Rubbing Elbows with Turcotte
Think about an activity you’re really passionate about—motocross, drag racing, golf, hockey, whatever.
Now imagine the opportunity to hang out with your favourite superstar athlete for a day and race the track together, discuss camshaft specs or ask them to critique your clapper. How amazing would that be? What better way to learn than from the very best? When it comes to snowmobiling, it can be done.
Brett Turcotte’s ability to ride is without question in the uppermost tier of the elite. The best of the best. To find out more about how he shares his knowledge and experience with others, Mountain Sledder tagged along for a day on one of Brett’s advanced riding clinics in Golden, BC.
Turcotte Riding Clinics
Two qualities of a great teacher are a perfect understanding of the subject matter and the ability to communicate it to others in a way they can understand. But when the subject matter happens to be snowmobiling in the mountains, that adds another dimension because there is risk associated with stepping outside our comfort zone.
How does a rider gain the confidence to go for it? And learn to do it the right way, for the best chance at success? These are key to expanding our capability in a safe and fun way.
A Variety of Skill Levels
As you might expect, the demand for Brett’s knowledge and expertise for riders at an advanced to expert level is high. But his clinics are for everyone, to help smooth the learning curve of even the most inexperienced riders too.
“There are some people who come into my clinics who have just bought a snowmobile and have no idea how to get past the cabin,” says Brett.
To provide the best tailored learning experience, Brett splits his regular season clinics into Beginner-Intermediate and Intermediate-Advanced groupings. Later in the season, Brett also provides an advanced, jump-specific clinic.
“There’s room for every skill level,” say Brett, “all the way from just learning to ride to landing a cover shot on a magazine.”
For the two day clinics, Saturday is checkup day, starting with Brett getting to know each of the clients and assessing their ability to ride individually and as a group.
“We’ll start with some basic maneuvers and within about the first hour I can usually gauge pretty well where each rider is at, and from there we mold the course to fit,” says Brett. Day two is a little more focused, with some specific techniques covered based on the outcome of the first day and the requests of the riders.
Brett likes to keep the instructional material fluid. Not every group has the same goals, so he feels it’s important to maintain the flexibility to cover what the clients want to learn. Some riders make specific requests, like learning how to make a drop or the best way to hit a jump, but it’s also important to mold the clinic to meet the entire group’s learning objectives.
“I do go in with a certain goal in mind,” says Brett. “Obviously, number one is safety, and after that we start having fun.”
Part of the fun is just being in the backcountry and exploring terrain together as part of a group.
Though not a riding technique, a skill that will keep sledders riding for many years is the ability to navigate terrain safely. It’s one of the most crucial skills for beginners and advanced riders alike.
“It takes a presence of mind of to recognize weather and snow conditions, and plan your trip accordingly,” say Brett. The start of every clinic—regardless of level—begins with talk about the snow conditions and the terrain the group will access and travel through.
“For a lot of people, [that conversation] is a small thing that is overlooked, but it’s a large part of being able to continue snowmobiling safely in the mountains for a long time,” say Brett. Ultimately, the goal is to teach people of all abilities levels to be stronger, more efficient riders—in the most safe and fun way possible.
To help manage the safety aspect, Brett engages the guiding services of Golden Snowmobile Rentals when he’s teaching in the Golden area. The GSR guides help mitigate safety aspects, which allows Brett to focus on teaching. They can also be relied upon to use their local knowledge to sniff out good snow and find suitable terrain that fits the goals of the clinic.
For clinics in Revelstoke, Brett partners with Stoked Mountain Adventures, which acts as a host for the clinics and can provide accommodation, rentals and retail sales.
Brett says a common technique that is discussed at all levels is the ability to get the sled on edge with control.
For beginners, that means starting on flat ground and learning how to get the snowmobile up on edge with a little bit of throttle and brake (and not a whole lot of body input), then working into steeper terrain as confidence grows. For advanced riders, Brett talks about putting them into more difficult situations where they might not feel 100% comfortable, and working on refining the balance and control needed to keep the sled on edge there.
One skill that Brett finds many riders have difficulty mastering is the ability to sidehill equally well on both sides.
“It’s easier [to sidehill] standing wrong-foot-forward with your right foot on the running board and the throttle side up,” says Brett. But the challenge for many riders is to become equally adept at going across a slope in both directions.
“I make it pretty clear that you need to be able to sidehill both ways equally well, and that’s where I see a lot of the challenge for the intermediate riders.”
Striking a Balance
We asked Brett how he manages to push riders out of their comfort zone without getting them in completely over their heads.
“Often the best way to encourage progress is to put people into situations where they probably wouldn’t go with their riding group or their buddies. But because they’re in a clinic, they’re there to learn and are willing to step outside what’s comfortable for them,” says Brett.
“I have a pretty good read on people when it comes to what’s outside [their comfort zone] and what’s within reach, and just try to ride that fine line. Being able to read people’s skill levels and managing their nerves is pretty key to teaching [backcountry riding]. That’s something that comes from years of being around riders of different skill levels.”
Brett says that once you crack that code, riders really start to digest new information and learn quickly. All it takes is one failure followed by a success, and that’s a win, says Brett. About finding that balance, he says, “I like to challenge everyone, but also make sure they’re having fun; that’s the most important part for me.”
For now, Brett’s clinics take place exclusively in Golden and Revelstoke, BC. We asked what Brett likes about those areas.
“For me, Golden and Revelstoke are sort of the hot spots for snowmobiling in British Columbia.
You have to go where the snow is and where the people are.”
This advanced clinic made use of two Golden riding areas: Silent Pass on the first day, and the Gorman Lake area on day two.
“Golden really has kind of everything I’m looking for as far as teaching. The terrain is amazing; there are trees and jumps. You can always bank on finding some good snow when you look over the next ridge. And the warming huts are pretty key for clinics, because sometimes it gets pretty cold out on the hill and we need to find shelter for lunch,” said Brett. “Just the ease of access and everything about the area around Golden is really fitting for being able to take groups out and hosting a clinic effectively.”
Ride with Brett
You might not leave Brett’s two day clinic ready for X Games glory, but you’ll certainly be a better rider when you do. And you’ll be armed with information you can use to safely practice and continue your progression down the road.
Part of that progression comes from stepping outside your comfort zone. Brett’s ability to read the skill level of other riders and recognize where their comfort zone lies—and then reconfigure those boundaries—is perhaps his greatest strength as a teacher.
Just being around Brett and his energy is enough to inspire some riders to push beyond their preconceived limitations. Just remember: there are no energy drink sponsorships handed out at the end of the clinic, so don’t get crazy.
He doesn’t say it, but a big part of the experience is the chance to rub elbows with an approachable, down-to-earth dude who also happens to be one of the most radical riders on the planet. The opportunity to hang with a snowmobiling hero is worth the price of admission for a lot of people.
Even for those who don’t completely idolize Brett, it’s still pretty amazing to witness firsthand a rider who demonstrates such total, effortless control. It’s surprising and very, very humbling.
For Brett, we asked what he enjoys most about teaching. He said his reward is to see the clients progressing and to know that they’re getting a good return on the investment in themselves and their riding season.
“It’s an honour to have my name on these clinics and to have people want to come learn and be on the mountain together and take some of my knowledge home,” says Brett.
Perhaps the best quality of a teacher is the ability to inspire confidence. By helping riders to safely go beyond their comfort zone and discover their own greater ability within, Brett has also achieved a new measure of success for himself.
For more information on Brett Turcotte’s backcountry riding clinics, clinic dates and other information can be found at www.brettturcotte.com