LOST TRAIL — Like riding a bucking bronco for a full minute.
That's how pro snowmobile hill climber Sam Peterson described racing at the Rocky Mountain States HillClimb Association's (RMSHA) Lost Trail Hill Climb Saturday.
The only difference, though, is some of these broncs that weave through the gated course, leap over jumps and eventually go up, up, up a steep hill are pushing 200 horses.
"Sometimes you’re going 85 miles per hour," Peterson said of the race and event. "It’s like a rodeo, but there’s other factors involved — building these sleds, the reinforcement, the horsepower."
This RMSHA season marks Peterson's first as a pro, but the product of Wisdom — just over Chief Joseph pass — has grown up riding and racing snow machines.
His parents, MD and Heidi helped establish the first snowmobile hill climbing event at Lost Trail years ago as a memorial to their friend, David Shepherd, who died in an avalanche.
Now the race, which had over 500 entries and hundreds of sleds, kicks off the RMSHA circuit and is a popular stop as it's two weeks before the World Championship in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
"This is kind of a warm up for the World Championship in Wyoming and Lost Trail, they put on a really good venue," said Peterson, who had the fifth-best qualifying time in the Pro 900 Improved Stock class Saturday.
Leading the qualifying times ahead of Sunday's finals was another local sledder, Keith Curtis of Dillon. He clocked in at 57.11 seconds through the 15-gate course, using the grooved-out course to his advantage.
"The trenches are getting deep, so I was able to kind of bank off of them and land back in the middle where I needed to be and cut it tight and completely avoid a couple of trenches," he said.
His final run in that event Saturday was the clincher for the No. 1 seed ahead of the finals. Curtis edged Blaine Mathews of Wyoming by 2 seconds. Justin Thomas, last year's champ in the class, had the third-best qualifying time (1:01.3).
Those results also meant a good time for a substantial cheering section, as hundreds of spectators sat at the corner of Gate 3, just after the snowmobiles clear a jump and turn to climb the hill. A jumbo screen televises the ride up Lost Trail's terrain park and south-facing hill as riders shrink from view. Skiers skirt the closed off course as Lost Trail stays open for its usual business during the event.
Not surprisingly, parking is limited with cars spilling into any open space people can find all the way up and down U.S. Highway 93. It makes for a beehive-like atmosphere.
And that's before you hear the buzzing of a revved snowmobile engine essentially performing a ski slalom race in reverse.
It's a sound that echoed off the mountain Saturday as racers dared to defy gravity.
"That’s part of the rush," said Mathews, who added the day's No. 1 time in the Pro 1000 stock at 54.73. "It gets steep at the top and it makes it a challenge. You’re trying to go as fast as you can so the combination of everything makes it a pretty crazy feeling."
For full results from the over 30 classes, including Sunday's final results, visit www.rmsha.net/results/.