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Snowmobilers' momentum sends them airborne at the end of the hill climb. Top photo: Hill Climb Director Jason Harmon elevates at Anthony.  (Anthony Lakes photos).
Snowmobilers' momentum sends them airborne at the end of the hill climb. Top photo: Hill Climb Director Jason Harmon elevates at Anthony. (Anthony Lakes photos).

- Dick Mason

- The Observer

The steepest snowmobile competition in Northeast Oregon will have a new twist — a level playing field.

The event is the annual Anthony Lakes Hill Climb. On April 21 snowmobilers will again make timed solo runs up the Rock Garden. The difference this year, though, is that snow conditions will not give some riders an unfair advantage.

Previously, competitors who drew early runs had a major edge because they got to ride on smoother, not yet chewed up snow.

This problem is a thing of the past thanks to the efforts of hill climb Director Jason Harmon, who has installed right and left lanes on the course.

Racers will go up the left hand lane during their first run and the right hand one on their second run.

The rider who goes up the left hand lane first, in the smoothest snow, will go up the right hand lane last, in the most chewed up snow.

Riders, in other words, will go up the right hand lane in reverse order of how they went up the left hand lane.

"We wanted to make it fairer,'' said Harmon, the owner of Harmon Racing Productions.

Snowmobilers on both routes will speed through an obstacle course and then climb up the Rock Garden run to the top of the ski area.

About 150 riders are expected for this year's hill climb, up from the 135 a year ago. Harmon expects more racers because poor snow conditions have forced the cancellation of many snowmobile hill climbs in the Northwest. Anthony Lakes, though, has a good snow base, which will attract racers who could not compete at other races.

James competes in the Ski Anthony Lakes hill climb every year and hopes to compete this year although a schedule conflict may prevent him from participating.

James said that it is important to have a late model snowmobile to do well at the Anthony Lakes hill climb.

"They have better suspensions, are lighter and handle better,'' James said.

Riders with snowmobiles made in the mid-1990s can also make it up Anthony Lakes. However, they will not do well competitively, James said.

A highlight for spectators comes at the end of each run. Many snowmobilers become airborne at the top of the course because of their momentum. Some annually delight spectators by reaching heights of 15 to 20 feet. The jumps may not win racers points but do win cheers from spectators.

The jumps also can land riders in the hospital. Several years ago one rider injured his leg so seriously following a bad landing that today he no longer is able to race snowmobiles, Harmon said.

The jumps are not necessary because the course ends before riders reach the crest of the mountain. Still, look for racers to become airborne.

"They are thrill seekers,'' Harmon said.

Snowmobilers who want to win the race will need to concentrate on strategies like making tight turns on the obstacle course, James said. Some racers make the mistake of going too fast around corn ers, which causes them to swing wide and lose time. Anything that costs even a fraction of a second is critical since 1/10th or 1/100th of a second often separates one rider from the next in the final standings.

"You don't have time to waste time,'' James said.

Riders must make two runs at this year's event. The times of each rider's runs will be combined to determine the final standings. This is different from previous years when riders could make two runs and throw out their slowest time. The problem with this system is that riders who would get a fast initial time would often not run again, Harmon said.

Registration for this year's race will be from 8 to 10 a.m. A riders meeting starts at 11 a.m., and the snowmobile runs begin at noon. Registration is $25 for those who preregister by Monday. The fee after Monday will be $40.

To register or for information call Harmon at 910-3898. Information is also available at www.anthonylakes.com.

Harmon's name is familiar to more than snowmobile racers. The La Grande resident is also highly regarded for his talents as a jet skier. He won the Pro Open 1200 Class for the Pacific Northwest (jet ski) Tour in 2006.

The April 21 hill climb is the last of a series of five snowmobile competitions put on by Harmon at Anthony Lakes this year. He does make money from the races but mainly puts them on because of his passion for snowmobile racing.

Snowmobile competitions like the hill climb provide riders a chance to unwind during the weekend.

"It's a lot of fun. It gives people a chance to blow off steam after a hard work week.''

A race also boosts adrenaline levels in those with a need for speed.

As James said, "You always get a rush from the competition.''


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