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    Overcoming Fears to Learn Mountain Snowmobile Skillz

    Posted by AmSnow
    on Monday, March 09, 2015

     By Jessica Robinson

    I sat at the bottom of the hill, staring at the incline.  My heart started racing, my breathing quickened, tears stung my eyes.  Surely they didn’t expect me to go up that.  I couldn’t.  It was too steep.  Too big.  Too far out of my comfort zone. 

    It wasn’t the first time that day I’d felt sheer terror.  Within 10 minutes of hopping on my snowmobile, my heart was in my throat and I was shaking like a leaf.  I’d ridden before—many times—but this trip was pushing my comfort boundaries.  I was taken off trails and into unfamiliar terrain—hills (which weren’t as big as the one I sat below, but I would have avoided if I could) and through trees.  Adrenaline coursed through my veins.  But I hadn’t traveled for 6 hours to wuss out in the first 30 minutes.  I was there for a reason.

    Day 1

    My family consists of me, my husband, and our two boys, ages 6 and 7.  We all love to snowmobile, and we go as often as we can.  My boys have no fear.  They are willing to try new things and love cruising across meadows and going up hills.  I’m the cautious one.  I’m the one that gets nervous when I’m in unfamiliar terrain, which basically means I get anxious when I get off the trail.  Hell, sometimes I’m anxious when I’m on the trail!  But if I want to keep up with my kids and my husband and spend quality time snowmobiling as a family, I have to get over my fear.  And I knew I needed help to do that.  So my husband and I signed up for Mountain Skillz with Matt Entz.  His assistant was James Finsterwald.

    My family and I had gone riding in the Snowy’s a few weekends before the trip to Colorado, and I tried to prepare myself for what was coming up by pushing my own boundaries.  I spent more time off trail and I started riding hills.  It helped when I went to Matt’s class, but not much.

    As I sat at the base of the hill in the Wolf Creek Pass, staring up at what I was sure would be the last hill I ever climbed, Matt jumped off his sled and put his hand on my shoulder.

    “You got this,” he told me.  “Just follow my line exactly and keep your momentum going.”

    My husband was on my other shoulder telling me I could do it, that I’d gone up hills before. 

    I nodded.  I couldn’t speak.  My breaths were still coming in rasps. 

    They climbed back on their sleds, and I laid my head on my mountain bar.  I forced myself to take deep breaths through my nose and let them out through my mouth.  When it had slowed to almost normal, I lifted my head and watched Matt head up the hill.  When he was at the top, I took another deep breath, stood up, and slammed my throttle into the handle. 

     I was met with high fives and praise when I made it to the top, but I also couldn’t stop shaking.  My whole body trembled.  But there was no time to dwell on the fear.  We quickly took off for our next destination.
    After a little while of riding, I started to calm down.  I focused on keeping my breathing regular.  It helped so that I could concentrate on the lesson of the day.  The focus of Day 1 was getting up on the edge of one ski.  I’m not comfortable hanging off the edge of my sled and purposely tipping it on its side.  That’s why I ride a 2006 Polaris RMK 600.  It’s a stable sled.  It doesn’t tip easily.  But it’s necessary to get it on its side to control my sled in the snow.  Learning this skill will help me turn my sled and potentially get me out of a dangerous situation.  More importantly, it will allow me to have more fun riding because I can go into more areas.

    It became instantly apparent how stable my sled is.  Trying to tip it was exhausting!  Getting the timing with the throttle and pulling the handle bars and falling backward seemed impossible.  I accomplished the task with help, but couldn’t do it on my own.  It was frustrating.  Thankfully, before I was too exhausted to move and so irritated I wanted to scream, we moved on.

    We went through more trees and up and down more hills.  At one point, I had to go back down the large hill I had gone up earlier.  As was the theme of the day, my heart leapt into my throat.  Under my breath, I kept mumbling, “It’s just like a roller coaster.  It’s just like a roller coaster.”  And I made it down the ridiculously steep incline—alive and in one piece.

    By the time we pulled back into the parking lot, I was never so happy to see the truck and trailer.  I climbed into the passenger seat, exhausted—mentally, physically, and emotionally.  I was trying to decide if I was going to go back and ride on Day 2—a thought that had ran through my mind multiple times during the day.  But with that question came the feeling of accomplishment of what I had succeeded in doing that was way outside of my comfort zone.

    Day 2

    When I get really stressed out, I dream about zombies (don’t ask, just go with it), so the night before Day 1, I was having some incredibly distressing undead dreams.  The night before Day 2 was different.  I didn’t dream of zombies.  It may have been sheer exhaustion or just that I wasn’t as afraid.  Or it was possibly that I had an idea of what to expect.  I was feeling a bit more relaxed on Day 2, although I was still slightly nervous.

    I spent a lot of time in the snow on Day 2.  I was determined to get my sled tipped up on edge, so I fell off multiple times.  I accomplished it, though, by modifying what Matt taught me.  Then, I practiced walking it.  At one point, my foot got caught in a snow drift and down I went—again.  I also got stuck twice—once on my sled and once on my husband’s.  There was more time spent in the snow.

    Day 2 also had me branching out and riding different sleds.  I had the opportunity to ride Matt’s 2015 Polaris Pro RMK 800 with a 155-inch track (it was fitted with a low-pressure Boondocker turbo) and my husband’s 2013 RMK Pro 163 800.  I really liked how Matt’s handled going up hills.  It seemed easier to steer and eased up inclines.  Going back downhill it felt a bit squirrelly to me, but that may have been in my mind.  I rode it again on Day 3 and didn’t feel like I had any issues.

     I wasn’t on my husband’s for very long.  I got it stuck going up a small hill (lost my momentum because I felt like I was sliding so eased off the throttle), and then I felt uncomfortable staying on it.

    As we were heading back to the parking lot, we were cruising through the trees.  I was turning on an incline and went to stand on the right side of the sled, but my foot caught on the seat and my knee gave out, so down I went into the snow.  A little later, I was on another incline and turn, and I didn’t throttle enough to right the sled, so it tipped over and down I went into the snow.  At that point, all I could do was laugh.  And I did.

    Day 3

    By Day 3, my anxiety was back.  I have absolutely no idea why, but I was nervous about the ride.  Maybe it was because we added three more riders to the group, but I’m not sure.  I didn’t let it stop me though.  I still climbed on my sled and headed into the mountains.

    Day 3—for me—was a fairly uneventful day.  I got stuck once.  Matt took us up a hill that was way longer and steeper than the one on Day 1, and my heart fluttered as I looked at it.  I thought, “Where is he taking me?” before slamming the throttle down and heading up.

    I picked a terrible line.  It took me through a patch of powder, and with my short track and slight hesitation at the bottom of the hill, I trenched before I made it to the top.  And then I did what they say you aren’t supposed to do:  I looked down.  I’m afraid of heights, and when I realized how high I was, I panicked.  I refused to ride up the hill again.  I was content to walk the rest of the way up, but Matt insisted I ride.  So I did.  With my eyes closed because it was so freaking high!

    The rest of the day wasn’t nearly as stressful.  We rode up and down more hills and through more trees.  At one point, we went through a pretty tight clump of saplings, and instead of powering through, I hesitated a little and snagged my vent.  When I got into the truck at the end of the day, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.  And really, really tired and sore.

    The reason for attending the Mountain Skillz class with Matt Entz was so that I could get more comfortable on my sled.  That goal was accomplished.  Never once did egos get in the way.  Never once did I feel like I had to prove anything to anyone but myself.  Matt never asked me to do anything I didn’t want to, but he challenged and pushed my comfort boundaries.  And for that I’m eternally grateful.  He helped me realize how much fun I can have on my sled.

    One of the biggest emphases of class was being in control—of my sled and my emotions.  And by Day 3, I felt comfortable tackling both.  That didn’t mean I wasn’t afraid.  I was.  But it was all in how I handled that emotion.  It was about not letting that fear decide what I was going to do but doing what I wanted.  It was also about having faith in my sled and knowing that I decided where we went. 

     On Day 1, I questioned if I was ever going to ride again and had serious doubts that I would.  By the end of Day 3, I was making plans to practice my new-found skills, asking my husband to take me on some challenging terrain the next time we went out, and even contemplating getting a new sled.

    In addition to gaining confidence in my riding abilities, I also discovered other things:

    ·    I really enjoy tree riding.  If I hadn’t gone to Mountain Skillz, I would have never attempted this.  I had visions in my mind that I would slam into a tree and break every bone in my body.  But that wasn’t how it was at all.  I didn’t fly through the forest at 800 miles an hour.  It was very methodical and focused.  If I had known exactly where I was going, I would have picked my own lines more often rather than following Matt.  Don’t get me wrong, my skis bounced off trees a few times and crusty snow threw me, but I never lost control and it was so much fun.  I look forward to riding trees again.

    ·    I really need knee pads.  On Day 3 alone I hit my knee on the sled at least four times.  It was bruised and slightly swollen that night.  Thankfully, it wasn’t overly painful, but I need to prevent that from happening in the future.

    I had my doubts about going to a snowmobiling class.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, and I had visions of it being just awful with people trying to prove that they were the best rider ever, but that wasn’t the reality of it.  Matt and James were incredibly patient and capable teachers.  Matt made riding fun and challenging, and I’m a better rider because of his class.


    Bio:  Jessica Robinson has been riding off and on for the past 7 years.  She is an editor by day and writes fiction under the pen name Pembroke Sinclair. She has also written nonfiction stories for Serial Killer Magazine and published a book about slasher films called Life Lessons from Slasher Films and one about zombies called Undead Obsessed:  Finding Meaning in Zombies. You can learn more about her by visiting http://pembrokesinclair.blogspot.com

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