AmSnow.com is now SnoWest.com My expensive ride
Yamaha rented the hill for one day after the final race of the RMSHA hillclimb season at Grand Targhee and invited myself and a few other media types out to spend some time on the sleds. They had their whole fleet of improved and mod race sleds! The mechanics were there too, and they had the RMSHA race officials and timing equipment there so we could see how fast or slow we really were.
2014 marks Yamaha’s third year back in RMSHA hillclimbing and their program continues to grow every year. Yamaha is serious about winning, and no expense has been spared in building the absolute best hillclimb race sleds possible. The sleds are hand-built masterpieces featuring a bunch of unobtainable custom parts and tuning from Yamaha’s factory and the likes of companies such as Lincoln County Customs and Dynojet. The team races two forms of the Viper; a turbocharged highly modified sled in the mod classes and a naturally aspirated mildly modified sled in the improved classes.
Keep in mind the Viper wasn’t available as the M-TX mountain sled in 2014, so both the Improved and Mod race sleds started life as a Yamaha Viper X-TX. The chassis on the Improver was modified with a longer track, rear suspension skid and FOX suspension. Modifications on the Mod sled were much more complex. This sled features a longer track, rear suspension skid, carbon fiber tunnel extension, narrow front end, different shocks, different handlebars, steering post, lightweight fuel cell, skis and the list goes on.
The engine in the Mod features a custom turbo kit built by Yamaha master tuner and race team Crew Chief, Troy Johnson. While naturally aspirated, the Improved sled features a custom engine built by the same engine builder that builds engines for the Red Bull Yamaha race team. Externally these machines look a lot like a Viper M-TX that are now available at the showroom, don’t let looks fool you. There’s a ton of incredibly trick and unobtainable parts that transform these sleds into the hill climb monsters they are.
To familiarize myself with the course I hopped on a sled ridden by factory racer Gavin Balls that he took up Jackson Hole, winning the Improved Sled class, and I headed up the hill. Designed by local Garth Kaufmann, the course I rode featured a lot of snocross elements with a bottom section weaving back and forth across the hill with a bunch of jumps and rythmn sections. The course then pointed up the hill across a sidehill section before a straight horsepower drag to the timing lights at the top.
After getting comfortable with the course I really started to enjoy the Improved sled. It is the least modified machine the team races with an essentially stock chassis. The sled features a built naturally aspirated engine that completely transforms the Viper. The engine in this machine is incredible, the powerband is super snappy making the sled feel like a 450 motocross bike. With tons of torque, you could snap the throttle at any time lifting the skis and powering through any section. The control was really nice in the technical snocross section at the bottom of the course. On the upper section you could open the sled up on the top end.
The Improved sled was an absolute blast to ride. I didn’t want to get off it, but I knew to get the full experience I had to try the Mod sled. The turbocharged Mod was very different than the Improver. It was stupidly fast and handled quite a bit differently. On the top end the power was absolutely mind blowing, but it lacked the snappy throttle of the Improver. With time, a rider could learn how to ride the ridiculously big power, but it for sure wasn’t as easy to ride as the naturally aspirated version. It was definitely fun to feel the power of the mod, but it was clear riding this sled required the skill of a professional. I didn’t have near the skill to ride the sled up the course quickly and my times reflected this as I went much faster on the improved sled than I did on the full mod.
Let’s get competitive!
With a timing system at our disposal it was not long until this test day turned into a competition. Soon LCC’s Cari Johnson was keeping track of times as myself and a few other journalists battled to better each other’s times. The stopwatch was humbling as every run was not near as fast as it felt. We were further humbled when we compared our times to the riders on Yamaha’s factory team. We weren’t exactly neck-and-neck.
Getting the opportunity to ride these sleds and have full access to rip up a RMSHA course was truly an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. After riding the sleds and seeing what the team puts into the program, it is clear Yamaha are serious about winning in RMSHA. I’m sure it won’t be long until we see another blue sled claim a big win on the hillclimb circuit. A huge thanks to Yamaha for letting me realize my dream of being a factory rider, even for a short time.