Four days of some of the world’s best on snowmobiles competing in Jackson came to a head Sunday evening, with the Jackson Hole Snowmobile Hill Climb Kings races closing the show.
A mellow snow began to fall on Snow King Mountain, with onlookers at the bottom standing from the comfort of their camping chairs to take in as much of the final few runs of the weekend as they could.
The Kings races pitted the winners of each classification against each other, divided only by their snowmobile type. With three kings races, the titles for stock, improved and modified were all up for grabs.
From there the winners of those races usually go against each other for the coveted King of Kings prize, the absolute top snowmobiler of the weekend, regardless of classification or hardware.
But Keith Curtis, a 31-year-old veteran of the sport from Dillon, Montana, didn’t seem interested in allowing the King of Kings title to be decided by a final run.
Having made the Kings round in all three categories, Curtis could sweep the three final races to make him the undisputed King of Kings and negating the need for the final run off.
His run toward a Triple Crown began in the stock division. Atop his Polaris, Curtis charged at the hill, seemed to have a moment of trouble around gate 21, but crested the hill in 1:23.67. He had another run, but elected not to take it, saving himself for his next two climbs.
No one else was able to put down a time, so Curtis’ gamble paid off.
In the improved race, Curtis shed just under two seconds and ran away with that title in 1:21.46, nearly 12 seconds ahead of Washington’s Kyle Tapio in second place.
With only the modified title left to claim, Curtis ripped off a run of 1:13.63, nearly seven seconds ahead of Idaho’s Andy Thomas, to leave no doubt that the 43rd annual World Championships Jackson Hole Snowmobile Hill Climb belonged to him.
“I’ve got some arm pump going on right now, not going to lie,” Curtis said, stepping off his sled for a final time. “But my body is feeling good, the mind is right, and I mean my sleds held up really well.”
Keeping himself composed physically was key as the racing wore on, but preserving his snowmobiles was no easy task. As Sunday came to a close, deep trenches formed, especially over the final 10 gates.
The sticking point for his competitors in the Kings races was the final wall, which framed the 31st gate just before the finish line. Time and time again a quick run up the mountain was thwarted at the wall, with snowmobiles capsizing and riders tumbling down the hill without a time to show for their efforts.
“It was technical,” Curtis said. “There’s a lot of snow up there so the trenches were deep, the headwalls were big. There was a lot of rock and dirt and ice showing, so you had to pick your lines carefully.”
Curtis said he took a different approach to that final wall each time up the hill, a needed adjustment as each run gave a slight face-lift to the course.
“[The hill] just constantly changes as people go up, so you’re going one way, then you convert to the other,” he said. “So it’s trying to be dynamic with the course.”
Curtis last claimed the Jackson King of Kings title in 2017 and entered the weekend with two Triple Crown wins under his belt already this year.
He’ll look to bring even more titles back to the Treasure State with him this year, with four more stops left this season.
Outside Curtis’ dominant showing, Smoot’s Shelley Balls claimed the Queen of Queens championship; Jackson’s Shad Free took a victory in the pro master’s improved division; and Kalispell, Montana’s Les Keller and Wisdom, Montana’s Sam Peterson each claimed two classification titles.