In a sport that was once dominated by men, sled chicks have made quite the uprising in our industry. Alaska has no shortage of snow divas, either – take, for instance, Leslie Richards, who decided to leave colorful Colorado in 2004 to experience life in The Last Frontier. An outdoor enthusiast and exceptional backcountry rider, she is always harnessing all that Alaska has to offer.
Are you Alaskan grown or transplant?
No, unfortunately I’m transplanted. I moved to this beautiful state on Christmas Day 11 years ago. Everyone said that’s the worst time to come to Alaska, but I love the snow, so it was the perfect time.
Where did you call home before Alaska?
I was born in Logan, Utah, and raised in the San Luis Valley in colorful Colorado. Go, Broncos!
How long have you been a sledhead?
I wish I was born and raised riding, but I got into the sport a few years after I moved to Alaska. My first sled was an old Yamaha Phazer. I rode that thing for several years. It was a great learner sled.
Not asking for the GPS coordinates to your secret stash of powder or anything, but give me a general idea of where you like to ride in Alaska.
I’m a North Roader (north of Kenai for those who don’t know the lingo), so usually I just ride out here. There’s some pretty good riding! But for the past few years, we’ve had to venture further north to get into some snow. There’s this one spot in Cooper Landing that is one of my favorites. It has a little of everything. We usually go once a year for an end-of-year ride. This local hot spot has helped me excel in my riding tremendously.
As a sled chick, do you encounter more acceptance as a rider or adversity? Explain.
I know the people who I ride with accept and praise the sled chicks. I’d also assume with a sled head there’s a sled chick right by his side.
Every rider has personal goals; share with us some of yours?
My goals for this upcoming season are to learn how to carve better. I’d like to also master boondocking. And I’d like to start jumping and try a few whips. That’s the great thing about riding; the opportunities are endless, and the more you ride, the more you excel.
As always, the touchy subject of brand comes into play. What sled are you currently riding and what about it appeals to you as a rider?
I got my new sled two years ago, and I think I jinxed the season for lack of snow. I haven’t put many miles on her so I’m still getting used to her. But my sled is a 2014 Skidoo Summit 600 with a 146-inch track. I love the T-motion, and I love how effortlessly she moved from side to side. This is the perfect sled for me.
We’ve all beat up our machines – riding is a dangerous sport. What kind of close encounters or mishaps have you had along the way?
I’ve lost count. I’ve hit so many trees, creeks and a rocks going up a hill (well it was more like a boulder). But one encounter sticks in my sled chick head: I traded sleds with my boyfriend while up riding in the backcountry, so he was on my Phazer and I, smiling ear to ear, hopped on his new 2011 Skidoo Renegade Backcountry 800. We were both carving in the deep powder, and riding a little too close, I hit the throttle to pop a wheelie, and just like that we collided. Both of us were ejected from our sleds. Luckily neither of us were hurt, and there was only minor damage to the sleds. Lesson learned.
Since very few of us can pay the bills with snowmachining, what is your day job?
I’m an insurance agent at First Alaska Insurance in Soldotna. (Hey I know a good insurance agent, I can save you 10 percent or more on your snowmachine insurance).
What is it about Alaska that keeps you calling it home? Any plans to move in the near future?
Everything! I don’t know any word to describe this great state. I love how Alaska has a little bit of everything, and then some. I’m mesmerized by the ocean, and I love the feel of being in the wild. It’s always an adrenaline rush. Oh, and the long winters don’t even get me started. I love it. Alaska is simply amazing. I’m home.
Who is someone who has influenced you as a rider?
If it wasn’t for my better half, Cody Hazard, I wouldn’t be the rider I am today. He has pushed me to expand out of my comfort zone from trail riding to mountain and backcountry riding. He’s always in the lead when we’re out riding so tagging along watching his skills and how he maneuvers on his sled and adjusts his weight has helped me tremendously. When there’s a day that I don’t want to ride or am too sore to ride, he pushes me to suck it up, and get back on. I love him for that. He’s helped me to gain the ambition to become a better rider.
What would you say to any young ladies looking to take up the sport?
Keep riding. Each ride you’ll excel just a little further. Don’t get frustrated and don’t give up. Have fun, and when in doubt throttle out!
“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.” – Unknown
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