By Jess Turtur
I have always been a passionate person. Just obsessed with snow, and willing to give up everything else in pursuing the call of the mountains. I have chased them since I was old enough to ski away from my parents, chased them to Alaska with helicopters and trained as a guide, and chased them on foot armed with crampons and axes. But there was always a catch to all that, always a limiting factor that would dictate my time in the high alpine. That’s how I fell in love with sleds. A snowmobile was a way to access the high terrain on my terms, without my time being limited by how far the approach was or someone telling me where I couldn’t go. I got hooked on it, and I got good at it.
Over the years, it became so apparent that I was a rare breed in the sport, as in, there just were no other women riding in the places that I was.
I continued to get asked over and over whether I was racing at hill climb competitions.So I began to ask myself the same question. I decided to really throw myself all in on hill climb racing this year. With the addition of a sled sponsorship from Skidoo and more than 8 months of athletic training at Mountain Athlete, I was full speed ahead to go into the race season.
However, all things change when the element of competition is added. I am a goodsnowmobiler, perhaps one of the best females in the world. But racing is very different from backcountry freeriding. Hillclimb racing is a sprint; it is a one-go shot and you have to be very prepared for that moment when its happening. The race consists of a defined line of gates setup ascending the hill much in the same fashion as a skier GS course, only bermed and rutted up by literally hundreds of high powered, top of the line machines. Every single sled that runs up that course, changes and deepens the rut pattern, and the course is actually a little bit different for every single racer. You can spend the whole day walking the course, but if the racer in front of you makes a trench the size of a refrigerator out of sightline from the bottom there is little you can do to be aware of it before you are reacting to it mid-run. And you either react well or you don’t. I guess it’s all part of hillclimbing, and it makes the scoring extremely fair. One shot and the clock is the judge. Athletically it is a test of aerobics, full core strength, and the ability to maintain focus and sharp reactions in the midst of a high speed, high stress-inducing situation. And it is also a test of personal organization and prep skills. The one minute of time that is being assessed takes so much to prepare for; the travel planning, the function ability of gear, the sled maintenance, and mechanics.It’s a feat in itself to be at the starting line sometimes.
Despite how good everything was shaping up going into the start of winter, I almost immediately had a pretty major blow to the race season. I had been invited by a photographer to go out with a crew from the snowmobile clothing manufacturer, Motorfist, to take some photos for their catalog when I struck a buried construction leftover at a high speed that I didn’t see. I got pitched into my handle-bar and severely broke my left arm and severed all the tendons that allow for wrist mobility. Due to intensive physical therapy and a one-armed recovery program courtesy of Rob Shaul, I was able to come back strong enough to contemplate racing a 450 lb machine over jarring ruts and full force landings. However, to say that there was not a negative effect on my race season would be unrealistic. It took a lot of time away from on-hill practice courses, it put a huge dent my finances, and it took me back from thinking I was going to take this sport to new levels to wondering if I was physically capable of doing it at all. But I am a stubborn person, and I refuse to give up on my dreams.And I aim to better myself from this standpoint where I am now, and not look back to where I thought I should have been.
I am still very new to this aspect of snowmobiling. My competitors are all seasoned veterans of racing and they are all just as serious about it. Others might be brought down by this factor, but actually, it is one of the coolest aspects of this whole endeavor. These are all women who have earned their respect the hard way in a male-dominated sport and it is awesome to see their support and positive energy towards each other, even with the heat of competition in the middle. As a new racer, they have had nothing but encouragement and sound advice to give me, and after every race, I am inspired by the quality of people that seem to surround this sport.
To rival the fastest, I am going to need to work harder, become stronger, and it will force me to see the slope before me in a whole new light. And I truly believe I will be a better person for it. And as I develop my abilities to par the best, I hope that I, in turn, might push them, as they push each other, and that is the real process of progression.
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