Winching and Wisdom – A Day with Bill Burke

Bill Burke is a Certified Master Trainer by the International 4WD Trainers’ Association®. As an industry recognized leader in 4WD and extraction training, Bill brings years of knowledge to the table. It was my pleasure to take my Toyota FJ Cruiser and spend one day this last weekend attending his advanced recovery training session.

The day started with a 2 hour drive from Colorado Springs to a point near Pine Junction on Hwy 285. Three other vehicles and their drivers gathered to attend the training session.  Bill arrived and it was off to Slaughterhouse Gulch in Park County, Colorado. When we stopped at the trailhead to air down, Bill went over how the day would proceed. He would be giving us instruction in Hi-Lift and winch utilization with hands on in some practical situations.

Using the Hi-Lift as a Winch

Our first stop was in a meadow where we split into 2 teams to rig the Hi-Lift as a winch. As we were rigging Bill supervised and interject words of wisdom where needed. Once the gear was rigged we moved each vehicle about 8 feet using the Hi-Lift. Bill went over a few of the scenarios where the Hi-Lift is a valuable tool.

Speaking of tools, the concepts that Bill emphasized throughout the day were: take your time, review your specific situation, review all the tools you have available and implement the best and safest recovery solution. We were challenged to think outside the box while discussing different scenarios.

Bill discussing Synthetic rope splicing

After we completed the Hi-Lift practical it was back on the trail moving towards our lunch stop. Once on the trail Bill radioed for us all to run open diffs and turn off any traction assistance features. He later explained that traction assist features (lockers and others) are tools that should only be used when necessary. Driving with open diffs teaches us how to be a better driver and pick the best lines.

We worked a few obstacles with Bill’s spotting assistance. We spent time at one specific off camber ledge discussing different lines and the dynamics of the vehicle as it passed through. The great thing about working with Bill is that he helps you look at the WHOLE picture while reviewing a problem. When we all had negotiated the obstacle it was on down the trail.

We stopped on top of a high ridge for lunch with a wonderful view to the southwest. After lunch, with the two jeeps in position to be winched, we proceeded to work with the wire rope. Throughout the rigging and actual winching Bill was right there with comments and instruction where needed.

Hands on practical using the wire rope

If you are like me, who uses a winch only a few times a year, this session with Bill reinforced the practical methodology of winching dynamics, safety and correct utilization of all the tools.  Thinking outside the box, Bill showed us some of the methods for use in a number of different situations to move the vehicle in various directions. We also went over the process of righting a rolled rig.

Bill discussing attachment points and righting a rig

Throughout the day Bill emphasized that safety is greatly enhanced by keeping your equipment in good working order as well as knowing the condition of the entire winch rope. He instructed us to un-spool our winches down to the drum at least once a month for a full inspection of the winch as well as the rope. Following these practices we should NEVER have a rope or equipment failure.

On the valley floor we turned around and headed back up a technical section of trail. Bill was in the lead and called out that he was “stuck with a broken diff” and needed assistance getting to the top of the hill. It was thus necessary to winch him up the hill from behind. This required us to use a pulley block to setup the pull using a redirect. Bill allowed us to determine and rig the solution while only interjecting his wisdom when needed.

Moving his Defender up the trail about 75 feet required two pulls to be rigged from behind. These pulls were completed using wire rope and the winch on one of the jeeps. The sounds from the winch rope and the strain on the winch reinforce our respect for the stresses and forces involved.   While working this scenario we discussed how additional damage can be done to the vehicle being pulled if you don’t review and watch the whole situation unfold.

Ready offer advice

Once we completed the pull we all drove this difficult section of trail with open diffs. Following the incorrect line would make it very easy to lose traction. There was no spotting being done so we really had to think about real time tire placement and demonstrate that we knew where the tires were.  Prior to my drive I discussed lines with Bill where he emphasized looking for the line that keeps the rig flat on the trail and all tires in contact.

One of the Jeeps driving a technical section

Heading back up the trail we had one more obstacle which would challenge our thinking. The off camber ledge has been known to place rigs on their sides when the wrong line is followed. We again picked our own lines and executed them.

Bill had one more objective for the day: he wanted to give everyone a chance to handle the synthetic rope. Since both Bill’s and my rig run synthetic line he set up 2 pulls with the Defender and the FJ. The other members of the group were impressed with how easy the synthetic was to work with.

After we stowed the lines, we returned to the trailhead, aired the tires backup and called it a day.

I came away from the day’s training with some good practical experience and an emphasis on safety and creative thinking. If you are interested in training with Bill his website is: http//

I look forward to more post like tis on



Tomas has lived in Colorado since age 5. Having grown up on the Western Slope of Colorado lots of time was spent in the Desert Southwest. Tomas' father introduced him to the love of 4 wheeling at an early age in the high mountains around Aspen, Colorado. While an avid Mountain Biker, Tomas and his Family enjoy adventures in the mountains and desert in the remote locations that can only be reached by 4wd. Day hikes are always a must when on the family trips. While enjoying outdoor activities he wants to share his love as a certified 4wd trainer and ski instructor. Tomas also enjoys caving and cave exploration. Tomas currently resides in Colorado Springs. 


  2 comments for “Winching and Wisdom – A Day with Bill Burke

  1. Timmer
    June 19, 2009 at 6:10 PM

    I share your enthusiasm about this training and for Bill B. as a trainer. I attended a Diry Toy School Toyota Learning adventure Last Dec 08 and am eager for more. Isn’t Bill is a veritable encyclopedia of 4×4 Knowledge? and has one heck of a sense of humor. For an awesome Off road traing adventure be sure to strongly consider Bill Burke’s 4 Wheeling America.


    • Timmer
      August 20, 2009 at 9:30 AM

      here it is only two months after first replying and I have set up and booked a 3 day 2 night Off Road Training Adventure for myself and 8 other, built 4×4, Tacoma owners. Our training will be held down in south central AZ in Jan of 2010. We , of course, are using Bill Burke as guide and trail boss.

      Bill was the only real choice we considered.

      Bill with the help of trust side kick Rachel (who everyone knows is really the head honcho at BB4WA ;) has handled all our idiosyncratic behaviors to date with aplomb.

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