JACKSON, Wyo. — On Sunday evening, Snow King Mountain had started to look less like a snowmobile hill climb venue and something more suitable for a dirt bike.
Time and time again, the rocks and stones, logs and dirt either trapped a championship run dead or sent a rider tumbling back down the hill. The hill claimed a lot of victories over riders, but not over Dillon's Keith Curtis.
Curtis returned to the Jackson Hole World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb last week as the defending champion, having won the King of Kings title last time out in 2019. His run to a repeat came with a challenge on paper – not so much on the hill, though.
The king finals take world champions from across the event and put them together for one last go to crown the top guy, the King of Kings. A modified, improved and stock king are crowned, with the winners then competing against each other in one last final for the overall title.
Curtis could not be denied. The model of efficiency on a sled, alternating between a fierce and physical charge up the hill and a balancing act through the technical top, Curtis swept all three titles to take the triple crown championship and another King of Kings title.
“It’s definitely a team effort to make this happen, and in the end I’m on cloud nine,” he said, moments removed from putting away his autograph pen. “I couldn’t be happier with today’s results … A triple crown, which is amazing.”
The closest a competitor came to ending Curtis’ shot at a triple crown was Justin Thomas of Idaho Falls, Idaho. The 2018 King of Kings winner and this year’s open modified champion made it up Snow King’s rutted face in 1 minute, 23.69 seconds in his kings run.
That was roughly two seconds slower than his open modified title run, where he had beaten Curtis earlier in the day. With the slightest mistake near the top costing him precious seconds, he was well aware Curtis was primed to overtake him and secure the title.
“I knew I left the door open,” he said. “I was hoping (Curtis) would have made a mistake a little bit, but he didn’t, so here we are.”
Indeed, no mistake for Curtis. As the top third of the run became nothing but earth revolting against each rider, the Dillon product navigated it flawlessly, shifting weight from one side to the other like a dancer, a hand always on the throttle putting him further up the mountain. Curtis finished his final run in 1:21.17, good enough for the repeat.
“I’m definitely taking into consideration what kind of times are put down in front of me, I know what I have to do on the hill to make it happen,” Curtis said. “When I saw it was 1:23 I knew I was able to capitalize on it and make it happen.”
Perhaps more than any other snowmobiler, Curtis is in perfect position to survive the terrain when it shows such scars. His offseason consists of mountain biking and dirt bike enduro racing before he’s back to the sleds in winter, charging hills that are usually buried in snow.
“It was gnarlier and more technical than I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “It’s like a hard enduro. When I’m racing dirt bikes in the summer there’s a lot of stuff like this, and we’re racing all over dirt and rocks and logs – when we’re riding nasty stuff on snowmobiles we’re putting these machines to the test and putting the riders to the test.”
Thomas was clearly disappointed not to stifle Curtis’ run and get back to the top, where he was in 2018. But the world championships are clearly Curtis’ for now, and everyone else is chasing.
“Keith is impressive, I just have to keep pushing it and working to get better and raise the level,” Thomas said. “I’m sure Keith will be right there, trying to do the same thing once I get ahead of him.”