At Royal Mountain Ski Resort on Sunday, smooth powder was replaced with chunks of dirt, and the scraping of ski poles against the snow was replaced with the buzzing of dirt bike engines.
Competitors from across the Northeast made their way to Royal Mountain this weekend for the 35th year of the Hill Climb, an event in which dirt bike and all-terrain vehicle riders attempt to drive 600 feet up the lodge's steepest ski hill. Participants ranged in age from about 6 to 60, most of whom had been a part of the event in Caroga Lake before.
“We had to find something to do with the ski area in the off-season, since the lodge is open year-round,” Royal Mountain owner Jim Blaise said.
The Hill Climb grows in popularity each year, he said, and this year attracted about 200 riders. Participants are spread across 20 classes, which are based on the rider’s age and bike size.
Riders hailed from Sharon Springs, Little Falls, Johnstown, Rotterdam and points in Central New York, while many came from out of state, including riders from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Maine.
The climb is held on “The Royal,” which is Royal Mountain’s expert ski slope in the winter. One at a time, riders revved their engines from the base, kicked up a cloud of dust and surged up the hill, hitting a few dirt mounds along the way to try to pick up speed.
Wayne Wnuk, a participant from Amsterdam, rode in the senior 450 cc division. He’s been coming to the event for the past 12 years, he said, and participates in other motocross events around the state.
Wnuk rides for a cause, raising money before and after each event for breast cancer research in honor of his wife, who survived the disease. After he finished his ride on Sunday, he set up at a table in the ski lodge offering shirts, stickers and hats, with proceeds getting donated.
“It’s a different experience,” he said of the Hill Climb compared to other events he takes part in. “You’ve got to have endurance, balance and horsepower, and you’ve got to look at the track and know when to use the horsepower.”
In most cases, riders made it up the mountain in about 15 to 20 seconds, with some of the fastest times clocking in between 10 to 12 seconds. Those unable to keep control of their bike or ATV often veered to the right of the mountain, and in some cases, were unable to make it to the top.
The crowd “oooohed” and “ahhhhed” as one ATV rider made it about 400 feet up before the machine flipped up onto its back wheels, came back down and stalled.
“This could get ugly,” the PA announcer said of another competitor who veered right and ultimately failed to make it all the way up.
The event is spectator-friendly as well, Blaise said, evidenced by the hundreds of people gathered at the base of the hill to take in Sunday’s festivities. Many riders will show up in Caroga Lake a day early and camp out in the parking lot, Blaise said. Many had coolers, grills and tents set up not far from the mountain.
“It’s a great event; it’s one where you can sit back and watch the entire thing,” Blaise said. “It’s a little different than most.”
Some attendees said they were there to support a friend or family member racing up the hill, while others have simply made the event a part of their summer schedule. One pair of spectators, from Scotia, said they were at their fourth or fifth Hill Climb, with the main reason for attending being that it’s something fun to do.
“Would you rather be sitting in your house, or out here with the sun and a nice breeze?” one man asked.