RUMFORD — It was 5 degrees above zero on Saturday afternoon when the first Black Mountain Hill Climb snowmobile racers started their runs up the 1,200-foot Lower Androscoggin Trail course.

Despite the chill, the first such race of the season attracted more than 110 racers to the ski hill from across Maine, southern New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, said Jim Carter, Black Mountain’s general manager and a racing official.

The event gave snowmobilers a chance to ride on 12 to 18 inches of packed snow, he said.

“The first run is usually the best because it’s the first one of the season and none of the snowmobile trails are open, so a lot of sledders like to come out and get on their sleds and run them up the hill,” Carter said. “It’s a very good draw at the start of the season to kick it off.”

The ski area doesn’t open for the season until Saturday, Dec. 21, but Black Mountain has been making snow while temperatures have been conducive. Lower Androscoggin Trail, one of the steepest trails on the mountain, is the first to receive man-made snow so the ski area can host snowmobile races on it.

“There’s no damage done to the trail with the sleds,” Carter said. “The snow’s there, but we’re not ready to open for skiing, so this is revenue income for the mountain.”

Taking a break between runs, racer Dan Thompson of Chelsea said he was in the top five after two runs on two sleds in different classes. His main strategy was to find a smooth passage up the trail with relatively few moguls or bumps and good traction.

“You’ve just got to watch everybody else and pick a good line and go for it, and it changes all the time,” Thompson said. “Try to stay out of the moguls as much as you can. I mean, you can’t do that for all of it, but you can take the smoothest route.”

He said he almost flipped his F7 Arctic Cat over backward while hitting a mogul and “going pretty good.”

The overall trick is to open the throttle and hang on. “Give it all she’s got and see if you can hold it the whole way.”

Thompson said he doesn’t normally do hill climbs. He does snowmobile drag racing.

“But we’re just here having fun,” he said.

After the first two runs, Thompson said he was in second place with his 2005 F5 trail sled and in third place with his 2003 F7 trail sled. He said he was running straight gas from the pump at whatever the octane happens to be.

Carter said he sees Black Mountain’s hill climb competitions as a means to entice snowmobilers to the mountain. He said many of them also ski. Additionally, one of the main snowmobile trails comes right to the ski area’s doorstep, so sledders can stop at the lodge for food and to warm up, he said.

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