Bucket List: Jackson Hole Hill Climb!
Mark This One Off the Bucket-List: Jackson Hole Hill Climb!
By Penny Brake
The winter of 2010 was not the most exhilarating season for two avid snowmobilers like Kirk Hastings (my spouse) and I (Penny Brake). Heading to “The Rock” (Newfoundland) before Christmas, we had expectations of months of frolicking in the mountains of Western Newfoundland – Not likely! We got rained out for four days in Goose Bay in February. And in Labrador City (NL) the unthinkable happened, Cain’s Quest was cancelled as a result of no sea ice and no snow in the Northern part of Labrador. So what do you think we did?
We jumped on a bird and went to visit our old buddy and fellow Cain’s Quest racer, Rex Hibbert and his wife Pam, in Soda Springs, Idaho. We timed this visit with the 35th Annual Jackson Hole World Championship Hill Climb. It has been a dream of both of ours to see this event, and with the lack of adrenaline rushes last winter, we knew we would get our fix here. This is definitely a trip to mark off the old bucket list. Doing this trip was incredible; getting to experience it with a past King of the Hill, Rex Hibbert, was a delight.
The descent into Salt Lake City (Utah), flying over the Bonneville Salt Flats and the mountains is absolutely breathtaking. Kirk, a flatlander from Ontario, and I, from “The Rock” with the Lewis Hills at 2671 feet above sea level, were very curious about the elevation. Just on the “flats” we were at 4315 feet above sea level, I then knew why it was a little more difficult to get a breath.
Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to Idaho we go! In our short visit, we managed to cross three states – our idea of a road trip. Soda Springs (ID), the destination, reminded me of Radiator Springs in the movie Cars, and it even had its very own “Tow Mater”. At this point, the only snow was on the peaks of the mountains. Up where neither love nor money could entice me to ride.
Upon arriving at Rex’s ranch (he has his own mountain, how cool is that) we found snow and we did ride. Rex had a barn full of Arctic Cat sleds just waiting to be ridden. With the mountains full of snow and a boil-up, Idaho style, this made for an awesome prelude to our main event, the Jackson Hole World Championship Hill Climb. To cap our awesome day, we spent the evening in the outdoor hot springs. Everyone deserves to have one of those in their back yard.
We had an early rise to make the two hour trek to Jackson Hole (WY) the next morning. On the drive, if you squinted (like my Mom tells me to do with lights on a Christmas tree) you would almost think that you were back in the Wild West. Rex entertained us with tales of horse thieves taking horses into the mountains, rebranding them and bringing them back down to the village for resale; of men with multiple wives, as the Mormon religion is very prevalent in that part of the world. We were having the time of our lives and we weren’t even near the Hill Climbs.
We immediately know we’re in Jackson Hole because all you can hear are the braaaps of the snowmobiles racing up the hill. We couldn’t see anything because the whole mountain was shrouded in fog. We are like dogs with our heads out the window. Our senses are tingling; there is so much to see. We are in awe as we walk around and try to take it all in with one glance. The spectator area is at the base of the hill with a huge jumbo-tron set up next to the massive start area. We set up our chairs and settle in with Rex “King of the Mountain” Hibbert to fulfill a dream. Not bad for a Newfie and a flatlander.
Day one was absolutely awesome. We had great weather, met great people and spent the day with Tucker Hibbert’s uncle Rex on the same day Tucker became the first American to win the FIM Snowcross World Championship in Mala, Sweden. We are in Jackson Hole getting texts from a Doo-Talk friend of Kirk’s in Europe updating us about Tucker’s performance in Sweden. We knew he won long before anyone else in the US even had a clue. It does not get much more interesting than that.
As enjoyable as day one was, there was a little something lacking. I am use to being, as they say, face and eyes into racing events and Kirk, being a Cain’s Quest racer is also use to being up close and personal. We both felt we were not really experiencing the Hill climbs the way they should be experienced. Day two – we signed up to be “hill help”. What is hill help? It is those demented individuals that stand on an almost fully vertical incline and wait for 300 HP sleds to bounce off giant moguls and head straight for them. Now this is what we’re talking about folks – getting involved.
Up in the chair lift we go. We thought it looked steep from the bottom; well we had quite the surprise when we got off the chair lift and made our descent down to the course. My poor Mother, she doesn’t know half the situations I find myself in. When we’re walking down, I realize that if I slip and land on my butt, the snowmobiles will not be the only thing that zooms down the hill and hooks in the safety nets – you might find one Penny there.
We get situated on the mountain and I manage to gouge a little nook in the snow ensuring I do not go down the hill faster than some of those driverless sleds. When I manage to get everything situated I take my first real look at where I am. My first thought is that I must be crazy, but then I am captivated by the absolutely breathtaking view that is spread out in front of me. What an absolutely fabulous part of the world, but wait, why do I hear the roar of a snowmobile engine.
Quickly snapped out of my daydream of the past, I realize where I am again, just in time to be staring at a massive studded track and belly pan heading straight for me, no wait, it didn’t make that last mogul and now it was starting to go to the side. I know that the role of hill help is to rush out and grab the ski of rogue sleds to prevent them from flipping end over end to the bottom, but there was not a chance I was getting near that gnarled piece of metal. Off Kirk runs though, so I reckoned I would live that experience vicariously through him.
That afternoon we both experienced a thrill of a lifetime. We may have lost some adrenaline rushes from not doing Cain Quests, but we sure made up for them on that hill in Jackson Hole. The determination and stamina of these men are something to be truly admired. I will gladly admit that not once did I ever rush out to grab the ski of an out of control sled, but I could not imagine having gone to this event and not volunteering as hill help.
We sat on that hill with Rex and picked his brains about what thoughts were rushing through his mind when he did the race. You know most people look at racer’s and think there are no strategic thought patterns to their madness. Not so. Racers that set out to accomplish something like this are very methodical and this was witnessed that day by a Newfie and a Flatlander on a very steep hill in Wyoming. This event is definitely something that needs to be on every snowmobile enthusiast’s bucket list and was an experience we will never soon forget.