‘Snow drags’ speed into Vail Valley | VailDaily.com

‘Snow drags’ speed into Vail Valley

Special to the Vail DailyVail Valley: A pair of racers fly past the finish line at last year's Eagle Valley Snow Drags at 4Eagle Ranch north of Wolcott. This year's event is set for Feb. 6 at 4Eagle. Racing starts at 9:30 a.m. and goes pretty much all day.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Throughout human history, people have asked a handful of basic questions:

“What are we going to eat today?”

“Where will we sleep?”

“Do you think you’re faster than me?”

Several dozen bundled-up humans will try to answer the “who’s faster” question Saturday at the Holy Cross Powder Hounds’ third annual Eagle Valley Snow Drags at 4Eagle Ranch north of Wolcott.

Gusty and Jill Kanakis of Minturn have been racing snowmobiles on and off for more than 20 years. The sport was pretty popular in sledding circles in the 1980s and into the ’90s, but then sort of dropped off the map. When some of their fellow powder hounds suggested sponsoring a drag-racing event a few years ago, the Kanakises jumped at the chance.

“It’s just exhilarating,” Jill Kanakis said. “You hit the gas, bolt off the line and just hang on.”

The Kanakises each have an 800cc machine that they ride trails and, when they can, down the 550-foot dragstrips on race days. Gusty, the family mechanic, adjusts the machines for their different roles by tinkering with clutches, carburetors and the like. The end result is machines that will get to about 80 mph in the space of less than two football fields.

The open-class machines are even faster. Those full-on race sleds – some packing more than 300 horsepower, a number that sounds good in a car – can hit speeds approaching 100 mph.

“They actually had to shorten the track to slow down the open-class machines,” Gusty Kanakis said.

While the open-class machines post the big numbers, there’s a racing class for virtually anyone who shows up.

Powder Hounds President Lance Trujillo said there are 37 racing classes for riders and machines from beginners riding bone-stock sleds to experts riding massively-modified racers.

“Some people bring trailers full of sleds,” Trujillo said. “And only a few people will ride in just one class.”

With a $30 entry fee per class entered, that means some riders are writing some pretty big entry-fee checks. But that money goes into a pot to pay for trophies, a post-race banquet and some modest purses for the winners.

Mostly, though, the races are just a load of fun.

Trujillo, whose family has lived in the valley for the better part of 100 years, grew up on snowmobiles in the mountains around Minturn and Red Cliff. He’s happy for the chance to get in a little flat-field riding at 4Eagle.

Jill Kanakis likes 4Eagle, too, and lavished praise on owner Tom Backhus for his hospitality.

“He’s really part of our success,” she said. “The location’s ideal – we’ve had a lot of compliments about it. And Tom does breakfast for the racers, and lunch for the racers and spectators, and a dinner for the racers. It’s been great.”

And, Gusty Kanakis said, the snow on the 4Eagle meadows is surprisingly good right now.

“You wouldn’t know it from looking around at Wolcott,” he said. “We could use a few inches, but there’s probably about a foot of snow out there now.”

Gusty Kanakis and other club members are grooming the course, and it promises to be fast, unless the coming week brings just tons of snow.

Now all the event needs is riders.

The Powder Hounds’ first event in 2008 brought 100 riders or so, and a good time was had by all. Last year, though, only about 50 riders showed up, due mostly to the slumping economy.

Sponsors are harder to come by, too, Trujillo said.

But in some ways, last year’s event made progress.

“We’ve done more with it,” Trujillo said. “We’re more efficient in how we do it.”

While everyone’s hoping plenty of racers come this year – and there are still some sponsorship opportunities available – Trujillo said what’s always the same is the fun.

“People come to watch, and then they want to get out and ride,” he said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

Where: 4Eagle Ranch, north of Wolcott

When: Feb. 6. Racing starts at 9:30 a.m. and goes pretty much all day.

Admission: Free for spectators, $30 per class entered for racers.

More info: http://www.holycrosspowderhounds.com.

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