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HomeFeaturesPucker-Factor: The Joy (or not) of the Clench

Pucker-Factor: The Joy (or not) of the Clench

Sandberg is a professional snowmobile rider. Or not.

By all calculations I experience significant pucker-factor 47 times during a normal snowmobile-riding season (by pucker-factor, I mean that “holy-crap-this-could-get-ugly” thought that overwhelms my brain the same instant that my body involuntarily produces a strange contraction during which it flexes muscles I didn’t even know existed).

So, roughly 47 of those during a normal riding season. That’s the baseline. Of course, circumstances allow for all kinds of variation in the total number per season.

For instance, if the season includes a trip out west to the mountains, then I can add an additional 95 puckers for each day of riding.

If I happen to take a green flag at a cross-country race, add another 129 pucker moments.

Throw in 14 more if I try to match the pace of Jeremy Fyle and Dale Lindbeck for a few minutes on ride.

Which illustrates a certain fact about pucker-factor: that different riders have their own thresholds for when this happens, even while experiencing the same situation.

Launching off the massive downhill double-jump at X Games would elicit a clench inside of my body that no amount of massage, soothing music or medication could release. Tucker Hibbert tells me that it’s cool and kind of thrilling, but not scary. I think his heart rate skyrockets to about 64 beats-per-minute when he hits this jump each lap of the race.

Likewise, backcountry riders like David McClure, Rob Kincaid, Kalle Johansson and Brett Turcotte experience situations on a single run that would leave me constipated for weeks, if not months. If they’re feeling puckered, they aren’t showing it.

On the other hand, my lovely wife Kate, who rides but once or twice a season, seems to have 20-30 pucker moments just making a few warm-up laps in the yard, judging from the wild hand gestures she throws at me and the murderous “Why-are-you-subjecting-me-to-this-craziness” glare from inside of her helmet. We once had to go through six months of marriage counseling because I asked her to drive a sled onto the snowmobile trailer. In her mind, I was asking her to have a go at beating Levi Lavallee’s world jumping record.

I honestly think that her body instantly clenches when the words, “Do you want to go for a ride?” leave my mouth. So God bless her for almost always saying “Yes!”

For people like Kate, there is no joy in the pucker. But for people like me (and perhaps you), there is something magical about it. It is those moments of thrilling uncertainty during a snowmobile ride that is like proper seasoning on a steak: it’s fine and dandy without it; harsh and overpowering if there’s too much; but savory and memorable when it’s just the right amount.

The older I get the easier it is to have a pucker moment. Situations that used to seem mild now have more of an edge. The consequence of a poor landing off of a mountain cornice or an unforeseen large object buried deep in the snow-covered cattails seems WAY greater now that I’m brushing up to 50 than they did when I was 25. But I love the feeling just the same.

I especially love it when the day is done and those weird muscles in the middle of my body have finally relaxed.

Thanks for reading.

Watch Rob and Dave and then imagine how many puckers occurred in the making of this video. 


Same for Turcotte.

Arctic Cat Boss Cat at Yellowstone.

I can only imagine the pucker-factor for any of the guys who climbed into a Boss Cat and stepped on the gas.



  1. Hey John, the pucker factor never goes away, at my age, (63) the pucker factor for me usually ends with me telling myself that I am not 18 anymore. Riding out west in the mountains would be a major pucker factor me, (scared to get stuck in all that snow lol) trying to convince myself I could follow Tucker on the sno cross track, how about taking Jim’s Phantom into turn 1 at Eagle River at full throttle, now that would be pucker factor to the extreme! Ok, you Arctic Insiders, what are your pucker factors?

  2. This was one of the coolest/ funniest posts you have done! thing is I’m sure many of us can relate ! yep the picture of you with a sled stuffed in a drift! It happens more than we care to admit here in the mid-west. Great way to start the summer! Hope it’s a short one!6

  3. Great post John,
    I just had a PF moment sitting here at my computer watching that first jump on Turcotte’s video. yeeow…
    We must be married to sisters… Glad they support our need for PF moments.
    I finally made a trip out west to WY lasts season and rode for the first time at age 50. What a blast! Should have done it years ago… I was “FORCED” to buy a XF8000 HC LTD for my second trip out there. I have to keep up my PFMPS (moments per season) as I ride into my next half century…
    Thanks for your work John…

  4. Nice shot of the Boss Cat 2. Thanks. I remember zipping down a pipeline clear cut in upstate NY many years ago, only to find the top of a fence about 1/2 the way down, staring at me. I could not stop, couldn’t go back up, very steep and deep. My only choice was aim for the right side of the cut, where it was deepest and almost covered the wire fence. Yank on the bars at the same time as the throttle and loft the front end in the air and over the fence. I had all of 5 seconds to figure this out before I became a human grilled taco. Talk about a religious experience getting out of that one unscathed…. Excellent article John.


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