(This story was first published in the March 20, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Tony Marquis, Standard Staff
HARTLAND — Earlier this school year, Hunter Patenaude was asked in class what he wanted to do for a living.
“I said, ‘Snocross,’“ said Hunter, a student at Windsor High School. “And everybody looked at me funny.”
You can’t do that at 90. That’s what fellow students told him.
Ninety years old, maybe not.
But 90 mph? No problem.
Hunter is proving that at 15, he can compete with the best snocross — modified snowmobile racing — riders in the country. He’s a sponsored rider for a Ski-doo race team, and is No. 1 in the Pro Lite standings in the East Coast Snocross series. And he’s not the only Patenaude at the top of the standings.
His older brother, Leo, would be right there with him, had he not injured his ankle mid-season. Leo, who graduated from Windsor High School last year, is in third place — 37 points back with just one event remaining: the season finale at Titus Mountain in Malone, N.Y. on March 21-22.
|Hunter, left, and Leo stand for a photo. The two are in the top 3 in the East Coast Snocross series Pro Lite standings.
The sport has taken the Patenaude brothers from their backyard in Hartland to competitive races in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“It used to be a hobby, and it’s turned into a career,” said Leo, who finished in fourth place in the Pro Lite standings last year.
So much so, their father, Andre, bought a groomer for the Patenaudes’ backyard on Meadow View Lane. There, the boys have carved out their own course to practice keeping their speed up on tight turns — a technical skill that separates professional riders among classes.
Both Patenaude brothers were taught to ride by their father, who took the boys out on the family trail sled as early as 3 years old.
Hunter remembers going to his first professional snocross race, at the age of 6.
“I just saw a pro rider, going so fast, I just thought that looked so fun,” Hunter said.
Now it’s Hunter and Leo who are thrilling kids, competing with other 16-25 year-olds on courses, built for long, high jumps and tight turns. Riders regularly get more than 30 feet in the air and travel speeds of more than 80 mph.
“I got a lot of faith in the boys,” Andre said. “But over 70-80 mph makes me nervous.”
Above the Pro Lite class is the Pro Open — a more demanding class of racing where riders can modify their sleds to reach higher speeds than the restricted Pro Lite class. With one race remaining, Canadian Danny Poirier has already wrapped up this year’s points title in the Pro Open class. Poirier sees potential in the Patenaudes.
“They are very good,” he said. “Hunter is stepping up this year. And Leo, he never rides out of control — he can go faster if he needs to.”
No matter how they finish this season, both riders anticipate staying in the Pro Lite series for next season. Hunter will continue to balance schoolwork with the demanding race schedule. Leo is working with his dad at Patenaude Plasters-Renovations.
Andre’s obviously got a lot of faith in his sons. Besides the groomer, he purchased a camper to travel crosscountry to compete in events in the premier snocross racing series, the International Series of Champions or ISOC. Earlier this season, Leo finished third place in the Sport No. 1 class at a race in Duluth, Minn.
“If you ride with faster people, you get faster, that’s why we go out there,” Andre said. “Then we come back here and kick butt.”
Andre supports his sons’ desires to stay with the sport — for as long as they can.
“They’ve just always stuck with it — they’re dedicated,” Andre said. “I’m extremely proud of them.”
The Patenaude brothers fly through the air on their homemade, backyard course in Hartland.