Backcountry Basics owner teaches sled finesse in Idaho

Amber Holt shows how proper technique trumps brute strength.

TIGHTLINEMEDIA.COMNovember 28, 2013 

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Amber Holt, Backcountry Basics owner, talks about foot placement on a sled during one of her snowmobiling classes. She started riding 10 years ago and rides for fun and for films. She started teaching in 2008.


Storm clouds slid across the sky, meeting the starch-white sheet of snow on the ground. There were snowmobiles parked on the flats between Sawtell Peak and Henry’s Lake, not a man in sight, but two women ready to give the powder a serious beating.

“I enjoy riding because it gives me a sense of freedom and I like the challenge,” said Brandy Loomis, from West Yellowstone, Mont. “My best day riding is blue sky, through the trees, being able to climb the chutes that I haven’t been able to do the day.

The riders tug off their helmets and salon-styled hair spills out. One blonde. One black. The two combined weigh about as much as one burley man. They don’t have much weight behind them, but they can tip a sled and carve graceful arcs in the snow.

“In the last couple of years, how a sled is built, is getting easier for a gal to ride,” said Amber Holt, Backcountry Basics owner.

She rides an Arctic Cat mountain sled with four-stroke, turbo-charged engine.

“This was immediately stereotyped for the big boy; we’re talking 225-pounds or more guy. I’m 130 pounds, and I get along with it just fine. You just have to know how to set up a sled.”

Holt is a professional ski and snowboard instructor turned sled head. She owns Backcountry Basics and teaches snowmobilers to ride at courses in Island Park and Council.

She talks shop like a mechanic, makes a mountain into a molehill and takes every one of her students over it.

Techniques new riders often struggle for years learning on their own, she gets out of the way in a half-day lesson.

“She’s great. Amber just relates to you very easily,” Loomis said. “She can look at exactly what you’re doing and tell you where your positioning needs to be changed.”

Loomis is Holt’s private lesson for the morning shift, and Holt has her at the tipping in the first hour. Loomis tips her sled over and over, yanking 460 pounds of Polaris over on its side and balancing it on one ski.

Tipping works well on tree trails. Once it’s mastered, the sled actually feels lighter, fits tighter spaces and turns track without sinking.

Holt watches Loomis struggle on the right side of the sled and reminds her that tipping a sled with control doesn’t take muscle. It takes finesse.

“I have yet to have a lady come to my clinic and not get her sled on one ski,” Holt said. “If you’re using muscle, you’re not riding correctly today. It’s all about finesse.”

By afternoon, Loomis is tipping with ease and a couple from Washington joins the class. They are return students who took Holt’s three-day course last year and want a brush-up lesson this year.

“I was one of those guys who thought I knew everything until I took her class,” said Mark Leseberg, from La Center, Wash. “She’ll teach you how to finesse a sled and get it up on one ski and walk it down a hill. I’d never tried that until I took her class. It teaches you control.”

The one-ski walk is tipping the sled with controlled motion forward. Works great in tight turn areas.

Holt has all three of them riding on one ski up and downhill before the sun goes down.

Leseberg is the only man on the mountain trying to walk a ski with the women, but his hesitancy about Holt’s skill left long before he first learned to tip his sled.

“She can ride very well,” he said. “She can definitely hold her own there’s no doubt about that.”

Holt started riding 10 years ago. She’s climbed some of the biggest chutes in and out of the country. She rides for fun. She rides for films, but she quickly realized in her six years of teaching that helping others learn to ride is just as thrilling.

“I love to ride and I’ve done so many crazy things women haven’t done,” Holt said. “But when it’s all said and done, I think teaching is my passion.”

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