Tony Ryan: Entering my first RMSHA Snowmobile hillclimb races

By BCA sled ambassador Mike Duffy

Sledder Tony Ryan was the first BCA snowmobile ambassador in the Midwest. He has traveled extensively to ride in the western U.S. and completed level I and II avalanche training from the Silverton Avalanche School.

Tony is so addicted to mountain riding that he moved to Utah and entered his first Rocky Mountain States Hillclimb Association (RMSHA) races this past winter. The RMSHA snowmobile hillclimb race series is comprised of stock, improved stock and mod classes from 600cc to Open Mod. The 2018 season had excellent races scheduled in five states.

Many of us have wanted to give snowmobile hillclimb racing a try.  Read this interview with Tony Ryan and his perspectives on what it is like and how he got started.  The 2019 RMSHA snowmobile hillclimb race series kicks off in two weeks on January 19 in Utah and registration is now open!

A little about yourself. Where are you from, age, occupation, years snowmobiling?
I grew up in SE MN, beautiful Lake City, MN to be exact, but have been in WI for roughly 15 years from the start of college till this winter. I am 34 years young, work as an Estimator/Project Manager for a welding company.  I have been snowmobiling since I bought my 1972 Moto Ski Capri 440 in 6th grade, so 21 years already.

Do you have any previous snowmobiling racing experience?
A have done a few radar runs and unsanctioned snocross races. I also ran pick-up trucks in demolition derbies for eight years. RMSHA Hillclimbs and cross-country snowmobile racing have always intrigued me.

What made you want to enter an RMSHA hillclimb race?
I am a backcountry snowmobiler always looking to progress my level of riding. I seek the next new challenges within the sport I love. Oh, and I watched the Jackson Hole, WY hillclimbs in person and knew it was time to try it and quit just thinking about it.

What RMSHA race did you enter and which class?
My first race was hosted for the first time at the Tamarack Resort in Donnelly, ID where I entered the Amateur Improved Stock and Modified classes, both with a 900cc limit.

The cost to enter?
Each class is between $65-100 depending on the competition level. Plus there is an ISR insurance card and an RMSHA membership card. They do have discounted ISR/RMSHA membership cards for a one weekend use only. ($30/95 respectively)

What sled did you use?
2018 Ski-Doo Summit X 165 with a 3” paddle track and no traction screws. Stock performance other than aftermarket rails and shocks which put in into the Improved Stock and Mod classes only.

What protective gear is required?
A 360-degree coverage chest protector, shin/knee guards, and a helmet.

What did you do to prepare your sled?
For the rules, I made a new snow flap, took off the ice scratchers and made some ski brakes. For set up I played around with the clutching for the lower elevation, the suspension for the jumping, cornering and harder snow. And, I just made sure my sled was running in good mechanical order.

Did you practice ahead of time or get some practice runs in at the race?
I did make my own smaller course in the backcountry that included a terraced hill course and an iced-over, and trenched-out course features the pros have been making in the backcountry for years. Both challenged me in different ways but were very beneficial in preparing myself on about a week’s notice. They do not allow anyone to go on the track before their run, except on foot.

What was your strategy for the first race?
Tamarack was a very fast and long track with sweeping corners so I set my sled up as wide and stiff as I could in the front end. I knew I just needed to keep up as much momentum as possible through the corners because I didn’t have the top end or the acceleration as the shorter sleds.

How did your first RMSHA hillclimb race go?
My first race went very well in my opinion. I qualified in both classes and finished with a 5th in Improved Stock and a 2nd in Modified. The following competition in Grand Targhee also went pretty good with a qualifying 3rd place finish in Semi-Pro Modified.

Do mountain riding skills transfer to hillclimb racing?
My backcountry riding skills definitely helped me on the track. Being able to hang a leg in the corner on pretty set up snow at full throttle wouldn’t have happened without that aggressive backcountry experience. Also having about 1500 miles on that sled this year made me extremely comfortable on it, which helped greatly.

Does your snocross experience help?
I have minimal actual snocross experience, but I have always liked hitting mild to moderate jumps. Having this familiarity gave me an edge over some of the competitors in the areas of the course that had some jumps.

Was the hillclimb race series harder or easier than you expected?
It was probably about what I expected. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew I could be decent at it with some hard work and seat time.

How did your body feel after the race?
My body was cold and wet from standing in the rain all day, but I would recommend stretching before each run. Even though I did, I was still a bit stiff and sore, which is not something that happens very often for me in the backcountry.

What do you have to work on to be more successful in hillclimb racing?
Visualization, learning to read the track during my pre-run track walk and translating it all into a planned, clean and well-executed run.  And I would like to work on my sled set-up and selection. I think a 154, shorter paddles and screws would make a considerable improvement.

Any damage to the sled?
Thankfully I don’t think I had any sled damage other than a bent running board to go with my bruised heel from an overshot landing.

Would you do a RMSHA hillclimb race again?
Absolutely, I am already registered and training for this season.

What was the second RMSHA hillclimb race you entered and classes?
Grand Targhee Ski Resort outside of Alta, WY. I bumped up to Semi-Pro and entered Stock, Improved Stock, and Modified.

How did it go?
Overall I think it went well. The frozen hill in the morning made it a struggle to even make it to the top of the hill with the stocker and no screws; then I had some driver errors in the Improved Stock class. I ended up not qualifying in those two classes but finished with a 3rd in the Modified class which felt like a near-perfect run for the equipment I had.  I also ran Imp. Stock and Mod in the “Locals” class afterward for a little extra seat time. I got to run the Pro lane for the Mod class, which was a whole new challenge with how deep the ruts and trenches were (and having had never walked the track).

I heard you borrowed a sled. How did you ever talk anyone into that?
I did borrow a sled from a good friend during my second weekend of racing so I could run the Stock class. I am not sure if she is crazy in letting me use it or if she has just seen me wreck enough times to know that I never let go of the sled, giving her confidence in my abilities. I am just glad I didn’t have to fix either sled after the race.

Any changes to set-up or preparation on your behalf?
I believe a shorter lug track and traction screws would help tremendously. I am also going to try to go to a shorter 154 for next year. I also need to find a way to calm my nerves, but I am pretty sure that isn’t ever going to happen.

Any offseason plans to prepare yourself?
I have been getting into dirt biking this summer as a method of cross-training and a summertime distraction. I really think all of the single track riding I am doing will help me next year with balance, reactions, instincts, and fitness.

Can anyone do a snowmobile hillclimb race?
I would say anyone that is up for a challenge can try. I would recommend looking into seeing which snowmobile hillclimb events have a “Locals” class and enter those. I believe they are $50 a class and $30 for a one event ISR card. Local snowmobile hillclimb events are Pathe cheapest and easiest way to see if you like it. Participating in a local hillclimb event will also help save some money and modifications due to not having to comply with all of the RMSHA rules.

Any tips?
If you are serious, spend some time getting comfortable hitting small jumps and make a practice course in the backcountry.
Talk to a racer that’s on your brand sled or in your area for general ideas and rules to make sure you don’t miss any.
Read through all of the ISR and RMSHA rules to make sure you comply.  Have fun and don’t be scared, not all of the courses are as intimidating as Jackson!.

Anyone you would like to thank?
The list of awesome people that helped make these two RMSHA snowmobile hillclimb races possible for me is quite long, but here are a few: Lisa Guyre, Scott and Jill Chapman, The Bledsoe Family, The Arnold Family, Team Lochsa, Jay Mentaberry, Bart Butcher and so many more.  And I’d like to thank my sponsors: Backcountry Access, Rehab Wraps, Motorfist, Sled Head Racing, WhiteOut Technologies

What are your plans for this coming season?
I am working on finding two wrecked Ski-Doo 154 Summits I can fix and race along with an enclosed trailer.
My goal is to win at least one race in all three semi-pro classes and earn a points championship in at least one class.

How can we follow you and see what you’re up to this coming season?
Thank you so much for taking the time to let me share part of my passion. You can find me on Facebook @TonyRyan61 (Tony Ryan – Backcountry Snowmobiler) and Instagram @TonyRyan.

Congratulations to Tony Ryan on a great first season of RMSHA hillclimb races, and thanks for sharing your time and insight with the Backcountry Access sled community. We are looking forward to following your races this year and seeing you in action. Best of luck!  #sendandreturn

See the complete 2019 RMSHA hillclimb race schedule and registration information here.

Photo credits: Ryan Thompson, 801-390-5744