SOUTHINGTON – Take snowmobiling, add a heavy dose of motocross and put it on the slopes of Mount Southington.
East Coast Snocross (ECS) did just that this past weekend for the second year in a row. A few hundred competitors from across New England came toting high-performance snowmobiles, snow bikes and all their essential tools and gear. They spent two days zooming around tight turns and soaring over high jumps on the mountain.
Middletown resident Dave Blachura converted his dirt bike into a snow bike for the competition’s newest class, which just opened in 2016.
“In the summer I’ll put the wheels back on,” he said Sunday. “It makes a one-season toy last all year long.”
Blachura was among a small group of Connecticut residents who took part in the event. Most competitors drove down from New Hampshire, Vermont, upstate New York and northern Mass. The snocross community is tight-knit and many know each other from past years’ events as well as motocross, which some compete in during the warmer months.
“We have guys who have been racing with us for 20 years,” ECS representative Mark Pillsbury pointed out. “They started when they were kids.”
Mt. Southington was the sixth of eight stops in the 2018 season tour, which began Jan. 20 in Winchester, NH.
“This is a great venue,” Pillsbury added.
Spectators huddled behind the gates to watch performance-enhanced sleds fly over jumps and kick up the last powder of the season on the ski area’s closing weekend. The stakes were highest for professional racers Mike Pilotte and Leo Patenaude, who knocked each other in and out of the top spot both days.
“I love the competitiveness of racing,” said the 28-year-old Pilotte, who lives in Northwood, New Hampshire.
He started out Sunday 16 points behind Patenude, who won the pro class Saturday. But the stakes can change at the drop of a snowflake, as they know all too well.
Racers not only battle each other, but also Mother Nature, and the machines themselves.
Patenude had a bit of an upset late morning, but nothing he couldn’t come back from.
“I just blew a belt in my last race so I’m dealing with that right now,” he explained, cleaning the sled’s clutches inside his trailer.
The Hartland, VT native races for Ingles Performance, one of about 20 teams to take part in ECS this year. Pilotte represents Polaris.
After the sun goes down and sleds go to bed in trailers, competitors gather for some friendly revelry.
“We are pretty good friends,” Patenude said of he and Pilotte. “We have fun out there and try to put on a good show for everybody.”
Area snowmobile enthusiasts also brought their sleds to the mountain this weekend to take a stab at Snocross. This group competed in the trail class.
“It’s fun to come out and practice,” Watertown resident Tadas Race said. “I came out last year too. It’s a great event with a good showing.”
Twelve-year-old Josh Connolly, from Hampton, NH, was excited to hit the slopes.
“I like the pressure,” he said. “And how the track is always changing.”
Next weekend racers will set up shop at Peek’n Peak Ski Resort in Clymer, NY. The ECS season closes out in the Berkshires April 7-8 at Bousquet Mtn. Ski Area in Pittsfield, Mass.
Erica Schmitt can be reached a 860-801-5097, @schmittnbh or firstname.lastname@example.org.