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athlete climbing a mountain side on a snowmobileUniversity of Montana Western alumnus and world champion snowmobile competitor Keith Curtis manages to balance being a Dean’s List student with his passion for snowmobile hill climbing.

Curtis first became hooked on snowmobile hill climbing in 1998 after he won his first race at Maverick Mountain outside of Polaris, Mont. Following his initial win he competed intermittently for nine years before going professional on the Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Hillclimb Association (RMSHA) circuit for the last four years. He has been a Polaris Factory Racer since 2008 and was recently promoted to be one of the few terrain dominators for Polaris Industries.

“I enjoy motor sports because I like to press the limitations of machines and myself,” Curtis stated. “I not only have to master my style but I have to learn the machine in and out to be successful.”

Curtis has become one of the best at mastering the machines he rides, knowing his own limitations and reading the hills he races. Considering the difficulty hill climbing courses possess, knowing how the courses are formatted and how to navigate them is vital to winning.

Hill climbing is set up with censored timers at the bottom and top of the mountain with 15 to 20 gates set up between the start and finish lines of the courses for the racers to maneuver around. Within the courses there are also a series of obstacles including five foot trenches, large headwalls, hard and soft snow, jumps, and large holes. The courses are held at an extremely steep accent on hills that can have as much as 1,571 feet of vertical rise.

There are three divisions in RMSHA: Stock, Improved and Modified. Within each division there are five classes that can be entered: 600, 700, 800, 1000 and Pro Masters.  The winner of each class gets a chance to win king of the hill whether it is Stock King, Improved King or Modified King.

“The classes I run are Stock 600, Stock 700, Stock 800, Stock 1000 & Open Mod,” Curtis added. “I prefer running stock because manufacturers pay more for contingency and there is less seasonal work required on sleds.”

Curtis races several different Polaris sleds including a 2011 RMK 600, a 2009 RMK 700, a Stock 2011 RMK ASSAULT 800, and a Mod 2011 RMK ASSAULT 800. No matter the sled or the course, Curtis has proven himself to be a top competitor.

His list of accomplishments includes the 2008 “King of Kings” and “Stock King” titles in the Jackson Hole World Championship Hill Climb; eight additional world championship titles; 56 first-place finishes; 22 second-place finishes; six third-place finishes; 11 first-place year-end points titles; nine Stock King titles; and three Modified King titles, two of which are Double Crown honors, meaning he won both Stock King and Modified King.

keith curtis umwDue to his career of winning Curtis has gained over 40 local and national sponsors, including Polaris Industries.

“I took hill climbing to the next level concerning sponsorship,” Curtis said of his numerous sponsors. “I am influencing others to become more concentrated in the sport and to make the sport grow."

Curtis also said by competing while being a student at Montana Western he is helping to show other athletes they can compete while getting an education.

Curtis’ knowledge of being a student athlete comes from his own personal experience. He is both an alumnus and a currently enrolled student at Montana Western. He received an associate of science in spring 2010 and is currently earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a management option.

“There are a lot of career paths that can be taken with business,” Curtis explained. “Business ethics is something that can be used every day.”

Dillon has always been Curtis’ hometown and as a result he was well aware of Montana Western’s credibility and their unique Experience One (X1) program. In the X1 program students focus on one class at a time, three hours per day, for a period of 18 days before moving on to another class. The combination of these things made enrolling at Montana Western three years ago an easy choice for Curtis.

“The block schedule is extremely flexible and allows me to take blocks off while I am competing,” Curtis commented. “I don’t have the stress load to worry about while racing due to the three-and-a-half-week courses.”

Curtis made the Montana Western Dean’s List in fall 2009 and fall 2010 despite his hectic schedule of training and competing.

“It takes dedication to accomplish, but it is 100 percent doable,” Curtis added about making the Dean’s List while competing professionally on the RMSHA circuit. “Even when I am not competing I am training, which includes riding motorcycles and staying in tip-top shape.”

Curtis’ spring schedule is already booked with competitions. He recently finished a hill climb in Afton, Wyo. and he competes again on March 12 and 13, 2011 at Lost Trail Ski Area 20 miles West of Wisdom, Mont. Following his Lost Trail competition is the major event for the year, the Jackson Hole World Championship Hill Climb held in Jackson Hole, Wyo. This event takes place from March 24 to 27, 2011. The Jackson Hole World Championship is the only competition in which the three kings run against each other determining the prestigious “King of Kings” honor. Curtis said the 26th and 27th are the most entertaining days for anyone wishing to attend.

While Curtis remains intent on competing professionally he has not forgotten to look to the future. He intends to stay competitive in the racing world while trying to find the perfect job to keep him occupied in the off season. In the meantime, he continues to work on earning a degree in business administration and intends to graduate in fall 2012.

“I would like to own my own business, mastering some sort of trade,” Curtis stated. “Until then I would like to use my degree to work with Polaris Industries throughout different parts of the company.”