By Jim Duke
After the brief interruption in the annual scheduling of the International Snowmobile Congress and the cancellation of the 52nd event which would have taken place in Regina, Saskatchewan in early June of last year, the 2021 Congress (aka) ISC-53, under proper precautions concerning the continuing coronavirus pandemic, took place in the beautiful City of Omaha, in the midwestern state of Nebraska between Wednesday June 9th and Saturday June 12th.
Although it was much smaller than delegations at previous ISC’s, Michigan did make a showing, and was an integral part of the daily meetings and other activities. For myself and daughter Karyn who is my constant traveling companion and a mainstay to keep me on track, we departed from her residence in Munising shortly after sun up on Monday the 7th of Congress week, making our way out of Michigan at the state line in Menominee, the southernmost point in the Upper Peninsula and into the great state of Wisconsin.
Our pre-planned itinerary would have us traverse that state from northeast to southwest on US Highway 151 and enter Iowa near Dubuque. Our intention was to drive to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and find suitable lodging for the night, find a nice restaurant for dinner, then get a good night’s sleep and an early start for our second day on the road, but upon arrival at that destination we found, due to the change in time zones, we still had a few hours of daylight and we really weren’t ready to call it a day yet, so we continued our drive a bit further and ended our first day just off Interstate 80 in the little town of Coralville, the same location where the 2010 ISC was held.
We were unable to find lodging at the same hotel of the 2010 event, there were plenty of other hotels in the immediate area and the one we chose provided all the amenities we needed including a good dinner, a well- stocked bar, and a nice sized room at a reasonable price. Since we had reduced the number of miles left on our trip by a few miles, we agreed that an early start as previously planned wasn’t necessary and we could take our time and enjoy a nice breakfast before we continued our journey on Tuesday.
We didn’t have anywhere in particular in mind to stop, but we did take a short side trip and toured the Town of Urbandale and the smaller community of Waukee just to kill a bit of time, and a purchase a few items before we continued on to Omaha, found the hotel where this year’s Congress would be held, and where we had reservations for the next five days.
Although we had arrived a day early, we were not the first on the scene by a long shot, and were greeted by many friends and acquaintances, most hailing from different states but all sharing the same passion for winter recreational activities. It was already shaping up to be a memorable experience. A few of us met in the dining area for dinner and catch up on everyone’s activities since we hadn’t had an opportunity to be together for more than a year, and other than the occasional Zoom or Go-To webinar meetings, hadn’t seen each other or even been able to communicate.
The sun was still fairly high in the sky when we decided to call it a night, and even though it was early, we were a bit tired and still functioning on eastern time rather than the central zone. Conversely, as Wednesday morning rolled around, we were up at our normal time and found it an hour earlier when we went looking for coffee and some breakfast, but also found several others doing the same. Registration wasn’t scheduled to open until 1:00PM so we had plenty of time to sit in the lounge and chat. The Trade Show was still getting set up, as was the Silent Auction, but we were still permitted to walk around and check things out.
The host hotel was connected via skywalk to the CHI Health Center Complex where the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials were being held and although closed to the public, it was really great to see so many hopeful athletes arrive for the tryouts and witness the events via television.
The first unofficial event of the Congress was the FOSPAC fundraiser, which took place from 3:00PM until 5:00PM and had the appearance of a combination scavenger hunt and poker run, all rolled up in a “pub-crawl which began with teams being assigned or selected and registered prior to commencement. Pre-registered attendees received a traditional T-Shirt with logo and were treated to a wide selection of beverages and assorted snacks. Those latecomers could also receive the same considerations with the minimum contribution but were not guaranteed a T-shirt of proper size.
Following closely on the heels of the FOSPAC event with barely enough time for dinner was the official Welcome Reception by the Nebraska State Snowmobile Association from 7PM until 10, complete with more beverages and plenty of hors d’oeuvres and snacks. Needless to say it was a full day of activities, and great to see so many old friends and greet new ones.
Thursday morning began with a full buffet breakfast promptly at 7:00AM followed by the Opening Ceremony with the presentation of flags and the national anthem. The Canadian flag was also displayed and anthem sang even though none of the provinces were present due to national restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Co-hosts Jeff Kracl and Stan Stutheit kicked off the program with housekeeping items and directions to the various meeting rooms we would be using, then introduced the program speaker, Nebraska State Senator Mike Flood who welcomed attendees and gave a description of the state’s governmental workings, a bit different from other states.
After a brief break, committee meetings for the Mountain Area and Trails Area were held and topics of common interest for each were discussed. Since Michigan is primarily considered a trails state, most of the Michigan delegation attended that meeting. Although both are committees of the ACSA, elections for the position of Chair, Vice Chair, and Secretary were held to cover the Leadership roles. Trails Area Chair for 2021 is Karyn Hautamaki (MI), Vice Chair is Dave Newman (WI) and Secretary is Mark Hazzard (IL).
After a quick lunch break we attended the first of two ACSA meetings where, with the exception of two states, all snowbelt states were present. As one of four past presidents, I was at the table as a non-voting consultant and had an opportunity to discuss several outstanding issues along with the delegates prior to balloting. The first round of nominations resulted in Dan Long (IL) being the only member nominated for the office of President while Burt Miller (WY) and Dean Meakin (WA) were the first two candidates for the Vice President Post. Len Neisler (IN) was nominated for Secretary/Treasurer. There were several candidates for the two Delegate-at-Large positions with more being nominated during the second round. Nominations were suspended until the second meeting which took place on Saturday morning, and will be covered later.
There was little time available between the adjournment of the ACSA meeting and the VIP Reception which took place an hour prior to the off-site excursion. The VIP Reception is a fundraising activity with all proceeds going to the ACSA Legal Defense Fund. It provides the attendees an opportunity for a meet and greet, and become familiar with, the past presidents and those seeking support in their candidacy in the upcoming election of officers. The past presidents were most popular since they were keepers of the open bar where beverages were available. At five o’clock, we boarded a fleet of school buses for a short ride to the Henry Doorly Zoo for the off-site festivities.
Upon arrival, we were given the option of a walking tour or a ride on a shuttle-tram, and considering the temperature was in the 90’s, not very many folks opted to walk.
After a ride around the zoo and getting brief peeks at some of the exotic animals, we arrived at the fairly new Harper Event Center where we found a cash bar and plenty of tables where we could rest the weary bones and await the buffet dinner that would accompany this event. Busses were on hand to return us to the hotel whenever anyone wished to do so, but curators of the zoo had kept the aquarium open just for our event and many spent extra time to see the many species of fish and aquatic animals there as well.
On Friday morning, after another well-orchestrated breakfast buffet, Mr. Ed Klim, President of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) took the podium for the annual state of the industry update. This is always an interesting and informative session that illustrates both the differences and the commonality between the United States, Canada, European, and Scandinavian countries. After a short break, the rest of the morning was filled with informative and educational breakout sessions and after the brief lunch break, the afternoon was filled with Chapter meetings and a Groomer Roundtable.
The first of the evening’s fun activities was the Groomer Reception from 5:00PM until 8:00PM where participants in a Scavenger Hunt could bring the winners some prizes, but the highlight of the evening was the fantastic buffet of finger foods such as burger or puller pork sliders, chicken sandwiches, and an amazing assortment of salads and side dishes, all courtesy of the Grooming Equipment Manufacturers and Dealerships. A cash bar made sure no one suffered from thirst. Members of the Iron Dog Brigade had to leave this event a bit earlier than other folks to attend their annual banquet where new members were initiated into the group and were referred to fondly as “Pups”.
Rounding out the evening’s events, the Iowa State Snowmobile Association took charge of the Hospitality Room as the 2022 ISC hosts and in typical Iowa fashion, had a wide array of fun and games to introduce everyone of what may be expected as a part of next year’s Congress. Not only did they have more hors d’oeuvres, but also libations unique to their great state. It was nearing the midnight hour before the last of the partygoers headed back to their rooms.
Saturday morning dawned earlier than most of the partygoers would have liked, but the agenda for the day was filled with necessary meetings and other activities to be completed and the breakfast was waiting at the appointed hour of 7:00AM. The keynote speaker for this final morning program was Curt Tomasevicz, Olympic Gold Medalist for Bobsledding and a Nebraska native. No one wanted to miss what he has to say about his years in the Olympic spotlight, the highs and lows of the sport, and of the intense training and preparation he went through to qualify for the team. His presentation was definitely one of the highlights of the day.
Shortly after the conclusion of the morning program, the second and final meeting of the American Council of Snowmobile Associations convened for completion of any unfinished business, second call for nomination of candidates, and the election of officers. Following proper protocol, nominations were opened for each post beginning with President and after three calls there were no additional candidates so a motion to close nominations and cast a unanimous ballot for Dan Long (IL) nominated at the Thursday ACSA meeting.
There were two candidates nominated for the office of Vice President, Bert Miller (WY) and Dean Meakin (WA). Ballots were collected and tallied with Bert Miller being elected. Only one candidate was nominated for Secretary/Treasurer and Len Neisler (IN) was elected by a unanimous vote of confidence. There were several candidates nominated for the two positions of Delegate-at-Large, and with ballots collected and tallied, The two successful candidates to serve as Delegates-at-Large were Chris Willey (IA) and Brian Erickson (SD). With the Executive Committee now elected, they assume their new positions on July 1st, 2021.
While some had plenty of time for lunch, several other entities and agencies were pressed into meetings over the lunch break, including the International Snowmobile Media Council (ISMC), the International Snowmobile Tourism Council (ISTC) and the International Snowmobile Council Planning Committee, all of which would present a summary of their activities at the afternoon ISC Wrap Up Session.
With all business completed and reports submitted by the various entities that make up the International Snowmobile Council, ISC Co-Chairs Jeff Kracl and Stan Stutheit reminded all attendees of the schedule for the evening’s festivities beginning with the social hour at 5:30pm and that the Silent Auction’s closing bell would be at 6:15pm, prior to the banquet and awards presentations.
It was a wonderful sit-down dinner of steak prepared to perfection and all the trimmings, and plenty of great conversation with snowmobiling enthusiasts from around the country. Breaking with the usual tradition of reserving tables for the Michigan delegation, we dispersed and shared tables with several other states, and being associate members of the South Dakota Snowmobile Association, my daughter and I were privileged to share a table with Duane Sutton, Past President of both the state association and of ACSA.
The awards ceremony was considerably shorter this year since the first portion of the presentations is for the several Canadian awardees, however, listing those honored as ACSA award recipients began with the Youth Snowmobiler of the Year award presented to Alishya (A.J.) Kreuger of Wausau, Wisconsin. Also from Wisconsin was the Snowmobiler Dealer of the Year going to Ken’s Sports, Inc of Kaukauna, and the Snowmobile Family of the Year to Ed & Bonny Polich and Children, of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. The Snowmobile Club of the Tear also went to the red Arrow Snowmobile & ATV Club, of Townsend, Wisconsin.
The most coveted and prestigious award is the ACSA Snowmobiler of the Year and was awarded this year to a most deserving person, and I’m truly proud to call him a very good friend as well, Mr. Brian Erickson, hailing from the great state of South Dakota. Brian was caught a bit off guard and was somewhat shocked when he saw his photos being displayed on the jumbotron screens, and even more when his parents showed up at their table, but he rallied back and humbly accepted the award, saying all he did was what any avid snowmobiler would do in bragging about his favorite winter recreation choices, and thanked his parents, his wife Tracy, and the South Dakota Snowmobile Association, without whom he couldn’t do what he truly loves to do.
The final official event of the evening was the unofficial gathering of the Thirsty Dogs with their initiation of new members beginning at 10:30PM and lasting well into the morning hours. This is a purely social group that raises money for charitable causes and is said to have more than five thousand members worldwide. It is usually set last on the itinerary as a place where attendees with early flights can socialize until time to head to the airport, but it is also one of the best attended events of the Congress since most folks are reluctant to see the event end.
For those who did call it a night and retire at a reasonable hour, their sleep came to an abrupt awakening at 4:00AM when an unidentified individual leaving a wedding reception decided it would be fun to set off a fire alarm. We all were required to evacuate the building while fire officials did a quick inspection to determine it was a false alarm and allow us reentry. Many who had planned to get an early start to their trip back home said they might as well stay up and do so. As for my daughter and myself, we opted to avoid the confusion and returned to our room and slept for a few more hours.
Our return drive back home to Michigan was almost a retrace of our trip out to Nebraska, but we decided to take the less traveled route through the Amana Colonies with a stop for fuel, some snacks, and a few souvenir trinkets. We also did a “stop & shop” visit at Sequin’s House of Cheese in Marinette, Wisconsin for more gifts and goodies before continuing back into our home state. The final stop before arriving back home was in Escanaba for a quick lunch and to top off the fuel tank.
All in all, this was one of the better road trips we’ve embarked on but then again, we may just feel that way because we finally could get out and about without the need to wear a mask or worry about the pandemic, and we’re already making plans for the 2022 International Snowmobile Congress which will be hosted by the Iowa State Snowmobile Association in Dubuque, Iowa. Would love to see our Michigan Snowmobiling friends there. •