get to 4th. The race continued and I was able to get caught up to third, but was unable to make the pass to qualify for the final.

    The flat light was the most difficult aspect of the course as it was incredibly hard to see the jumps. I was not able to move on and was a bit disappointed, although it was against the best riders in the industry! It was an honor being able to compete and I can't wait to go back in future years!

    Marlenee Photography photos

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