We made the pilgrimage to Idaho’s St. Anthony Sand Dunes for the annual UTV Invasion. This is one of the key events on the ATV.com calendar.
It only gets bigger, better and wilder, and more infused with Labor Day family shenanigans. UTV Invasion, headquartered at Idaho Dunes RV Resort, which is nestled at the famous St. Anthony Sand Dunes, St. Anthony, Idaho, is an event that must be on your calendar. It does not matter if you are from Idaho, Utah, California or Tennessee; UTV Invasion is worth the gas and lodging money.
An event that began in 2013, UTV Invasion in its few short years has become a primary Rocky Mountain-based multi-day UTV sand blast. At UTV Invasion, many performance and accessory vendors sell anything UTV related at a discount.
This year’s UTV Invasion was August 31 through September 4, which was the full Labor Day weekend. Wandering vendor row and busting the tall sand dunes were 1,000 or more participants who rallied on the mammoth dunes near the farm fields; UTV Invasion’s growth has made it more than a Western event, it has become a nationally-known event.
Activities which began Thursday, August 31 included two UTV Invasion group rides which led early Labor Day weekend participants to Big Dune, Thunder Mountain and other tall- and fat-rollers that make the religious sinners, and sinners religious. Overall, Thursday was a terrain-learning day for many. On this first day, vendor row, with approximately 30 vendors, opened and many performance shops began tuning many UTVs to take on the steep sandy slopes.
Friday is when the UTV Invasion locomotive built steam and started rolling down the tracks in high-octane fashion. Early Friday morning, Fullerton Sand Sports fired up the grills and griddles and cooked a pancake breakfast for all. Can-Am began its program of allowing Invasion goers to drive or ride in a new X3 – 2017s or 2018s – on a 15- to 20-minute guided tour. This was a boon to Can-Am, a major sponsor, as the X3 was an obvious favorite at UTV Invasion this year. Most X3s for the Can-Am tour were 2017s, but two new higher-horsepower 2018s were on hand, a two seater and a four-seater; more on this later.
Friday also saw two UTV Invasion group rides. On this day, Big Dune, Thunder Mountain and the famous “Choke” (Choke Cherry Hill) were waypoints for several hundred UTVers who dialed in the horsepower and their skill to challenge gravity and time in climbing these hills and the famous “Choke.” There is more than one reason why Choke Cherry Hill is called “Choke,” for if you do, that is choke on “Choke,” then Labor Day weekend may mean giving some labor to clean up the mess at the bottom of the hill.
As a point of information, those attendees who organized speed runs at Choke did so on their own time and risk; this was not part of UTV Invasion’s official/sponsored events.
In tradition, Buggy Whips set up its teeter totter, which saw UTV Invasion party goers tried balance their side-by-side on a balance beam; the driver with the longest balanced time, got to load up their UTV with some fine swag.
On Friday night, the UTV Invasion concert series began in which popular local bands took to a nighttime-lit stage to bust out some classic rock and hard country tunes. That night too, Boondocker Performance led a night ride for the daring and gutsy. We’ve been on a night ride, and we confess, at the end of the night tour, our seats and underwear were not as clean as they were the first few minutes when we journeyed out.
Saturday spoke to the kids, youth and to the brave; UTV Invasion had a “Kids Raffle” in which the young were able to win from the vendors, safety products geared for them. On this day too, Toy Up sponsored a group ride.
Wolf Designs sponsored a Show-N-Shine of which some muscular art was on display for the public to savor. This was a serious show-them-your-best event which some side-by-side owners or performance shops invested $100,000 USD or more into their trophy truck-like UTV. We’ll touch on this toward the end.
As the sun dropped behind the western skies, a band consisting of some talented youth rolled out the tunes. The UTV Invasion organizers chose well the bands that played throughout the nights. As 9 PM stood tall, Buggy Whips led a group ride called “Lit the USA.” Again, riding the dunes at night is a thrill in which total trust is given to the tour guides and to powerful LED lights.
Sunday, last day, a chapel service was held on the main stage. Can-Am continued its demo rides and Fullerton Sand Sports held a poker run. Many vendors provided prizes for this poker run. Sunday closed out the Labor Day weekend event with a benefit raffle for Trevon McCuen, a young man from Montana who is fighting cancer.
2018 Can-Am X3
Can-Am’s X3 is a statement maker. Last year at this event we became acquainted with the X3 and its phenomenal suspension and motor. For 2018, Can-Am modified the intake and exhaust and, in simplest terms, opened up the motor and found approximately 18 to 19 more ponies.
From our seat time, we found the 2018 X3, as compared to the 2017, more responsive – as it should be. As we throttled the units, the X3’s drive and driven clutches had flawless upshift and downshift; horsepower was efficiently harnessed from the turbocharged motor and sent to the wheels. Sand and elevation are horsepower killers, and the 2018 X3 showed no evidence it suffered from sand and elevation blues.
Trevon McCuen is in a literal fight for his life. Cancer sucks. The 24-year-old McCuen is from Billings, Mont., and is battling sarcoma, a rare type of cancer. He recently returned from the Mayo Clinic and will start chemotherapy in Billings. UTV Invasion, with its large pull and popularity, was the perfect venue to help a young man secure some extra needed funds to fight the cancer that is ravaging his body. In our vast experience in the off-road world, we’ve come to know that motorheads are generous people. McCuen is one of us, an off-roader who wants to continue spinning dirty wheels in the back country.
The group rides the organizers assembled for McCuen were known as “Celebrity Rides,” and who was the celebrity, other than McCuen? Retired NASCAR driver for Roush Fenway Racing, #16, Greg Biffle. In his modified Polaris RZR, Biffle with McCuen as his right seat co-pilot, led two group rides where only those with iron will dared venture. Biffle is a driver’s driver. Yet, the champion on these celebrity rides was McCuen. To learn more, navigate to https://www.facebook.com/Trevon-McCuen-Fundraising-Goodies-391160637922447/.
This year’s Show-N-Shine was wizardry at its best. This year’s showcase featured several categories, from cosmetics only, to mod-stock to all-out sand assault weapons. We’ve all watched on the Velocity channel custom car builders construct some insane vehicles. Here at UTV Invasion, the best were on display such as a 6.6L LS2 Corvette-powered RZR with a custom hand-built transmission and chassis. Other entries included turbocharged or liquid-nitrous boosted Polaris RZRs, Can-Am X3s and Yamaha YXZ1000Rs. One such standout was a Polaris ACE. It was excellent as all entries were.
UTV Invasion has become an event reminiscent to county fairs. Many food vendors wanted to hook up with UTV Invasion, but space was limited and several were turned away. Food vendors cooked up the best burgers, brisket wraps, nachos, and steak sandwiches, and filled large paper glasses with the best fresh-squeezed lemonade slushies any fair-goer could desire.
Just like the custom side-by-side vehicles, some vendors had custom-built cookers that were very much at home at UTV Invasion.
Water, Family and Hillclimbs
As we drove around digitally capturing life at UTV Invasion, we were impressed at the investment folks gave to wading in subwater ponds, setting up pop-up tents to watch hillclimbs, tailgating on the dunes, towing in broke down vehicles and ensuring both young and old were safely enjoyed the weekend.
For the years we’ve played at UTV Invasion, the most popular side-by-side vehicle was, and remains, the Polaris RZR. However, two newcomers are taking away some Polaris RZR glitz, and these are the X3 from Can-Am and the YXZ1000R from Yamaha.
Many who took on the tall dunes drove a boosted Yamaha YXZ1000R with either a supercharger or turbocharger. The 1000R SS model was popular as its paddle shift mechanism allowed drivers to control the RPM shift pattern as they ascended steep slopes.
The Can-Am Maverick X3 appeared to be the car to drive when in attacking at high speeds, choppy trail rollers; the X3 floats while maintaining near-perfect control.
Given all the above, the Polaris RZR was the volume winner and many vendors catered to the RZR crowd. But, X3 and YXZ performance shops were in force as well.
Why We Do It
We sat for spell with the organizers where we learned much about the event. UTV Invasion chief is Southern California native Dave Kuskie, who relies on Lorin Morrell to handle most the event’s logistics. Morrell told ATV.com that UTV Invasion “is all about the riding.” Morrell said each year, regular attendees “experience something new.” This is “what it is all about,” Morrell said, “getting together with good people and having fun,” and “this is why we do it.”
This year, UTV Invasion erected a 120-by-60 foot circus tent which housed 20 vendors; some vendors came from Canada, Minnesota, California, Arizona and New Mexico; many were from Utah and Idaho. Outside the circus tent was vendor row; actually, there were two vendor rows.
Idaho Dunes RV Resort opened up 50 more camping sites, elevating the count from 350 camping sites to 400; plenty for all you who desire to make reservations for UTV Invasion 2018.
By way of information, Morrell said that prior to the event, he spoke with many restaurant owners and managers in the St. Anthony and Rexburg area to ensure they had plenty of food, ice-cream, soda and liquid spirits on hand for hungry and thirsty. That’s taking care of the folks.
Next year, UTV Invasion 2018 will stay on the same Labor Day weekend and will expand to include more performance and food vendors; this will be the event’s fifth year. For more information on next year’s event, stay locked in to www.utvinvasion.com.