The easy and tempting way to describe
Craig Warner’s first mountain snowmobiling experience is that he
was like a fish out of water.
Easy yes, but far from the truth.
That’s because when the world
champion Warner hopped on a sled and took to the mountains of central
Utah last winter, he was pretty much a natural.
Craig Warner might not be a household
name in the snowmobile world but in the world of jet ski racing, the
two-time IJSBA world champion is a force to be reckoned with. No
doubt with a little more seat time on a sled he would turn a few
heads in the snow world as well.
About the only thing that really
separates Warner from his newfound enthusiasm for snowmobiling and
his full-time job of racing is the composition of the water on which
he rides. He spends much of his time playing and competing on a much
more liquid surface than most of us snow lovers are used to.
But after a day of snowmobiling it was
obvious Warner was a home on both the white stuff and, well, the
We spent a day last February with
Warner riding the mountains east of Heber City, UT, in the Mill
Hollow area. Although it wasn’t the first time the 31 year old had
been on a snowmobile, his first ride could hardly be considered a
ride and definitely nothing close to what he experienced when we
played in the deep powder last winter. Warner’s first ride was in
2004 on a Ski-Doo 550 fan as part of a motorsports triathlon. The
triathlon featured racing on a Sea Doo, Ski-Doo snowmobile and ATV.
Two Pros from each of those three disciplines of racing competed
against each other with Warner one of those from the watercraft
racing segment. He won the triathlon but didn’t throw a leg over a
sled again until he borrowed his friend Dr. Lincoln Clifford’s
Arctic Cat M 1000 to ride in Utah with our group.
Talk about baptism by fire—your first
real snowmobile ride using a 1000cc sled at elevation. Riding a sled
was a little awkward at first for Warner but it didn’t prevent him
from riding everywhere the group did. He didn’t shy away from tough
spots like drainages, off camber hills and tree riding and it wasn’t
long before he was jumping small wind drifts—and going off on his
own. We had to do a little search and rescue a couple of times.
He trains on a stand up (jet ski) so
stand up riding on a sled was fairly natural to him. Warner did
provide a few moments of comic relief for the rest of the riding
group but all were impressed at how quickly he picked up riding on a
more frozen form of precipitation than he was used to.
“Until I Got Stuck”
So what was Warner thinking after the
first hour or so of mountain riding? “Okay, this is easy. That’s
what I thought until I got stuck,” he said. Warner trains and lives
at sea level and we were riding at 8,000-plus feet so that had
something to do with him trying to catch his breath—that and riding
a 1000cc sled. “Elevation makes a big difference,” Warner said.
“I train hard at home. I hardly ever get winded but when we were
digging out that first time, I got winded.”
So did we.
By mid day he was saying, “Actually,
I want to go buy an 800.” More recently he told us, “I’m now
getting ready to come back up for some more snowmobile adventures.
Snowmobiling is my new favorite sport and I should have my own sled
for next year.”
The same determination that helped
Warner earn his two world titles and, more recently, a second place
in Pro GP Runabout at the world championships in Lake Havasu, AZ, in
October and an impressive win in the Dana Point to Avalon Offshore
Race (across the open ocean from Dana Point, CA, to Santa Catalina
Island and back) this past summer was evident as he worked to get the
hang of the right body position for the varying terrain we rode on.
Warner was especially determined to get the hang of laying the sled
down in the powder without falling off, a feat he pretty much got the
hang of by the end of the day.
While he admitted to getting some arm
pump while sledding he said, “All of it’s upper body to me. My
legs never felt any different.” Maybe that’s because of his
serious workout program and the fact that his preferred method of
training is on the ocean in rough waves. “I just look for the
roughest water,” Warner said. “Anyone can be fast on flat water.
It’s the rough water that separates people.”
That’s our kind of thinking.
Warner’s typical workout at home
begins with a 45-minute all-body workout in the gym, followed by a
mountain bike ride for one-half to one hour in the mountains around
his house in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA. Then, three times a week, he
goes surfing (for shoulder strength and fun) or jet skiing. If the
waves aren’t decent for surfing, he goes jet skiing—he can be to
the launch ramp in 15 minutes from his home.
That kind of preparation is necessary
to be competitive in jet ski racing, especially when it’s racing
across the open ocean for 50-60 miles on rough water. The preparation
to race professionally is brutal Warner said. “It’s a grind
preparation-wise,” he said. “It’s a grind to be in shape, but
that’s all on the athlete. What keeps me going is the competition.
I love passing people and bumping them. I love banging people.”
A competitive PWC racer since 1998,
Warner has been a factory rider for Kawasaki since 2007 and considers
it a full time gig, along with owning a printing and packaging
company in Southern California. He even used to race dirt bikes—what
Southern California motorhead hasn’t?—at an amateur level and is
now dabbling in off-road racing. “We have been building an
Unlimited class UTV to race this year but we fell behind due to the
new racing hulls we built,” Warner explained. “The plan is to be
ready for 2012 off-road racing if the budgets all come together.”
The hulls Warner is referring to is a
somewhat new venture for him. He said, “This year we engineered our
own personal spec racing hull and I have been selling replicas to the
public of what we produced. We have been bounding ideas around for a
couple of years now and I finally got the okay and the budget to
spend some racing development time on what we all agreed on making.
The new race boat is the same look as a production hull but about 200
lbs. lighter and 2.5 inches lower. The idea behind this was to lower
the center of gravity down so we can create more corner speed without
getting pitched off.”
Just imagine if Warner got real serious
about snowmobiling and started working on sleds.
Although Warner did take a liking to
snowmobiling, he said if he could pick any other sport to be a Pro
racer in, it would be surfing.
We did ask him what he liked about his
snowmobile ride in Utah. “The endless journey of mountains and not
knowing what’s coming up. The whole thrill of the whole deal is
His first love remains water in its
melted form. “I like being in the water,” he said. “If I do not
get in the water at least once a week I get grumpy. My wife tells me
to ‘go get wet’.”
Professional PWC Racer
Hometown: Rancho Santa Margarita, CA
2007 – IJSBA World Championship in
Pro Runabout 1200
2008 – IJSBA World Championship in
Pro Runabout 1200
2008 – 1st in Long Beach
to Catalina offshore race
2009 - 1st in Long Beach to
Catalina offshore race
2010 – 1st Mark Hahn 300
2011 – 1st Dana Point to
Catalina and back offshore race
2011 – 1st Dana Point to
Oceanside and back offshore race
2011 - 1st Pro GP Runabout
(sit down), Parker, AZ
GP Ski (stand up), Parker, AZ
2011 – 1st Ski (indoor
stand up), Las Vegas, NV
2011 – 2nd Pro GP
Runabout, World Championships, Lake Havasu, AZ
3rd Pro Open Runabout,
World Championships, Lake Havasu, AZ
Sponsors: Monster Energy, Kawasaki