Newcomer Rowe thriving in snowmobile freestyle

Jack Rowe has only been competing in snowmobile freestyle for 14 months, but he took fourth place Thursday in his second Winter X Games appearance.

ASPEN — Jack Rowe is a beginner. But the X Games are the last place beginners should be allowed to compete.

Especially in the dangerous sport of snowmobile freestyle.

The sport is a fluid synchronization, joining man and machine in a high-flying motorized trapeze with no net.

Years of riding and preparation have created this feeling of one: man and sled, doing the impossible.

But for Rowe, 25, it’s been a lightning-quick apprenticeship on the sled.

After just 14 months on the sled, Rowe competed in his second X Games Thursday night and placed fourth. Even though he wasn’t on the podium, he just missed it, meaning he’s come a long way fast.

You might even call the past 14 months a crash course in snowmobile freestyle for Rowe.

“The first time I ever rode a snowmobile in my life was November 1 of last year,” he said with a grin. “Then I rode for two months, came here and crashed here.

“I was really lucky to make it here last year, but I was a time bomb.”

He just figured every time he competed he would crash.

Backflips, no-hand tricks, midair twists with the sled, impossibly dangerous tricks — there’s one word that sums up these athletes and what they do: crazy.

It’s especially crazy to think Rowe has become a contender so quickly. But it was his time on the dirt that prepared him for the snow.

“I come from motorcycles where we’ve been doing these tricks for years,” he said. “So, for me it was a pretty easy transition. I just had to learn how to ride the sled.”

Learn how to ride the sled? That’s a rather important little detail to a dangerous sport.

He admits two wheels are different from a single track and two skis on the front. But he said the tricks are the same and even easier on a snowmobile.

“It takes a lot more timing and a lot more precision (on a motorcycle),” he said.

As a talented rider for the International Freestyle Motocross Association, Rowe never really thought about sliding into snowmobiling.

He first climbed onto a dirt bike when he was 2 years old and turned pro when he was only 14. Snow was just a cold, messy winter reality for the Chicago native.

Then he judged the 2009 X Games Snowmobile Freestyle competition, and he was intrigued.

But he was still ripping up the dirt on the freestyle dirt bike circuit. As injuries and subpar performances piled up, the podium became more elusive. Once his contract expired, his sponsors vanished quicker than exhaust fumes in a wind storm.

“I kind of like to say that losing my sponsors is the best thing that ever happened to me. It opened the door to do this and do other things,” he said.

Levi LaVallee, one of the biggest names in snowmobiling, grabbed Rowe and made him a member of his team. That’s when the apprenticeship started.

“I rode a month-and-half straight and never once did I concentrate on tricks. Once (LaVallee) felt comfortable I was ready, he released me on tricks,” Rowe said.

As a newcomer to the sport, the tragic death of Caleb Moore at last year’s X Games jolted Rowe and all of the competitors.

Even though it shook him, he had to get past Moore’s death quickly.

As an extreme-action-sports competitor, he said it’s impossible to continue with the sport if you think about the tragedy.

“The way I look at it personally, if it was me, I wouldn’t want any of my friends to stop pushing. This is a sport that we all love,” he said. “We all know how dangerous it is when we get into it, and that’s what keeps us doing it. I could do a lot of things, but this is what I love to do.”

Whether it’s on a dirt bike or a snowmobile, the sport is all about crazy tricks and then crazier tricks.

“The more you practice, the more those crazy stunts become normal. Once those crazy things become normal, you dig a little deeper and try to find another gear.”

Rowe boils it down into a simple explanation on how competitors keep doing crazier tricks.

“It’s stepping stones. Every trick has a lead up. When it comes to upside down stuff, your lead-up was doing it right side-up,” he said.

Rowe’s life has always been all about gears and throttles. Now that he traded in his dirt bike for a snowmobile, not much has changed. He’s still having fun, competing with the best in his sport.

And he’s still doing crazy stuff. It’s just a little colder and a lot more snow.


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