C&A Pro Skis athletes Levi LaVallee (Open Class) and Tony Smith (Ditchbanger Class) took home the hardware at the inagural Red Bull Snow Boundaries extreme cross-country race, capping a day in which expectations for this one-off showcase were blown away.
Weather leading up to the event had been hit and miss leaving everyone in wonder of how the race would play out. The occasional cold snap allowed the staff of ERX Motorpark in Elk River, Minnesota to make snow throughout the eight mile loop, but rising temps and driving rain just days before the race took a hefty toll on their efforts. Despite this, the course remained highly raceable with conditions only adding to the challenge of day.
The Open Racer class featured a down-to-the-wire battle that pitted some of the best snocross racers in the world against the absolute best cross-country riders. However, the real story was the Ditchbanger class of more than 150 true-blue weekend warriors entering machines of just about every vintage from the last 20 years. The vibe in the pit area as these riders lined up for their site lap was reminiscent of the old I-500 with plenty of nerves, trash talk and camaraderie.
Racers left the snocross portion of the track in groups of five, every five seconds. After exiting the snocross “stadium” area the course made its way into a large bowl where competitors navigated more of an outdoor motocross style section before making their way into the woods and swamps. From the first lap on, spectators were able to witness large clusters of racers jockeying for position; some at race speed, some in relative survival mode. Two-thirds of the way into a lap, riders encountered the gravel pit portion of the course which proved to be the most challenging as it combined high-speeds, lots of water and rapidly deteriorating ponds with multiple land crossings. One such area was diverted near the end of the Ditchbanger race when the approaches back onto the ice opened up beyond a safe gap.
The top Ditchbangers completed their race in just over 45 minutes with Anthony Smith getting the win over David Fischer and Jared Jereczek, each representing a different brand of snowmobile on the podium.
The pace in the Open Racer class was considerably faster right from the start. Snocrosser Ryan Springer jumped out to an early lead from his from his front row starting position, trying to put a gap on USXC Champ Zach Herfindahl who was considered the favorite and starting from five rows back.
Herfindahl dispatched of the early leaders in lightning fashion, making his way to the front by the second lap. “The first lap I just kept it pegged,” said Herfindahl. I’m like I’m starting in row five, I’ve gotta get to the front.” The strategy may have backfired, however, as Herfindahl who is young and as fit as they get, suffered major arm pump as the race progressed. To make matters worse, he had to pitch his goggles with four laps remaining. “I keep a spare set under my windshield, but the windshield was gone from all the roost.”
While Herfindahl was clicking off laps, Springer and teammate Andrew Carlson were battling behind him. Levi LaVallee would get by the 151 of Carlson in the mid stages when he started to have his own struggles with fatigue. “I came into the fuel stop and my arms were so pumped up I couldn’t even restart my sled,” said Carlson. Once these guys went by I just started riding for fun again and it came back to me.”
Springer continued at a torrid pace before he had mechanical issues blowing a belt in the closing stages. For LaVallee, who is one of the most versatile snowmobile athletes of all time, Snow Boundaries marked his first return to cross-country since he was 16. “I tried to race the I-500 that year and made it 39 miles onto the lake and blew up my sled,” he said with a laugh. After that was when we switched to snocross, so it’s been a long time. I remember it being a lot easier on my body.”
All three podium finishers were visibly gassed at the end. In fact, it was almost comical watching them hoist their custom-built Snow Boundaries trophies during the awards presentation as each struggled to hold them over their heads for more than a couple of photos.
The balance of the top 10 Open racers was a pretty even mix of snocross and cross-country specialist. Justin Tate who has split his career in both disciplines was fourth followed by snocrosser Cole Cottew in fifth. The entire Cottew Motorsports group was well represented as teammates Travis Muller and Mitchell Thelen were scored eighth and tenth respectively. Arctic Cat’s Wes Selby, who is currently battling for the championship in USXC cross-country made a last minute change to his setup which he felt may have hampered his ride to a sixth place.
The other big winners at this event were the fans. Warm temps and the overall experience you get with a Red Bull promoted event combined for a perfect afternoon at the track. Organizers were hoping to attract upwards of 3,500 spectators for the race which was free to attend. By the time the Ditchbanger round was about to take flight the numerous parking lots that dot the ERX complex were packed to the gills and it has been estimated that over 4,800 fans came out for the day.
Internet chatter following the race points to an even larger turnout of racers and fans in the future. Now that the groundwork has been laid, Snow Boundaries appears to have already established itself as one of the those bucket list events for snowmobilers of all walks.
Words & Pics: Gary Walton