Backcountry Sled Tricks 101 – How to Throw a Snowmobile Jump

Ashley Chaffin shows how to throw snowmobile jump with ease.

In this Backcountry Sled Tricks 101 blog, BCA sled athlete Ashley Chaffin gives some advice on how to learn some new mountain riding skills that you can take to the backcountry! And remember to keep up backcountry safety skills by taking avalanche courses.

Born and raised in Valdez, Alaska, I am very fortunate to have the lifelong experience and technical skills to instruct you in Backcountry Sled Tricks 101: How to Jump a Snowmobile. Averaging more than 300 inches of snowfall annually, Valdez is the snowiest city in the United States. I grew up riding with my dad ever since I learned how to squeeze the throttle. Once my dad realized he wasn’t getting a boy in the family (I am the youngest of three girls), I instantly became his backcountry sidekick. Lots of father-son getaway riding trips, except I was the only girl. My competitiveness only grew with the boys, and I found myself wanting to go bigger and faster then they did.

I often get asked how I’m able to throw my sled around on a re-entry or stay in control because of my size and strength. Lots of factors come into play when executing a snowmobile jump correctly. I have definitely had my fair share of wrecks and hard landings, so I can’t stress enough how vital my snowmobile safety gear is to me.

Choose a quality helmet, one that is snug and fits well. A quality helmet that can take some impact and always make sure that your helmet is strapped correctly before even thinking about jumping. A chest protector is also very important. Choose a protective vest that is comfortable, stays in place with movement and gives you enough coverage around your upper body. Shinguards with kneepads are another essential item I always wear when I ride my snowmobile. The first time you hit your knees against your chassis or land on your running boards, you will understand.

There is no such thing as “too small” of a snowmobile jump when learning. You want to learn from your mistakes and understand why your sled landed tail heavy or didn’t react the way you thought it was supposed to. Find something that has a lip: enough to get your ski tips to leave the ground. Look for a smooth take off and a steep landing to absorb the impact. Landing flat is painful and can cause serious injury. Look for something with no consequences, meaning if you land short or too far you’re fine. The point is to focus on not doing either. Focus on the “sweet spot” and once you continue to land in that sweet spot, you’re ready to go a little bigger and find another jump.

Look over the takeoff and landing. Walk up the jump just as if you were on your sled getting ready to hit it. Look at the angle and make sure you’re going off the jump straight, not sideways, into the trees on the right. Look over the landing and remember you will have some speed and need to give yourself some time to slow down to maintain control of your sled. You have enough to focus on when learning to jump: the last thing you need is an obstacle to avoid after landing.

Wearing your tether is very crucial whether you’re jumping or riding in general. A runaway sled or a sled with a stuck throttle on top of you can’t simply be stopped. If your sled doesn’t come with one, I highly recommend installing one.

As you come into the jump, you want to be comfortable, centered on your sled and maintaining the same weight on either foot. Get into “attack mode:” your arms and knees should be slightly bent and your pelvis should be up towards your bars. You want to be looking out past your skis and not squatting. It’s best to act like you don’t have a seat, because using it at all when landing won’t be too pleasant.

It’s all about judgment, and this takes time. If you let off the throttle before your snowmobile’s skis hit the jump, your sled will want to nose dive. If you give it too much throttle off the lip, your sled’s nose will come up, and you will land tail heavy. The key to successfully hitting the jump is to fly parallel and being able to judge when to let off the throttle as you leave the jump.

Understanding the balance of the brake and throttle takes time and practice. You want your skis and track to touch down at the same time, and that’s why it’s important to understand how to accomplish this before pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Giving it too much throttle off the lip causes your nose to come up and will make you land tail heavy and send you flying over the handlebars. Tap the brake in the air longer depending on how tail heavy you are. Too much break off the lip will cause the nose to drop. Give it throttle in the air to bring it back up. Sometimes a quick squeeze works depending on how nose-heavy you are. Always remember to look forward and stand up (no squatting back on your seat).

Your landing shouldn’t come unexpectedly. You should already be braced and ready for it! That’s why looking ahead is so important. You should have been spotting the landing from the air. Right before you hit the ground, you will want to give it throttle. You need to get your track spinning, so the impact isn’t so abrupt. As you touch down, you will want to use your arms and legs to lessen the impact. If your landing is steep enough and you have successfully landed evenly on your skis and track, you will hardly notice you left the ground!

Sometimes situations aren’t ideal, and that’s when it’s best to know before you go. Always check avalanche conditions and carry the proper safety equipment. Never feel pressured to do a snowmobile jump or go beyond your personal limits. Patience and practice do not have a time limit. Everyone progresses at a different pace. Understanding the basics of jumping your snowmobile and gaining experience will make the world of difference. #sendandreturn: put safety first and always ride another day.

Ashley can be followed on Instagram: @ashley_chaffin
On Facebook: @ashleychaffin110