“Take this camera, grab a press pass at the tech booth and
get us some good shots from up on the hill.” Those were the instructions from
my editor for the championship day on the mountain at the 2008 Jackson Hole Hillclimb.
“Ryan, ummm—this may be a dumb question, but where exactly
is the tech booth?” Those are the words I uttered over the phone as I first
arrived at the base of the mountain, dressed from head to toe in my full riding
gear in preparation for a long day snapping pictures in a snowstorm.
Apparently I’d forgotten to mention to my higher ups that
I’d never been to the Jackson Hillclimb. I’d always wanted to and had actually
made plans to go a few winters back with some buddies, but on a college
student’s budget, they never really amounted to much more than that—just plans.
This being my first year on the job with SledHeads,
I’ve been tossed right into the middle of a lot things I’d never even dreamed
of being a part of. After my first winter season here, it’s a no-contest
declared decision that Jackson
was the best experience of the season. Getting right up close and personal with
some of the most tricked-out mod sleds you’ll ever see, standing just feet away
from a turbo monster pawing and scratching for every bit of traction through
the rocks and ruts on the hill, diving out of the way of a sled out of control
on its way back down the hill—riderless—shooting right for the catch net. Yeah,
it was quite the experience.
I’d heard stories around the water cooler at the office and
countless more from friends and acquaintances through the years as to just how
much fun the World Championship Snowmobile Hillclimb can be, but it’s truly an
event that is worth experiencing, not just hearing about.
As this was my first time at the event, I was a little
overwhelmed with the whole thing, being there right on the track, just feet
away from the competitors ripping up the hill. I guess I never realized just
how intense and incredibly insane these riders have to be to attack something
that treacherous and steep. I had a hard enough time maintaining balance and
footing on the catwalks. I can only imagine what it’s like keeping a 150 hp
sled pointed in the right direction over that stuff.
There were a few highlights from the day that still stand
out in my mind. Like Tony Zollinger’s attempt at becoming Superman flying
through mid air as his Cat’s rear skid unloaded so hard through the Rock Garden
that it launched his body straight vertical with nothing but the earth’s
gravity keeping him from going into orbit. Or Tyler Crockett, one of the
competitors, who sat watching in awe as his Polaris went ripping back down the
hill riderless and fearless for what was about to become another brutal
confrontation with the catch net. Its soon-to-be-fatal meeting with the fence
came to an abrupt stop when the only tree within 50 feet intervened and stopped
it dead in its tracks. You could hear plastic bumper pieces shattering and aluminum
crushing from 300 yards up the hill. It wasn’t pretty.
Whether you’d prefer sitting at the bottom of the hill,
shooting the breeze with your friends in a couple of lounge chairs, keeping an
eye on the action through the big screen focused on every rider’s every move or
standing up on the top along the fence line, trying to maintain balance on the
steepest section of the climb, cheering on each competitor as he tackles the 30-foot
nearly straight vertical section of rocks and boulders known as the Rock Garden,
the hillclimb is something else. The entire weekend is an experience every
snowmobile enthusiast should be a part of at least once in his or her lifetime.