Hillclimb Racing 101

Think you know everything about the sport of snowmobile hillclimbing? Think again!
Keith Curtis 711 RMSHA hillclimb racing snowmobile
Keith Curtis is a perennial dominator on the RMSHA circuit. In his 10-year career, he’s notched 168 victories, 35 hillclimb points championships and 63 King titles.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Hillclimbing is so much more than just drag racing up a steep hill. While there is serious speed involved, the technical aspects are off the charts! It’s hard to explain just how physically and mentally demanding a hillclimb is if you haven’t seen it in person or – better yet – tried it. I have watched riders who are in Olympic shape literally collapse off their sled after crossing the finish line, just trying to catch their breath. Truth be told, adrenaline is what keeps most of them going.
David McClure 150 RMSHA hillclimb racing snowmobile
David McClure #150
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
I started photographing the RMSHA hillclimb circuit almost seven years ago. As the main RMSHA photographer, I’m on the mountain up close to the action. I have seen some crazy stuff and been in the center of some serious carnage. When a 500-plus-pound sled pushing more horsepower than most cars (and costing more) is going all-out up a course with 45-degree inclines that are littered with rocks and stumps just under the surface, you know you are going to see some mayhem.  

The Course:
Each hill has two separate courses: Semi-Pro and Pro. The idea is to get to the top of the hill as fast as possible. Easy enough, right?

Let’s start from the bottom of the hill, where racers wait for a green light signaling the hill is clear. Once they cut the laser beam of the timing system, the clock starts. Most courses begin with some snocross-style features at the bottom of the hill, like whoops, gap jumps and tabletop jumps, as well as some very tight corners that get burmed up pretty quick.
snowmobile hillclimb racing hill help
Look out below! The “Hill Help” has a front row seat as athletes like Keith Curtis and Blaine Mathews try to conquer the most demanding courses.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Thankfully, each race has “Hill Help.” These are wonderfully crazy people who volunteer to rescue riders and sleds if they start to roll down the hill. At times, what these volunteers do is insane, but it’s a huge must for safety at the races.

Then it turns into a very steep technical climb, where racers have to navigate between two gates spaced about 10-15 feet apart and placed about every 40 feet up the hill. Most of the hills on the circuit average between 1,000 and 1,500 feet of elevation gain. The point of the course is to test a racer’s skills and finesse.

Technical Aspects:

All of the courses have numerous natural obstacles in addition to four-foot moguls that will eat you alive. As the day goes on, other hazards form, such as rock-hard walls where snow and dirt has been piled up from spinning tracks.

The combination of snow and dirt is the consistency of cement, so when a rider hits it head on and at full throttle, it is unforgiving and usually results in a serious ejection or the dreaded (but often hilarious) scorpion affect (when your feet pass over the top of your head as you “scorpion” over the front of the sled).

Afton, Wyo., is home to one of the most technical hillclimbs in the snowmobile world. This climb has a slope that is on average between 35 and 45 degrees (Dust off your protractor – that’s some serious incline!) and sees some of the most shocking damage to both sleds and racers alike.

Thankfully, each race has “Hill Help.” These are wonderfully crazy people who volunteer to rescue riders and sleds if they start to roll down the hill. At times, what these volunteers do is insane, but it’s a huge must for safety at the races.
David McClure Arctic Cat HCR 150 RMSHA snowmobile hillclimb racing
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
David McClure 150 RMSHA hillclimb racing snowmobile
David McClure’s Arctic Cat HCR is outfitted with aftermarket racing parts like a Speedwerx race gas supercharger, FOX shocks, a Kopp Welding custom gas tank, skis from Starting Line Products, a Camso track and Stud Boy race carbides.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Flags mark gates that the racer must pass through.  Each flag has four points that hold the flag together--two at the top, and two at the bottom. A racer can hit a flag as long as everything on the flag stays connected (In other words, there are still four points of contact).  If a rider knocks any of these contacts loose, than that gate is ruled his or her high mark.

Racers also get a high mark if they wreck and pull their tether, shutting the sled off. If the tether is not pulled, a racer can get back on and keep going, as long as no one assists the racer.

The average time on course is about one minute, which is pretty quick considering the course difficulty level. With about 225 members on the RMSHA circuit, each event spans 2-3 days with roughly 600-800 runs up the courses. The course is changed after each day of racing, and riders typically run more than one class. Classes include: Stock, Improved, Mod, Open Mod (i.e., anything goes) and Snow Bikes. Each class is further divided up by size of motor (cc’s). For example: 800 Stock, 800 Improved, 800 Mod, etc.

How to Prepare:
Read on to find out how RMSHA racers Keith Curtis, Blaine Mathews and David McClure prep for the hillclimb season.
Keith Curtis 711 RMSHA hillclimb racing snowmobile
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Keith Curtis 711 RMSHA hillclimb racing snowmobile
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
KEITH CURTIS - Polaris #711
Nickname: KC711
Hometown: Dillon, MT
Age: 29 Ht.: 6’3” Wt.: 180 lbs.
Years Racing: 10
Awards: 168 1st place finishes; 35 RMSHA hillclimb points championships; 63 King titles; 3-time RMSHA Racer of the Year
Training Regimen - Off-Season: I cross-train on my dirt bike, mountain bike, and hit the gym occasionally.
Training Regimen - Winter: I’m in the gym more often, and I love riding my ST 120 Timbersled for cross-training – it keeps things rolling!
Pre-Race Routine: Check fuel, track tension, belt tension, ski alignment. Scope/walk the race course, pick new lines, and get prepared to rally!
Best Way to Get Started in Hillclimb Racing: Build a practice course, and through ISR and RMSHA rules before your first race. Buying a used race sled that is ready to roll can save a ton of time.
Advice for an Up-and-Coming Racer: Dedication is the key to success. Focus, train hard, maintain your equipment, and strive to do your absolute best!
Base Sled: Polaris AXYS SKS
First Part Installed: FOX/KC711 signature coil-over IFS shocks
Total Install Time: 80-ish hours
Mod Parts List: BoonDocker TiAL gas turbo package; FOX/KC711 coil-over IFS shocks; Skinz Protective Gear gas tank/ seat, air frames, front/rear bumpers, and Helium hood; Arctic FX/KC711 wrap; Polaris VES Gold oil; Starting Line Products Powder Pro Skis and Maxx-Flow vent kit; Camso Conquer 2.8-in. track cut to race height; Carl’s Cycle Sales port/polish; Zollinger Racing high-clearance front end, rotating performance package, and Patrick carbon for leightweight clutches; EZ Ryde susp. w/ FOX coil-over shocks; RCS titanium rear track spring; Avid drivers; Venom Products clutching and gearing parts; Kold Kutter traction screws; Stud Boy carbides; General Welding tunnel protectors.
Total Cost (est.): $32,500-ish
Other Hobbies: RZR-ing, golfing, hiking, camping, fishing, Enduro motorcycle racing
Blaine Mathews 230 RMSHA hillclimb racing snowmobile
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Blaine Mathews 230 RMSHA hillclimb racing snowmobile
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Nickname: Spanky
Hometown: Pinedale, WY
Age: 23 Ht.: 5’9” Wt.: 175 lbs.
Years Racing: 6
Awards: 17 1st place finishes, 7 King Titles; 2016 RMSHA Racer of the Year; Rick Ward Sportsmanship award
Training Regimen - Off-Season: I make a 5 a.m. trip to the gym every day, alternating between cardio and strength workouts. I also ride saddle bronc in summer.
Training Regimen - Winter: I stay in the gym as much as possible, ride as much possible and ride hard to keep my endurance up. I also work on the ranch!
Pre-Race Routine: Always have a laid-back day before a race. I call it my mental day. It lets me sit and think about all the things I need to do to have a successful race weekend. To me, racing is 95% mental. Also, I go through my sleds and make sure they are ready to rock.
Best Way to Get Started in Hillclimb Racing: Make friends with someone who knows the hillclimb ropes. It allows you to learn the system much faster. RMSHA racers always welcome new people and try to help out.
Advice for an Up-and-Coming Racer: When it’s frustrating and you don’t think you can do well, don’t give up. Keep pushing to be the best. Have the most heart and try, and you can and will be successful. To me, the sky is the limit.
Base Sled: Ski-Doo Gen4 850
First Part Installed: Wrap or turbo
Total Install Time: 60-90 hours
Mod Parts List: MPI Race turbo package; Zbroz Racing EXIT triple rate coil-over shocks, upper billet A-arms, and lower high-clearance A-arms; Skinz Protective Gear running boards, and front and rear bumpers; EZ Ryde rear susp.; self-cut lightweight race hood; Starting Line Products Mohawk skis; vents; SCS Unlimited sled wrap; 2.5-gallon race tank; small race seat; Camso Conquer 2.8-in. track; Avid drivers; longer snow flap for roost protection; Fly Racing 2.5-in. bar riser and pad; Kold Kutter traction screws; TEAM Hyvo Chain and gears; custom clutch components.
Total Cost (est.): $Insane
Other Hobbies: Rodeo, hunting, camping, hiking, going rallying in the side-by-sides
David McClure 150 RMSHA hillclimb racing snowmobile
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
David McClure 150 RMSHA hillclimb racing snowmobile
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
DAVID MCCLURE - Arctic Cat #150
Nickname: DMC
Hometown: Swan Valley, ID
Age: 31 Ht.: 5’10” Wt.: 185 lbs.
Years Racing: 10
Awards: 600 Improved Stock Points Champion in 2015 and 2016; 700 Improved Stock Points Champion in 2016; Improved Stock King of the Hill in Bellevue, 2016
Training Regimen - Off-Season: Landscaping, dirt biking, mountain biking, wakeboarding, slalom waterskiing and hunting.
Training Regimen - Winter: I do morning workouts, and then I ride either snowmobiles or my Arctic Cat SVX snow bike almost every day.
Pre-Race Routine: Eat a healthy breakfast, unload the sleds, check out the hill and get ready for go time!
Best Way to Get Started in Hillclimb Racing: Get a sled and enter either Juniors or Semi-Pro classes (depending on your age). Get a rule book, and make sure your sled is legal to race.
Advice for an Up-and-Coming Racer: Ride as much as you can and ask questions. Every racer is willing to help out in any way we can.
Base Sled: Arctic Cat HCR
First Part Installed: Speedwerx supercharger
Total Install Time: Not a clue … LOTS!
Mod Parts List: Speedwerx race gas supercharger; FOX shocks; Kopp Welding gas tank; mountain fit hood; Arctic Cat C-TEC oil; Starting Line Products skis; Camso track; Stud Boy race carbides.
Total Cost (est.): $Ludicrous
Other Hobbies: Hanging out with family, hiking, rock climbing, camping, fishing
Interested in watching? Events will be streamed live on Facebook:
Instagram: @racermsha, @rltphotos
How to become an RMSHA member: www.rmsha.net
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