At Red River, it’s not just about making it up the hill – it’s how fast you can accomplish the trip.
After taking a year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Race the Face Snowmobile Hill Climb will return to the resort town located in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains on Jan. 15. The event is best described as a single sled run up the mountain on a snowmobile, with riders of all levels welcome to participate.
“It’s just a single drag race, one machine at a time up the face and it’s timed. Each machine, they get two runs, and we take the best time of those two runs,” Red River Ski & Summer Area Marketing Manager Reed Weimer said.
The race features five classifications – stock (no modifications), pro stock (modified exhaust systems and intake specifications), modified (modified engine specifications), open (all modifications allowed, along with nitrous and turbo) and Timbersled snow bike – and is limited to 40 sleds in total. Registration costs $40 per entry, and the event typically sells out, with racers arriving from throughout the region for a 4 p.m. start time. The course is approximately 500 feet long – though that distance can vary from year to year.
“It’s not an exact science by any means,” Weimer said.
A traditional drag race format involves two vehicles going head-to-head, with the winner advancing in a tournament format until one remains. In this version, however, the course is too narrow to allow that type of competition.
“That’s our No. 1 request we get from a lot of the racers is a side-by-side drag race, but the face is a little bit too narrow in order to do that safely,” Weimer said. “It’s a point of risk and reward and liability.”
The open class tends to produce the fastest times and some of the most interesting machines. Weimer recalls one racer from Oklahoma who is a multiple-time winner in that division, who has occasionally finished the course in under eight seconds.
“It was pretty much like a handbuilt frame, like out of two materials: a small seat and just a motor. There was nothing else to it,” Weimer said. “We see a lot of nitrous in our turbo sleds in open … It’s not super common, but depending on how fast they take off, they’ll actually dislocate their shoulder with the amount of torque they put out on these things.
“Calling it a snowmobile would be a stretch.”
There are others who take the snowmobile circuit even further, as Weimer says several locals travel to compete in events overseen by the Rocky Mountain States Hill Climb Association (RMSHA, or “Rim-Shaw”), “an organization that creates, operates and manages snowmobile hillclimb racing events in the Rocky Mountain Region of the United States,” according to its website. The Red River iteration is not sanctioned, but bragging rights and a cash prize for winners are incentive enough.
The race isn’t only for professionals with flashy sleds. Plenty of beginners traverse the mountain as well, typically at the helm of factory-issued snowmobiles.
“One of our local’s moms will race every year on a very basic machine just for fun,” Weimer said. “A lot of those people will fall into the stock class because they’re not doing anything to modify their sleds to increase times. They’re just kind of, ‘Let me see how fast my snowmobile will go up this hill and have fun at the same time.’ ”
Ultimately, fun is the name of the game. Spectators line the track or set up on the outdoor deck at The Grill at the Lift House, which is an ideal viewing point. After the race concludes, the Torchlight Parade and fireworks show commences at 7 p.m., so visitors can make an evening of the festivities.
“I’m excited to get back to hosting some events this year,” Weimer said.