Unfounded opinions and preconceived notions are often trademarks of youth (or a lack of experience). So, my belief that the East Coast is flat, old-fashioned, littered with small towns and State capitals and offering little in the way of snow-capped mountains or epic off-road riding locations, was, for lack of a better word, dumb. Yes, I’d ridden motorcycles up this side of the country before with my old man, riding from Florida to New York. And although I’ve spent time in the Big Apple, wandered my way up the Blue Ridge Parkway, strolled the streets of our nation’s capital, and even dodged a few horse-drawn carriages in Eastern Pennsylvania, for some reason, my recollection of the region – Pennsylvania in particular – was of agricultural fields, old brick buildings, Dutch people and Shoofly Pie.
So, when my plane landed in Pittsburgh, a place I’d never been yet judged blindly, I was awestruck at the landscape surrounding the city. Emerald green everything. Big, wandering white clouds lay low overhead, etching a map above me on the brilliant blue backdrop. The city sits at the convergence of three rivers, lined on one side by Mount Washington, a neighborhood that towers above the tall buildings of downtown. My schedule was tight, leaving me only a few hours to explore the city before I needed to head east toward the Seven Springs Mountain Resort where Red Bull was slated to host their second annual Mountain Scramble.
The idea of a ski resort in Pennsylvania seemed kind of counterintuitive to me. Having grown up out West, my idea of a mountain might be a bit different than some other folks. Where I grew up in Washington, Mount Rainier was an ever-present reminder of just how miniscule we truly are, looming over the southern half of the State, bulging at the seams with crystal white snow draped over her like some kind of crown. So, what they call mountains on the East Coast aren’t quite the same as what I’m accustomed to, and yet, as I navigated the Interstate exchanges on my way out of Pittsburgh, my rental Kia pointed south by southeast, I couldn’t help but wonder what lay ahead. The landscape was a mystery to me. Lush, vibrant and emerald green hills ebbed up and down like a ship at sea. I climbed in elevation as I neared Seven Springs. Small towns gave way to sparse intersections, while a few older homes dotted the landscape enroute to the ski lodge.
The tallest point at Seven Springs is a mere 2,994-feet in elevation. Peanuts compared to the Cascade Mountains that I grew up exploring. And yet, the ski slope loomed large above the lodge, a near vertical climb that I would later endure to secure a photo spot. There were 100 UTV racers registered for this year’s Mountain Scramble, separated into two classes, SXS Pro and SXS Sportsman. The race, a five lap sprint around the nearly six-mile long course, would take place on Memorial Day; however, racers would have time the day prior to run a few sighting laps. Of the 100 racers that entered, only 26 would finish all five laps, officially.
Although I wasn’t in attendance the previous year, I overheard stories of just how brutal the course could be from a few of the teams that had competed. There would be steep climbs on both sides of the ski slope, tight turns and fast sweeping corners across the top side of the mountain, and then, without warning, racers would disappear down narrow tree lined two-track, littered with tree stumps and soccer ball sized rocks.
It would be one of those tree stumps, submerged in a muddy puddle, that would trip up Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team’s Mitch Guthrie Jr. Coming off a win at the Snow Scramble earlier this year and starting on the first row of the SXS Pro class, things were looking up. Unfortunately, Guthrie encountered the stump while trying to pass a lapped racer deep in the forest and the resulting flat tire cast him out of this year’s contest.
“This race is crazy because it’s in the trees,” Guthrie said, adding if he had a wider car he wouldn’t have made it through some narrower spots. “From lap one to lap five, the course was completely different. You may have bottlenecks where a car might break down in the road and you have to run over trees to get around them and figure out a way. It’s a lot different from most of the scrambles, and that’s the cool thing I like about the series. We can go from desert to snow to trees to rocks and see a little bit of everything.”
For the single-heat race, all 100 racers took position in a staggered field at the starting line for a dead engine start in two-minute intervals. Wave after wave of race prepped UTVs made a mad dash for the top of the ski slope, funneling into a single file line as they crested the peak. Mitch Guthrie Jr. clawed his way to the top behind two other UTVs, giving him a prime opportunity to overtake before the course narrowed into the woods. In the SXS Sportsman class, Ariel Buyarski from Chagrin Falls, OH managed to grab the holeshot and take an early and commanding lead, something she would hold onto for the entire five lap contest. Buyarski, who was one of three female competitors, would finish her five laps in 1:26:21, nearly three minutes ahead of the second place SXS Sportsman racer.
The course darted through dense foliage until it opened up atop the mountain, where racers kicked up a thick cloud of dust beneath vacant chair lifts. John Barnes of Ashland City, TN managed to take the lead after Guthrie’s sunken tree stump encounter and never looked back, collecting a 1:18:54 elapsed time overall. He would go on to finish the five lap sprint a mere 37 seconds ahead of Devin Smith, and 1:43 ahead of Robert Boynton in third place, rounding out the podium in the SXS Pro class.
“The first lap was relatively smooth,” Barnes said. “As lap two went in, it was getting worse. By lap three, it was, ‘Bam, bam!’ You’re clacking off all these rocks, and I was just praying nothing would break off the car. “
Similar to the Snow Scramble earlier this year, the Red Bull Mountain Scramble was a true test of attrition, with nearly two-thirds of the entrants unable to finish the contest. And while guys like Guthrie Jr. had a tough go of things, the race is proof that even the fastest UTV drivers in the world are subject to ever changing course conditions and the problems that can arise when 100 race vehicles rip through a mountain course. Ultimately, though, the Scramble Series is an amazing opportunity for UTV racers to test their skills against some of the best in the business and providing the top SXS Pro finisher the chance to take home $5,000 worth of Polaris accessories, not to mention the experience of a lifetime!
Next month the Scramble series heads west to Little Sahara, Utah for the inaugural Red Bull High Desert Scramble on July 30th, the newest race in the Red Bull Scramble Series calendar.
-  John Barnes – 5/1:18:54.447
-  Devin Smith – 5/1:19:29.721
-  Robert Boynton – 5/1:20:35.142
-  Nick Harmon – 5/1:23:16.808
-  James Flory – 5/1:24:44.638
-  Ariel Buyarski – 5/1:26:21.493
-  Joseph Winder – 5/1:29:18.802
-  Tyler Betz – 5/1:29:29.158
-  Travis Glatfelter – 5/1:30:14.273
-  Clinton Allen – 5/1:30:30.607