Everybody has good days. Keith Curtis just piles them up
seasons at a time.
Check out his stats: On the Rocky Mountain Snowmobile
Hillclimb Circuit, Curtis entered 34 total classes over seven different
events. He had 20 first-place finishes, four seconds and
two thirds. That's 26 top-three finishes out of 34 tries.
And that was just last season.
Curtis, a full-time student at University of Montana Western,
is entering his fifth season as a RMSHA pro driver-his fourth
as a Polaris-backed rider. His first competitive hillclimb was at a
Maverick Mountain event in 1998 near Polaris, Montana. Curtis
finished well, and whatever happened that weekend had him
He hit a full string of Montana State Snowmobile Hillclimb
Association (MSSHA) events the next year. Brian Lovaas and
Benny Finicum let Curtis ride along with them to the races. He
ran in the MSSHA races for a while with those two and Chris
Johnson, Colt Becker, Jesse Besecker & Dustin Rebich. Curtis
says he looked up to guys like Shane Hart for the way he dominated
races. Curtis wanted to dominate events like Hart, but he
was smart enough to realize that those things take time. Hart
was a seasoned veteran racer, and Curtis was an up-and-coming
pro. The one thing Curtis may not have realized at the time is
that his career would take the fast track to dominance.
His last MSSHA race was in '06 at the Lost Trail Ski Area in
southwestern Montana, near Curtis' hometown of Dillon. A handful
of RMSHA pros like Beukelman, Markovich and Zollingers
were using the small MSSHA event as a chance to clean house
and show the divide between the two circuits. And everyone
expected nothing short of that. Curtis had raced the World
Championship hillclimb at Jackson Hole that spring on a MSSHA
invite and got smoked. But Curtis had different plans of defending
his home turf at the Lost Trail hillclimb. The big names
showed up and saw Curtis win Mod 600, Mod 700 and Mod 800,
also laying down the fastest time on the mountain of the day.
Corey Markovich beat Curtis out for Mod King for the weekend,
but by then Curtis' eyes were set on something bigger: the full
There are a few races that stick out like orange marker tape
in Curtis' career. Last winter, at the RMSHA Lost Trail hillclimb,
Keith entered five classes and took home five first-place trophies
plus Stock and Mod Kings of the Hill-a double crown.
But the crowning event so far in his career as a pro came at
the one race where the world seems to be watching-Jackson
Two years after his first-ever invite to Snow King Mountain,
Curtis showed up at Jackson in 2008 with Polaris factory support
and left the mountain with his name among the Jackson
Curtis had qualified first in Stock 600, Stock 700 and Stock
800 during Saturday's runs, putting him last on the hill for each
class during Sunday's finals. He scoped out the mountain as
each racer in his classes made their runs. He had his line picked
out when he rolled his sled to the starting platform at the bottom
of the hill for his Stock 600 run. He remembers his sled
being a little down on rpm because he didn't know any better
to re-clutch for Jackson's elevation. Even so, he managed
a smooth run up the hill, easily winning the class. In fact, he
almost came to a complete stop mid-mountain during that run,
but managed to get going and lay down a lightning-fast run to
the top timing lights.
Curtis says right after he found out he won the class, he
shifted into a focused and determined state for the rest of the
day. He talked to Brett Bateman about the way his sleds were
running. Bateman changed the clutching in his 600, 700 and 800
sleds. Curtis says he owes him still to this day for giving his sleds
a competitive edge that day.
His Stock 700 run went as well as his Stock 600, winning by a
As for Stock 800, it's probably the most competitive class in
the circuit. And with the number of drivers that had been on the
hill from the start of the weekend up until Curtis' run in the Stock
800 final, the hill was torn up. But he was on a roll and won the
class. His fourth and final class-Stock 1000-was his only falter
of the weekend, finishing fourth after getting hung up in the infamous
Rock Garden near the top of the mountain.
Curtis was focused on his King runs. Each class win gives a
driver a shot at King of the Hill in respectively Stock, Improved
Stock or Modified. Then, the three King of the Hill winners
square off for one final run each to determine King of Kings-the
ultimate trophy to take home from an event as big as Jackson.
Curtis' three Stock wins gave him three runs at Stock King of
"My first run was on my Stock 600 and I was ready to rally. I
was making a smoking run until I made it across the first cat track
and took a wrong turn because
the course was changed. I still
remember (Tom) Roby telling me
they changed the course but I
wasn't exactly sure where to go.
I tried pulling the sled back on
the course and about went over
the handle bars," Curtis explains.
He went back to the staging
area, grabbed his 700 and
made his second run. "This run
was a little rough and not as
smooth as I would have liked. I
was out by a couple seconds so
I knew I needed to step it up on
Curtis remembers coming
down off the mountain
on his 700. He had three
consecutive runs for Stock
King, and the crowd waited
with almost as much anticipation
as the other drivers to see what Curtis would do with his
final shot at the Stock King title.
"I reached the bottom of the hill and my dad had my 800
warmed up and ready to go," Curtis said. "Rick Ward was on
the starting line and I will never forget the words he told me:
`You know you can take a minute and get your breathe back if
Curtis took Ward's advice, and sat at the bottom of the hill
while the anticipation built around his final run. Nobody really
knew who Keith Curtis was, but here on a sunny Sunday afternoon,
he had every set of eyes at the World Championship hillclimb
staring him down. Curtis' 800 King run topped the times
set by Roby and Vincent Clark, and both of the veteran drivers
congratulated Curtis when he reached the top of the course.
"Those two were standing there when I reached the top, and
I was so stoked I forgot what to talk about when the announcer
interviewed me," Curtis said. "But I did manage to thank my
But Curtis' day wasn't over. He had to point his sled at
the course one more time-the eighth time he would climb
Exhibition run that day.
He lined up next to Les Keller and Kyle Tapio-the Improved
Mod and Mod King winners of the day. The three would shoot it
out for the coveted King of Kings title. And Curtis was up first.
"I had another nice smooth run, almost as fast as my Stock
King run. I had a good line picked out from my previous runs,
which helped. The rock garden was getting nasty but I managed
to wheelie up and over
it," Curtis said of making it to
the top timing lights. "I heard
Keller coming up and I was
nervous because both his and
Tapio's sled had major motor
improvements over my stocker.
I heard his motor die when
he got hung up on the rock
garden. Next was Tapio on his turbo. He
was rallying like he always does and then
I heard his motor die at the rock garden.
Once that happened I knew I had it."
A relative newcomer in a sport dominated
by a short list of regulars, Curtis
had swept three of his four classes, won
Stock King of the Hill and then beat out
two mod sleds for King of Kings.
"I still get a strange cloud 9 feeling
when I think about that Sunday in
Jackson Hole. I remember pretty much
every detail like it happened yesterday.
The snow was phenomenal and it felt so
great to win those titles and I was proud
to represent Polaris like I did the first year
they picked me up for sponsorship. After
the event was all said and done I asked
myself. Did I really just win five World
Championship Titles? And since that day
I have learned a whole lot about sponsorship.
If it wasn't for my great sponsor base
I would have never been on top of that
mountain claiming the "King of Kings"
title. All of my Polaris sleds ran great and
felt great. I couldn't have asked for better
equipment. That is by far the most memorable
event of my career."
Aside from the RMSHA events, Curtis
does a lot of backcountry riding.
"One area I practice quite often is
around my parents' cabin near Polaris,
MT. It's more mellow riding but I have a
blast going fast anywhere I go. I sometimes
set up courses with Les Keller, Mike
and Tyler Crockett, and Casey jump in
Kalispell, Mt. We try to make the course
challenging and once we get sick of
practicing we go free ride. When I am joy
riding I just go have fun but sometimes if
something pops in my head about racing
improvements I pursue it. Something that
comes with free riding is more seat time
which helps me on the race course. I like
a variety of riding, anything from nasty
hillclimbing through trees to meadow riding
and trail riding. I feel that if you limit
yourself to one type of riding it will limit
your ability to ride in diverse areas. I like
creek beds, It is fun cutting a line right
above a creek bed. Makes it a little more
interested when there is a consequence
right below you."
Always up for a challenge, Curtis will
be competing in five classes again this
season on the RMSHA circuit. He'll run in
Stock 600, Stock 700, Stock 800, Stock
1000 and Mod 800.
Curtis' sponsors for the season has
grown to include Polaris Industries,
Boondockers, EZ Ryde Suspension,
Walker Evans, Black Diamond Extreme,
Stud Boy, Starting Line Products,
Adventure Cycle & Sled, Klim, SCS
Vinyl Works, Napa Auto Parts, Western
Power Sports/Fly Racing, Kold Kutter,
Beef, Carl's Cycle Sales, V-Force,
V-Notch Racing, Avid Products, ARS FX,
Montaqua, 509 Goggles, Skinz Protective
Gear and Avivest.