All hail the king of the mountain
MORRIS – Like a drag race on snowmobiles – that’s how event coordinator Matthew Rabb describes the ninth annual King of the Mountain Hill Climb, which pits two racers against each other, side-by-side, up a steep, 1,000-foot slope.
The event takes place Saturday at Ski Sawmill Family Resort, 383 Oregon Hill Road, and is hosted by Central Pennsylvania Sleds and Treads with Ski Sawmill.
Pitched at the end of winter, the King of the Mountain Hill Climb gives snowmobilers one last chance to ride before the warmer months arrive.
“It brings a lot of excitement to the area during a time when, generally, the resort would be slower,” said Mike Knefley, Ski Sawmill general manager.
“It’s geared toward everyday riders and those who just get their sleds out a couple times a year,” Rabb said.
It’s his seventh year organizing the race, and Rabb, an avid snowmobiler, said it’s unique.
“I’ve traveled across New York and raced in many hill climbs,” he said. “But our mountain is by far the hardest hill. Most are flat. This one has rollers at the top so you can get some pretty good air. Some guys have cleared 80 feet.”
Rabb said the event draws competitors from as far as New York, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia.
The first year, event organizers expected about 50 racers, but got more than 100 instead. Last year, there were 260 competitors.
Turnout often depends on weather. Riders who live in areas that have just seen a big snowstorm might opt to take their sleds out closer to home, Rabb said. But, in mid-March, the ski resort is one of the few places nearby to have snow.
Knefley recalls one year that saw 80-degree weather during the competition. Participants were racing in shorts and T-shirts.
“It was kind of fun,” he said.
The event draws a big crowd as well, with more than 1,000 spectators each year, according to Knefley, who said watching the race is a blast.
“When they hit the throttle, the skis come right off the ground. They do a wheelie for the first 50 yards or so. It’s exciting just watching and gets your adrenaline going even though you’re not even on a sled.”
Though the competition has has grown a lot over the past nine years, the initial turnout was bigger than anyone had expected. Early talks between organizers began in January of 2006 and the first race was held in March, just two months later.
“We didn’t have much time to advertise,” Knefley said. “We expected 50 racers the first year and got well over 100.”
He likened the event to a bike show: “Almost every brand is represented. It gives everyone the opportunity to see the different snowmobiles people have.”
Rabb, who raced last year and took third place, said the event always brings out familiar faces.
One of those faces belongs to Ryan McCarthy, 32, of Galeton, who won the competition in 2011 and 2012.
“It’s a well-run, well-organized event,” McCarthy said. “There are a lot of options for racers because of the different classes of snowmobiles that are allowed.”
The event is more competitive every year, and a sled with the best modifications doesn’t guarantee a win, according to McCarthy.
“It takes a little more rider talent because of the layout of the course,” he said.
Another regular is Jason Chestnut, 41, of Berks County, who will compete in King of the Mountain for his seventh year in a row on Saturday. Chestnut enjoys the family-friendly atmosphere of the event. Every year, he takes his three children with him when he competes.
“It’s a great way to the end the season,” Chestnut said.
Participants can register from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. on the day of the event, with a rider meeting at 10 a.m. Registration costs $30 per class. Racing begins at 10:30 a.m.
Each competitor is guaranteed two races in accordance with the double elimination rule.
There is no fee for spectactors, but parking cost $10 per vehicle.
For more information, including information about eligible snowmobile classes, go to the organizer’s website at www.highlandlakerecreationclub.com.