February 25, 2016
The sport of big mountain snowmobiling has come a long way. Turbo charged engines, long tracks and heavy duty suspension systems are the modern standard. But, it hasn’t always been this way and the big visions of early pioneers have led the way. Back in 1909, O.C. Johnson built a ten-foot, track-driven, “one lunger” engine snow machine that traveled on top of the snow (“most of the time”). Four years later, Virgil White pieced together a track and ski unit conversion for the Model T Ford that he called a “snowmobile.” These build outs began the progression of snow machine riding, but the unique challenges of variable snow conditions and big mountain terrain stumped even the broadest of minds for the greater part of a century.
Then, along came “The Professor.” It was the snowy winter of 1968, out in the foothill ranch country of southeastern Idaho. Ten-year old Bret Rasmussen climbed onto his 12-horse Ski Daddler and followed his dad into the mountains. He was hooked from the get go and the sport of snowmobiling found a life-long apostle. Since that day Rasmussen has been drawn to challenges and the lessons learned in the process:
“It’s challenge that drives me to get up in the morning and enter a new day,” he says.
Together with his wife Jody, Rasmussen started a successful powersports dealer in Preston, Idaho with an offshoot in Logan, Utah. He sold the dealerships in 2006, freeing him to pursue other interests in the snowmobile industry. He went on to work for Arctic Cat developing the key features used on many sleds being produced today. In fact, he is named as inventor on several snowmobile patents. Rasmussen pushed progression in low rise seats, vertical steering posts, rear arm positioning and turbo packages. When not tinkering in the shop, he built a successful racing career, winning championships in competitive hill climb racing. He led the Arctic Cat hill climb team, providing tech support for factory-level racers.
During this time, snow machine technology progressed and people began venturing further into the backcountry, but good habits seemed to lag behind. As a rider from the old school, Rasmussen’s sled foundation was built on efficient technique and less reliant on the new, techy machine modifications. He recognized a need to reconnect rider and machine with the snowpack and terrain.
“In the 70’s and early 80’s our sleds were very limited,” he explained. “We didn’t get into the high country in the middle of the winter, because the snow wouldn’t allow us to. With inadequate sleds, we had to learn to use them to their maximum ability. It was riding technique that enabled us to get through tight situations and beyond.”
As a BCA ambassador and educator, Bret has taken his experience and applied it to backcountry riding style and avalanche avoidance. This progression, driven by a fusion of machine, rider, snowpack and terrain, has led to the creation of his training school known as Ride Rasmussen Style. At the core of Rasmussen’s drive and philosophy is a simple love for the mountains. (Operating a school has not kept him out of the high country.)
Pro rider AJ Lester describes Rasmussen on his sled in this way: “He’s a transformer when he rides off the trailer. He can shred all day without getting tired, because he lets the sled do the work. He uses the sled and terrain, instead of his own energy, to get where he wants to go. Everything he does is fluid and smooth without hiccups or errors.”
BCA has worked with Bret to develop avalanche rescue gear, body protection and sled accessories that are at the leading edge. We had the privilege to speak with The Professor himself about the learning curve and progression of the sport.
What was the driving inspiration behind Ride Rasmussen Style?
It really just evolved. I was doing demo rides for Arctic Cat and helping riders with ride techniques so that they could better appreciate the product. When Arctic ended the demo program I continued what I was doing and changed the focus to ride technique rather than sled demo. It really took off from there.
What keeps you stoked to go to work every day?
My reward is seeing riders succeed after being challenged by myself or one of my instructors. We purposefully put clients into situations that they are not necessarily comfortable with, that give them a challenge they need to progress their skill set. We find clients will come out of these situations riding completely different and they get that “Wow-Factor”. They end up asking for more, “Bring it on!”
What are some of the advanced techniques and moves that you teach in your clinics?
We teach technique needed to navigate technical terrain. Rider positioning, downhill U-turns, traversing hill sides, sled control using throttle and brake. These skills keep momentum on hills and in the trees. These skills allow safe entry and exit into steep technical terrain. Terrain where a rider could find themselves spending the night if something went wrong. We also use and teach hand signals so that riders know how to communicate effectively over engine noise.
When it comes to traveling in avalanche terrain, what techniques and knowledge should snowmobilers have before they go big?
All sledders need some form of avalanche training, at least a recreational course. I strongly recommend taking an on-snow level 1 course. With this training, riders will know how to do transceiver searches and learn rescue skills.
Are there differences between the way people ride for sledding and those who ride as a means for transportation to get to a line they want to ski?
Backcountry riders tend to be somewhat competitive and can lose track of where they are in avalanche terrain. They cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. This can put them in harm’s way. Snowmobile skiers generally stay in a confined area or single zone. Either way, when they’re in avalanche terrain, snowmobilers need to keep eyes on riders who are in avalanche zones and go one at a time.”
What are some of the strangest things you’ve seen riders do in the mountains?
Most sledders have full time jobs, and when they get to the weekend they’re excited and full of energy. Often, they let this get in the way of common sense. Their ability to judge hazards and make good decisions becomes compromised. People can do stupid things trying to impress their peers.
What advice do you have for riders looking to progress?
I would encourage riders to get educated both with avalanche safety and riding technique. These things will create a better outdoor experience than any modifications you can do to your sled. Invest in safety equipment and learn how to use it.
It’s been almost 50 years since Rasmussen climbed onto the old Ski Daddler and rode into the hills. Today, The Professor still has a fire inside to progress the sport by sharing what he has learned with others. Ride Rasmussen Style’s mission is to help snowmobile riders achieve the ability and confidence to ride in the backcountry without taking personal risks that would otherwise be life threatening, to help snowmobilers with their skills and techniques, to improve the backcountry experience and to promote fun and safety in the great outdoors. Bret Rasmussen runs his business and lives with a purpose driven by what he loves.
He describes it this way: “The reality is that we’re only here in this life for a short period of time and then we move on. Any way that we can serve others is going to create a situation in our own lives where we become better people. When I can help people become better mountain riders, that’s my reward.”