The 41st Annual World Championship Hillclimbs in Jackson Hole, Wyo., put on by the Jackson Hole Snow Devils, will go down as one of the most expensive – if not THE most expensive – ever! For the racers, this was an awfully costly year.
The four-day event is never without its typical sled carnage, and the 45-degree slope has scrapped more than its fair share of sleds over the years. But during this past weekend, it is safe to say the mountain was a monster.
I have been photographing the hillclimb circuit now for many years, and as a shooter, I am right in the middle of the action and have seen plenty of spectacular wrecks. At this year’s World Championship, the weather and snow conditions converged to create a beast unlike anything I have ever witnessed in over 40 years of being around the hillclimb circuit.
In short, the hill in Jackson was saturated with moisture. On the third day of the hillclimb, there was rain and then freezing temperatures overnight. By the fourth day (finals day) the mountain was a solid sheet of ice. It wasn’t just the surface that was hard, either; I watched several people who were helping on the hill actually break shovels trying to carve out a simple small place to stand.
These conditions caused what I am sure was the mostly costly hillclimb in 41 years. Parts flew, sleds tumbled, riders slid, and suspensions buckled! Before temperatures warmed up, racer after racer simply spun out on the icy mountain and their sleds went tumbling down the hill into the airplane cargo net. (Click here to see a video of Andy Thomas' sled plummeting to the bottom.)
For those that made it up the hill farther than others, this just meant more damage, as their sleds had further to fall end-over-end down the concrete hill. This was a “yard sale” of epic proportions!
Factory Ski-Doo rider Jay Mentaberry posted the fastest time up the hill during Sunday’s finals with a 1:12.78.
In some cases, there were so many pieces that riders needed help picking it all up on the trek back down. Calculating the total cost would be futile, but with some sleds costing as much as $30,000, and more than 5-10 being 100% totaled, you can understand the dollar amounts.
To give you an idea of how hard the hill was (both figuratively and literally), only one of the 21 riders actually made it over the top in all of the 600 classes, and that was Russ Tapio on an Arctic Cat. Everyone else only had a high mark.
As the sun got higher in the sky, and the temps rose above freezing, the tracks and screws were finally able to get a more firm bite in the softening ice. It was at this point that it finally became a race and a matter of who could get through the finish line the fastest. Factory Ski-Doo rider Jay Mentaberry posted the fastest time up the hill during Sunday’s finals with a 1:12.78.
Keith Curtis was dominant as ever on his Polaris.
When it came time for the top “King” runs, Keith Curtis pulled out all the stops, winning the Stock, Mod and King of Kings titles on a Polaris. Kyle Tapio won the Improved King class on an Arctic Cat.
Crystal Cooper won Queen of the Mountain honors on a Ski-Doo, and Storm Johnson won the Semi-Pro Stock King on a Polaris. Then X Games gold medalist Brock Hoyer won the Snowbike race on a Timbersled. In the end, each OEM had a rider crowned king or queen.
This year’s race will be one that will be talked about for a very long time. Conditions were tough, but the riders kept coming! Congrats to all of the winners.
There are still three more stops on the RMSHA race circuit, with the next race in Grand Junction, Colo. (April 8-9, 2017). See the full schedule at www.rmsha.net.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
AmSnow Western Editor
Crystal Cooper was crowned Queen of the Mountain.