Snowmobiling’s Most Important Event: The Snowmobile Congress starts today

It’s often said that the National Football League (NFL) is a fabulous marketing machine, primarily because the league has found a way to be in the news and interesting for enthusiasts year-round, despite being a very seasonal sport. After the Super Bowl, fans look forward to free agency, the scouting combine, the draft, mini camps, a bit more free agency, then training camp. Fabulous.

     I’ve written in this space before about how hard-core snowmobilers often find cues that make them think of sledding year-round, but did you know that one of the most important events in the entire sport is happening this week and weekend – and in Iowa, no less?

      I’m talking about the International Snowmobile Congress. The event has been held every year since 1969 – usually in June – and it is a vitally important, if sometimes frankly kind of drab, gathering of all of the behind-the-scenes people who make our sport work. This year will mark International Snowmobile Congress No. 13 for me – and I’m looking forward to it as always.

      So who goes to the International Snowmobile Congress? Let me use an example I’ve used with friends to explain. Let’s say you belong to a snowmobile club in northern Wisconsin called the Northwoods Drift Skippers. The leaders in your club are likely involved in the statewide association – in this case, the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs (AWSC), which oversees how trails are run and funded on a statewide basis. The AWSC, for example, lobbies the state government for funding, for access, for laws to improve the sport and many, many other things.

      Well, once a year, the leaders of the AWSC gets together with the leaders of the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association, the New York State Snowmobile Association, the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs and other associations representing snowmobilers in 27 U.S. states, all of the Canadian provinces and territories and even a couple of European countries.

      Together, they share notes, compare programs, learn how to fight shared battles and generally look out for you and for our sport. If New Hampshire has a great program related to getting gas tax money back from the state to support snowmobile trails, they share their success, and maybe somebody from Montana or Washington will try to duplicate it. If Quebec has some tips on improving trail signage, they share it, and maybe Pennsylvania or Maine will utilize the information. If Michigan association has learned how to properly win a frivolous lawsuit, they’ll tell their story, and maybe North Dakota’s snowmobile organization can apply a similar tact.

      Meanwhile, all of the Department of Natural Resources-type administrators from all of the states and provinces are also there for meetings, as are folks from the federal governments, including the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, sometimes the Bureau of Land Management and other groups. The snowmobile manufacturers have a few folks there as well, but this event is really driven by the user groups.

      It’s not sexy. Rarely is there a big, game-changing moment at the Snowmobile Congress. But, without it, our sport wouldn’t have nearly as many trails, nearly as much access or nearly as organized of a grass roots base. And that means it wouldn’t be nearly as great as it is for folks like you, me and the owners of the other 2.6 million registered snowmobiles worldwide.

      To those who are on their way to the event in Iowa, I’ll see you there. For those who aren’t, be glad that those people are getting together on your behalf.

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