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Michigan Snowmobiler Magazine
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Print Date: October 30, 2019
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During the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to be both observer and worker, and I can say without any doubt that without the dedicated volunteers who turn out to brush and sign the trails every year, not only in my own little neck of the woods, but in every area statewide we are privileged to have snowmobile trails. Were it not for the volunteer workers who give of their time and themselves to assist in preparing the trails for use by many snowmobilers who have no idea what it takes to make the trails smooth and hazard-free for their enjoyment, there most likely would be fewer trails.
I will be the first to admit that before I became involved in organized snowmobiling I was one of those who gave little thought of how the trails came to be, or who was responsible for the maintenance of them. I did know that someone was, thought it was probably a state employee, and really didn’t give a rip as long at the trails were relatively smooth.
Enlightenment came to me shortly after I became a member of the Michigan Snowmobile Association and met some of the folks who actually groomed the trails, although at the time there weren’t many in the state snowmobile program, and funding for grooming was almost non-existent.
Volunteers, Unsung Heroes - Without Them Would There Be Trails?
Right now, there are two major groups in snowmobiling. What we call “Traditional” riders, the snowmobilers that ride the trails and travel from town to town, this group makes up the majority of sledders.
But there is another faction that is gaining snow covered ground. These are the “Off-Trail” riders. They don’t spend a lot of time on the State sponsored groomed Trails. They like to head back in the bush and avoid the rest of the snowmobiling world. Also, they tend to ride in smaller groups and not go from town to town.
There is also a bit of friction between the two groups. Like Washington politicians, they tend to pick out the bad points of the other group. The Traditional riders tend to stress “Staying on the Trails.” Which is a good thing. Because riding where you’re not supposed to is a major factor in losing trail easements, which we really need to be able to keep our trail system to the level that we, as Michigan Snowmobilers, have come to demand. So this creates one obvious area of friction between the two groups.
The Off-trail riders talk about too much traffic going way too fast. They regularly cite this and claim they feel the state groomed trails are way too dangerous. They “don’t feel safe” out there, especially where their kids are concerned. With many of today’s sled able to do well over 100 mph, I give them the point. I personally have met sledders sliding around corners, going way too fast. And just about every groomer driver I have ever talked to tells horror stories about sleds almost hitting them, and sometimes actually hitting them.
Off Trail Riding - Then and Now
This month our Spotlight is on the Irons Area Tourist Association. Irons Area Tourist Association is a 100% volunteer based organization that is located in Lake County in Irons. Their mission is to support all activities believed to be beneficial to the Irons Area. In doing so they host many fund raisers that brings thousands to the area, and donate funds raised to local charities.
They groom 120 miles of snowmobile trails in the winter months, and in the summer they grade 73 miles known as a route that is mixed traffic and open to all motorized vehicles.
On January 4th they will again host the Annual Blessing of the Sleds. Riders and sledders are blessed for a safe riding season, and all come to enjoy the “Free" pancake/sausage and biscuits/gravy breakfast. This year will be the 12th annual event.
In March the group puts on a chili cook off, called the Cabin Fever Reliever. Last year they had 48 entries and four restaurant’s entered. The top three received gift cards and a trophy, the restaurant division got a hanging plaque for their establishment. All attendees bring canned goods or pay at the door, then get to enjoy the chili and the live music. All proceeds go to a local food bank and area churches to help people in need.
This May they held their 1st Blessing of the ORV’s. They have a club called MFO, (Manistee Forest ORV) developed to help educate riders and host monthly trail events. At their last event they had over 125 SXS and four wheelers attend. Not too bad for the first year. They grilled hot dogs, along with chips, beverages and lots of stories.
Spotlght On: Irons Area Tourist Association
You know, it's really pretty interesting sometimes how I run across different people in different places, and sometimes get another story from the acquaintances that I make along the way. This brings us now to the truck stop in St.Ignace, where yes, they do have some awesome pasties.
It was on a Sunday morning, the beginning of last February, when my wife and I decided to stop for some breakfast on our way home from our winter time home in Brimley, when we happen to sit next to a group of people that obviously were thinking about going snowmobiling, and either coming back from, or going snowmobiling.
I couldn't help but strike up a conversation with the folks, and I soon learned that these people had driven the better part of two days and over 900 miles. They had done all this in the hopes of being infatuated with the snowmobile trails and the good old fashion Upper Peninsula hospitality that is provided by the many hotels and motels, as well as bed and breakfast opportunities that exist in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and cater particularly to snowmobilers as well as ATV enthusiast.
All of these folks were not young, they were not old, they were very well experienced, yes, most of them look as though they could be retired, but the enthusiasm that they showed for the actual image and conduct of their club seemed very professional.
The Marienville's snowmobile club from Marienville, Pennsylvania, spent a total of nine days from February 16 through the 23rd of 2019, on their annual Michigan snowmobile trip. That trip included five days of snowmobiling along with 1,992 miles of driving the truck to get there, and to get home, nearly 700 miles of snowmobiling time, along with countless gas receipts for trucks and sleds.
It’s been more than twenty years ago that the snowmobile community first became aware of a growing concern by many private landowners over the excessive noise being generated by some snowmobiles due not necessarily by faulty exhaust systems but primarily by replacements with so called “high performance” pipes that produced a sound well in excess of the specified decibel limits by snowmobile law.
The after-market manufacturers of these products fictitiously advertised them as performance enhancing for increased horsepower and ultimately greater top-in to go faster. It would seem at that period of time, the snowmobile industry was struggling to meet a strict agenda set by the governing agencies on everything from a limited cubic displacement to the distance a headlight must illuminate, but little was being done to restrict the amount of noise produced by the machines, and the biker mentality of “loud pipes save lives” had pretty much been adopted by many snowmobilers as well.
At the time law enforcement agencies were ill-equipped to handle complaints of private property owners, not only for trespass violations but also the noise caused by the transgressors. As the number of complaints grew, the problem eventually reached the ears of local officials and ordinances were implemented to prohibit the snowmobilers from entering most settlements where the essentials of food, fuel, and lodging were located. Shortly afterwards, business-owners began complaining about the loss of revenue and city commissioners found it necessary to modify the restrictions, but the problem with excessive noise went unresolved.
Organized snowmobiling clubs and state associations took up the battle, in part because it was becoming very difficult to persuade landowners to allow snowmobile trails across their properties, and was a major cause for losing access to properties previously acquired. Not only in Michigan but in others as well, the noise issue was exploding everywhere and the number one argument used by the anti-motorized zealots in their crusade to rid both public and private lands of this scourge (their words, not mine)!
But why, for goodness sakes, are we providing them with the very ammunition they need to deny us access to the same public lands they are trying to claim as their own exclusive domain? Why can’t we police ourselves and put an end to the controversy that’s causing the loss of trails and other riding areas?
Resurgence of an Old Nemesis
Usually snowmobiles and bikinis don’t have much in common, but on February 22, 2020 they will meet again. During the East Jordan Sno-Blast Festival bikini clad snowmobilers (men and women alike) will race the clock on their decorated sleds to raise money for breast cancer.
Courtney Fender of Twisted Princes racing and an East Jordan native, will host the 2nd Annual TNT Ride Like A Girl To Save The Girls Bikini Radar Run. All monies raised will remain local and be distributed through the East Jordan Lioness Club. The Lioness Club will mail out gas cards to women and men going through breast cancer to help offset the cost of travel to and from doctor appointments and treatments.
As part of her ambassadorship of TNT Lady Sledders, Courtney is organizing the bikini run for the second year. Last year the Bikini Run raised over $3000 dollars, with riders collecting donations from family and friends. Both men and women are welcome to register for the radar runs, but must wear a bikini to participate. There will be prize packages for the rider with the fastest time, for the person that raises the most money and a people’s choice for the best decorated sled. Last year at the 2019 Sno-Blast Festival the Bikini Run saw nine participants with two of those being men. Courtney’s hope for this year is to increase the number of riders and be able to raise more money for breast cancer. Registration forms are available now to give riders time to raise money by getting family, friends, co-workers and businesses to donate. Registration forms are available at: www.twistedprincess15.wixsite.com/bikiniradarrun.
Bikinis and Snowmobiling Meet Again
Well, it’s getting to be that time of the year. Everybody is all happy. There are lots of good things to eat. And everybody has lots of new toys to play with. You guessed it! It’s Snowmobile Season! Oh, then there’s that whole Christmas thing, too.
Way, way, way back when, when I was not much bigger than a papoose, I had maybe the best Christmas of my childhood. That year, mom and dad put a very small present in my Christmas stocking. At first, I wasn’t all that interested. Then, I opened it. Inside, there was a key. To a snowmobile. I think every one in town heard me squealing with excitement.
With that memory in mind, I decided to feature one of the mini-sleds this month. Now, my key was to a Sno-Jet. This was a full size sled. But there were also a lot of kid size sleds back then, too. One of which was the Little Skipper. And I am really sure any kid that got one of them was just as happy as I was when I got my first sled for Christmas.
The Little Skipper was touted as the first real miniature snowmobile, made by a company called Lori Engineering, out of Southingtonm, Connecticut. They were made from about 1970-74. They were actually made especially for kids. They looked and handled quite like a big sled. For a power plant, they had a 5 hp Briggs under the hood. They had a top speed of about 30 mph. About the same as my Sno-Jet. My sled had a 15 hp engine, but weighed much more. The Little Skipper weighed in at about 100 pounds. And the brochure said that was what it could carry, basically a pair of six year olds.
Vintage Sled of the Month: 1971 Little Skipper
Mark your calendars. A change in date is coming for the Caro Winter Fest and Snowmobile Races. Event organizers, the Caro Winter Fest (CWF) and Midwest International Racing Association (MIRA), have been bringing this wintertime festival and professional snowmobile racing event to the Tuscola County Fairgrounds in late January since 2009. The event will now be held on February 8 and 9, 2020. The change came after MIRA was asked to host a race in Gaylord on the CWF’s normal January weekend.
“Changing the date was not an easy decision for the CWF Board,” said Kris Reinelt, CWF Board President and Marketing Liaison. “We understood the value of adding Gaylord to MIRA’s race circuit but we were concerned about holding our event later in the season.”
Those concerns were eased when the CWF Board did a seven-year analysis of Caro’s past weather in January and February. It basically came down to a 50/50 chance either way, which wasn’t a total surprise considering Michigan’s ever-changing winters. The event has been cancelled twice due to warm winter temperatures that hinder the production of the ice race track. Looking at those two years, February provided a better opportunity. Plus, meteorologist and the Farmers’ Almanac are predicting “coldest periods” for late January to early February. This will be optimal for building and maintaining the ice race track for the event.
What is not changing is the schedule of festival events and snowmobile races. The two-day event will continue to feature the festival’s Warming Tent with live entertainment, food vendors, and a beer and wine bar. On Saturday, the CWF will also host a day-long chainsaw carving competition and silent auction. MIRA will hold their Sprint races and Mini-Enduros on Saturday with the 250-lap Pro-Enduro and Kitty Kat races happening on Sunday. You can also step on the ice race track to meet the drivers on Sunday.
Change of Date for the 2020 Caro Winter Fest and Snowmobile Races