Firefighter Jessica Smith’s preferred way to cool down is snowmachining in Alaska’s beautiful backcountry.
She is what some may refer to as a snowmachining addict. She works as an engineer firefighter/paramedic, which keeps her busy, but never too busy to enjoy her favorite hobby — snowmachining. You could speculate it’s because she has been on a sled since birth. Before she was even old enough to operate a snowmachine by herself she was perched on the gas tank of her father’s 1987 Phazer being lulled to sleep by the purr of the motor. Sled chicks are a diverse group of ladies, and Smith is no exception. These are the types of riders who make great role models in the sport — women who are proficient and skilled riders, keeping up with the boys in the backcountry.
Are you Alaskan grown or transplant?
Alaska transplant since I was 4 years old.
Where did you call home before Alaska?
Colorado was where I was born and called home before Alaska, but the majority of my life has been here in Alaska.
How long have you been a sledhead?
We always played around on older machines growing up but I didn’t really get into mountain riding until my early 20s after spending a few years away from Alaska.
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 like to ride up in the mountains where there is a little something for everyone. I’m not that in to hill climbing so it’s nice to go where people can enjoy that but there’s something for the low-landers as well.
As a sled chick, do you encounter more acceptance as a rider or adversity?
I’ve never experienced any adversity being a chick riding snowmachines. This is Alaska and everyone is pretty much just out to have some fun. I don’t race or ride competitively so it’s a nonissue.
Every rider has personal goals, share with us some of yours?
My personal goal is to just be comfortable with my machine and what it can do and what I can do with it. I am a sucker for jumps so I am always tempted to try something creative with the jumps. I hold myself back a little because there’s never a good time to have a broken limb.
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 ride a 600 Ski-Doo Renegade with a 137-inch track. It has been a lot of fun to learn on. I’d love to switch to a Summit with a little narrower ski-stance and a bit longer track. I’ve ridden Polaris and it’s fun also, it’s all in what you get used to.
We’ve all beat up our machines; riding is a dangerous sport. What kind of close encounters of mishaps have you had along the way?
I haven’t had too much carnage yet. I came close to breaking my leg when I launched into a creek bed but my machine held up. I’ve had some minor tweaks and breaks but nothing too bad yet.
Who is someone who has influenced you as a rider?
I grew up riding snowmachines but never really got as intentional about it until my older years. My brother-in-law and his wild antics enticed me to want to branch out and do more backcountry riding.
Since very few of us can pay the bills with snowmachining, what is your day job?
My day job is a engineer/paramedic at a local fire department.
Being in the rescue field have you ever had to use all-terrain vehicles or sleds to access people in remote areas?
Through work I’ve had to use ATVs and sleds a few times to rescue people. We use big heavy trail sleds; they are workhorses not really intended for playing but it does make me feel more prepared having knowledge about snowmachines in general and having experience riding for those particular situations.
Have you ever had to use your medical training while out riding?
My medical knowledge hasn’t been needed in a major capacity when out riding yet. I keep a few medical supplies in my gear bag for big catastrophes but it’s not really something I like to obsess about. A lot can go wrong out there and all you can do is fall back on training and experience. If I overthink it though, it would take all the fun out of riding.
Does it put more pressure on you being in the backcountry to watch out for other people because of your profession?
I do feel more pressure having my skill set due to my profession. I am fairly cautious and end up watching the antics from the lowland a lot and sometimes I cringe watching people tumble down the mountainside. I can’t overthink it though. I just have to have fun and be prepared to act if needed.
What is it about Alaska that keeps you calling it home? Any plans to move in the near future?
Alaska is my home. There is so much to do here. I commercial fish and sport fish all summer along with all the hiking and camping to be had. Then I ride snowmachines all winter. There is nowhere else like it.
What would you say to any young ladies looking to take up the sport?
To any young gals looking to take up riding I would encourage them to start out with riders who enjoy similar riding styles and destinations. Nothing can kill a fun day better than having to ride into places you are uncomfortable with just to dig yourself out all day. I would also encourage them to get with experienced riders and learn the tricks to getting unstuck.
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