EVANSTON — A former Evanston resident and Lady Red Devil standout athlete has achieved a lifelong goal during the World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb staged in Jackson between March 21-24. Shelley Balls, the former Shelley Heap, went over the top of the Snow King Mountain Resort to win her classification and also won the Queen of the Mountain competition, which consists of the champions from each classification going up against one another.
“It’s a great venue because you can see the whole mountain,” Balls told the Herald.
“The spectators love it and it’s right in downtown Jackson. On a clear day at the top, you can see the Tetons and the Elk Refuge. It’s really pretty cool and it’s so fun to be there,” Balls added.
Balls has been competing for the last six years, give or take. She began to compete in her senior year of high school, foregoing her senior season of track and field, in favor of taking part in a few races and climbs. Balls, who now calls Smoot, Wyo., home, was a standout basketball player at EHS and also competed for the Lady Red Devils in volleyball.
Balls credits her passion in snowmobile competition to both her father, Eric, and her brother, Kyle.
“They have both been huge influences for me. Without them, I wouldn’t be racing because I never would have been exposed to the sport,” Balls shared. She also credits her husband, Gavin Balls, and his family, for encouraging her passion and providing support.
She was exposed at a fairly young age, as she recalls.
“I remember being little and riding a little Arctic Cat 120 in our backyard,” Balls said.
Balls went over the top to win her classification and later win the Queen of the Mountain during the 43rd annual World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb staged at Jackson’s Snow King Ski Resort. The climb encompasses a vertical 1,500 feet and draws approximately 10,000 fans to Jackson over the course of the four-day event. Balls competes on Polaris snowmobiles and had the fastest times in qualifying runs in the women’s stock (47.18), women’s improved stock (54.90) and women’s modified (56.49). Balls told the Herald there are now four classifications for women of the 25 total for the hill climb, with the 900-modified recently added to 600-stock, 900-stock and 900-improved stock classifications.
During the finals, Balls won the women’s stock division with a time of 1:46.04 for her world championship. She also placed second to Samantha Rogers of Francis, Utah, in the women’s improved stock and fourth in the women’s modified to champion Aly Bledsoe of Lolo, Montana. Balls bested both Bledsoe and Rogers for the Queen of the Mountain title.
The climb and the series circuit are sanctioned by the Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Hillclimb Association (RMSHA) and the World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb is sponsored by the Jackson Hole Snow Devils snowmobile club, founded in 1964. Balls spoke fondly of hill climb and the club behind it.
“It’s put on by the Snow Devils and it’s amazing what they do. It’s a big fundraiser for the Shriners Hospital, actually,” Balls said.
Balls has claimed world championships a couple of times prior to this year, based on point totals for her times, but none were as gratifying as this season when she was able to go over the top.
“I finally achieved one of my life goals since I first laid eyes on that hill when I was little,” she said.
“When I was finally able to go over the top this year, it’s a feeling that words just cannot describe. Even the pros, when they go over — they still get that feeling, too. It’s such a fun hill to climb and it’s just a rush.”
And Balls is in some pretty elite company.
“I believe I’m just the sixth woman ever to go over the top,” she shared.
Her crew consists of her father and brother, along with Scott and Taylor Siemers, and she has a slew of sponsors for whom she is very appreciative.
Balls is not alone among local competitors and snowmobile enthusiasts. Her brother Kyle and Taylor Siemers from Balls’ crew both competed in the hill climb this season. Ball named former competitors from the Evanston area such as the now-retired Steve Martin and Scott Albertson. Carson and the late Hayden Ellingford were other names she mentioned as former hill climb participants.
Todd Griffith was featured in a recent issue of the Herald. Griffith narrowly missed qualifying for the finals in the non-pro masters classification. Shawn Wilkinson of Evanston, Felecia Waechtler of Lyman, Brady Bradshaw of Ft. Bridger, Clint Cornelison of Woodruff, Utah, Trent Handsaker, Geoff Rogers and Danny Johnson of Kamas, Utah, Brett Ritter of Kemmerer, and Samantha and Austin Rogers of Francis, Utah, are among the competitors with local ties who took part in the 2019 hill climb, with the vast majority competing in multiple classes.
In addition to the hill climb, Balls has competed in a number of RMSHA events this season.
“There have been bunch in a row since the hill climb,” Balls said, citing Grover Park in Afton, Lost Trails in Montana, White Pine Ski Resort near Pinedale and Eagle Point Ski Resort in Beaver, Utah. Balls is currently the leading point-getter in all four women’s classes with two left on the 2019 RMSHA schedule: April 13 in at Beaver Mountain in the Logan Canyon and April 20-21 for Crazy Horse Race in Alta, Wyoming.
But that will be it for Balls, at least for the immediate future. After achieving a few personal goals this season and during her career, Balls will divert her attention elsewhere.
“I’ll still be riding in the backcountry, but this will probably be my last year competing as I’m going to focus on starting a family,” Balls said.
After all, what else has she got left to prove?