By Hannah Follender
Despite the growing popularity of Snowmobiling, evidenced by its inclusion in the X-Games, snowmobilers, or “sledders,” constantly find themselves defending their sport, specifically challenges to its merit of athleticism.
Female sledders find themselves on the double offensive having to argue for the former, that snowmobiling is in fact an athletic challenge, along with the perception of women within the snowmobile community – namely, the belief that women can’t sled.
Meet a woman who knows a thing or two about throwing her weight around. At 120-pounds, Pro-Snowmobile Hill Climb Racer Jess Turtur can throttle a 450-pound snowmobile as well as any guy out there.
Jess is sponsored by Skidoo and has been competing on the competitive Hill Climb racing circuit for two years.
“Snowmobiling, over all winter sports, just has the right combination of adrenaline, speed, and freedom that propels my lifetime addiction to the mountains” says Jess, “There are no hour long approaches, no lift lines, no ropes, no-one to tell me to slow down. It speaks to my impatient nature. I was always the sort of person to scale a mountain and immediately desire to be on the peak across the view.”
Jess’s father introduced her to the mountains as soon as she could walk, then her love of snowboarding took it from there. She soon moved to Jackson, Wyoming and bought her first snowmobile, a 1998 Skidoo 670 – her version of a seasons pass and her key to exploring obscure couloirs scattered throughout Wyoming.
Snowmobiling gets a bad wrap as simply a mode of transportation or a “lazy American past time.”
“Sure, that’s true for the tour groups they bus into Yellowstone,” says Jess, “but that’s like go-karts to our Formula 1 racing.”
Strength is paramount for snowmobile athletes, along with agility, forethought, and quick reflexes.
High Mountain Snowmobiling in particular is entirely anaerobic and requires quick bursts of power and energy to manipulate a machine through snow and around obstacles. Jess notes that core and upper body strength play a key role in snowmobilers’ athletic performance.
“Mountain Athlete has played a huge role in my snowmobiling career to the point where I know that I just wouldn’t be riding at this level without them. I am small of stature and slight, but I have really seen my riding improve vastly. The same friends who told me I was going to get hurt 5 years ago now tell me I’m riding like a man…which I think I’ll take as a compliment.”
The most basic hurdle for women in snowmobiling is a natural lack of upper body strength. “Most of the women [snowmobilers] are smaller and not as strong as the majority of the guys,” says Jess, “I’d say I usually have to put in 300-400% of the effort the guys put in, year round, just to keep up. I fight for it all the time, and honestly if I didn’t I wouldn’t feel right being out there.”
Though few in numbers, and growing, Jess doesn’t think women snowmobilers are underrepresented in the industry or lack access to sponsorship opportunities. “I feel that support is pretty evenly allocated to women in the form of sponsorships and prize money, or even more in our favor when you take into account the percentages of women in the sport. Yes, the King of the Hill gets more money, but he also had to beat out hundreds of people to get there as opposed to the queen who had to beat 20.”
Jess’s competitive and hardworking nature comes through in the standards she hold for herself and her fellow athletes. The industry wants to support women who can step up to the same level as the guys, though Jess doesn’t believe women are quite there yet.
“When women start bringing the same athletic standard to the game as the guys do, I feel that they will receive the same unbiased support. It is up to myself and my fellow female athletes to push ourselves and the level of women in the sport to make it so.”
The X-Games recently added an event called Hillcross which is similar to Hill Climb racing in that it involves an uphill course filled with jumps, banks, and rollers. A group of men from the Rocky Mountain States Hill Climb Association (RMSHA) were invited to compete in 2015 Winter X-Games.
Jess’s goal is to see women have their own X-Games level class as well. “Last year I was told we could have a class if I got enough of my fellow ladies to commit, but there were a lot of scheduling issues because it was last minute and poorly organized. Once we have our own Hillcross class, the X-Games could be right around the corner and that would be another excellent opportunity to really showcase women’s snowmobiling.”
The women’s snowmobile community is small and because of its size it cultivates a strong sense of camaraderie among its members. Jess hopes this never changes, and that women maintain this culture of support, though she insists that the only way women will gain respect in the sport is if the field grows. “It would be nice to see more women giving it a go, and more women in the sport in general. The harder [the competition field] is, the more the success is worth.”
One of Jess’s “life goals” is to push women’s snowmobiling to the spotlight – a goal she sees as perfectly obtainable with enough “pencil pushing” and hard work.
To learn more about Jess, visit her website, www.throttlebetty.com.
You Might Also Like MTI’s Mountain Sledding Training Plan