2012 champs share their wisdom
U.S. Ski Team member Marco Sullivan of California and local snowmachine top dog Tyler Aklestad have embodied the true spirit of Arctic Man, to “Go Fast or Go Home,” and they’re not afraid to share how they’ve mastered the course. The skill, aggression and overall speed this Arctic Man 2012 champion duo have resulted in their three wins in this remote arena, last year with a time of 4 hours, 4 minutes and 0.80 seconds, and an average speed of 80.6 mph. They’ll be back again to show competitors how to execute a perfect race.
“I think it’s a combination of both a good driver and a good skier,” Aklestad says. “That’s obviously the best mix to get the overall result.”
This team knows their strengths and weaknesses; although, there aren’t many of the latter.
“He’s an amazing skier,” says Aklestad of his teammate, Sullivan. “(He) spends a lot of time skiing. And I spend a lot of time riding all winter, testing and tuning and working with Ski-Doo on snowmachines, in all the venues of racing other than Arctic Man. That all comes together and I think it’s a good match.”
Hardly anyone could argue with that, and for the most part the 2012 champs plan to continue their methods for success.
“I think with me and Marco both, there’s that kind of hang-it-out-there mentality, so we don’t get too conservative with the technical aspects and the canyon,” Aklestad says. “Some people take it a little slower to get through there safe.”
They take full advantage of precisely the places many teams fear.
“We might not always have the fastest sled across the top so we try to make up for it in the technical stuff, airing out over some of the rollers that some of the other guys might not, and charging through the corners a little,” he says. “That’s where you usually win a race is in a corner and, I mean, that’s where we usually try to get our time out of it by being fast and fluid, going into corners fast and coming out and not losing speed.”
But the big question remains, how does the rider know how fast his skier counterpart can go? Too fast in the turns and he or she might get tossed into a canyon wall. Too slow and, well, there goes the win.
Aklestad says, “Every year I tell him I’ve got a little more in the tank but I’m afraid to lose him back there, and he yells at me for not going as hard as we can. So maybe this year we’ll just try to give ‘er the gusto and go all out and I hope I don’t lose him back there.”
After a few rounds of practice the thought of losing Sullivan will likely diminish, and Sullivan and Aklestad stress training, communication and commitment for a fast time, key areas where many teams need to focus.
“I think one of the big things is just practice in the hookups and knowing you and your skier and what you’re going to do, and how you ride and what works for each other,” Aklestad says. “That’s one advantage that me and Marco have, is that we’ve done this together four times now and know each other, and he knows what I’m going to do and we have a game plan, and we go after it.”
They remember to have fun, too, never losing sight of what Arctic Man has to offer.
“It’s an awesome event for the pure amount of people that come, spectators that come for a good time, spectators watching the event, people partying and whatnot all week,” Aklestad says. “And it’s just a great time of getting together, hanging out with people, going campfire to campfire talking to people, just a weeklong get-together that’s a blast.”
Aklestad emphasizes, too, what’s at the heart of Arctic Man: to unite skiers and snowmachiners in their mutual love of snow sports.
“It’s such a mixture, snowmobilers on one side and a whole opposite group of skiers,” Aklestad says, “and you throw them in this big mix and they’re all hanging out and having a good time together.”
All these race fans will want to keep an eye on the defending champs. Great locations to watch them in action include the hookup, where they can be seen syncing up and ripping off into the canyon; the canyon, where they truly shine, outmaneuvering their competitors in the turns and over the bumps; and in the release, a part of the race that Aklestad says he and Sullivan savor.
“One of our big things we do is, just like when you’re water skiing and you come around and you bungee off the rope and get that last little slingshot to come around, we use the bungee and the rope like that at the release to get that extra couple miles an hour, which can really make a difference for the guys coming off at first aid,” Aklestad says.
He says it’s Sullivan’s goal each year to get that slingshot rush, and it makes for tough riding, too.
“It’s interesting; he gets a ton of speed out of it and it’s usually a pretty wild ride for me on the snowmobile too because you’ve got a 220 pound guy that completely reefs on the back of your sled at 90 miles an hour and he has the potential to whip the sled all the way over on its side and you get that side-to-side speed wobble action after he let’s go,” Aklestad said. “It can completely throw the sled sideways, and you have to recover from that.”
The sled itself is an interesting aspect of the team’s success. It’s carbureted, unlike most new snowmachines, which allows Aklestad to tune it better for the higher-elevation racing. According to Aklestad, that, combined with a bungee and tow rope setup and Sullivan’s fearlessness, allow the team to exercise their aggressive, winning style.
So pay attention to Sullvan’s dive bomb approach into the course, his strength and willingness to be towed at faster speeds, and Aklestad’s control and agility, despite the trailing 220 pounds, and his trust in Sullivan’s ability to take the beating back there. These two fully embody what it takes to be multi-time champions at Arctic Man.