5 great snowmobile events you've never heard of

Most snowmobilers worth their salt know about the major events in the snowmobile calendar, such as Haydays, the Quebec Winter Carnival or the Jackson Hole Hillclimb. But just under the radar are cool events with best-kept-secret attitudes. The best news? These events are not for locals only, and they’re worth writing onto your snowmobile to-do list.

University of Okoboji Winter Games
Okoboji, Iowa • January 29-31, 2010 • www.uofowintergames.com
Highlight: Saturday night fireworks and Christmas tree bonfire over Lake Okoboji — and the grudge match snowmobile races on Sunday

The only degrees offered at the fictitious University of Okoboji have to do with the outside temperature, and that means “cold” when the Winter Games take place.

The games, in their 30th year, attract up to 35,000 spectators and participants to 65 weekend events — and that includes up to 7,000 snowmobiles, said Erin Roe, program director for Okoboji Tourism in Arnolds Park, Iowa.

The Lake Okoboji area, called “Iowa’s Great Lakes,” is a chain of five lakes that cover 15,000 acres. Summer is the most popular season on the lakes, but the area’s largest and most popular event is the Winter Games.

Starting with the chili cook-off on Friday night, the schedule is packed with events, including a broomball tournament, a lake-top softball game, a poker tourney, talent show, live music and polar bear plunge — all take place on various parts of the lake, and are best accessed by snowmobile. Snowmobilers also get the best view of the fireworks when they park on the lake at dusk.

Snowmobile-specific events include a countywide poker run on Saturday and a radar run and grudge racing on Sunday: the Dickinson County Snohawks snowmobile club coordinates both events.

And, since it’s Iowa, one would guess that the ice and snow conditions would be marginal. Not so, says Roe. “We’ve only had a couple of years with very warm temperatures where we had to pull events off of the ice,” she said. “We normally have a lot of snow — and really good snow.”

The Winter Games are free, though there may be a charge to participate in certain events.

Earl’s Jalopy Ride
Medford, Wisconsin • January 23, 2010 • 715/427-0253 or • emric4@frontiernet.net
Highlight: The vintage “jalopy” ride and the vintage fashion show

Before vintage snowmobile shows were a craze, a few regulars at Earl’s tavern decided to pull their old iron out of the barn and shake off the rust with a trail ride.

“I remember that two of them had manure hanging off of them,” said Elaine Emmerich, who now organizes the event. “They literally pulled them out of the shed, made sure they ran and brought them out.” This was 27 years ago, and it started with about 10 sleds. The show now attracts about 100 machines, most of them older but in significantly better condition than the original jalopies.

“We call our event the original vintage event, because it really was,” Emmerich said. Earl’s Bar no longer exists, but its former owner, 83-year-old Earl Emmerich, still attends each jalopy ride.

The modern Jalopy Ride is at the rodeo grounds west of Medford — across the street from the original Earl’s Bar. The day now involves a show with judging. But at 2 p.m., the jalopies fire up for a ride to an establishment about 5 miles down the trail.

It’s a little more difficult to just pull a machine out of the barn and ride it, as it has to be registered to be trail-worthy, Emmerich said. The trail ride is now a combination of old and new sleds — and it’s always a spectacle for area riders.

It’s a parade of Sno Scoots, Sno Packs, Sno Jets and Harley-Davidson sleds, to name a few, turning heads at every corner. “And some of them won’t make it,” Emmerich said, which is why there are chase vehicles with trailers.

Evening events at the rodeo grounds include some tests of mettle (such as a competition to start a vintage machine with one pull) and a vintage fashion show.

There’s no admission fee, but it costs $6 to enter a sled into the judging. Vendors sell food and there’s a DJ spinning tunes all day.


International Snowmobile Festival
Madawaska, Maine and Edmundston, New Brunswick • February 5-7, 2010 • www.isfim.net
Highlight: Unfettered access to 600 miles of trail on both sides of the border, and the special snowmobile trail on the international bridge.

The great divide between the Madawaska, Maine, and Edmondston, New Brunswick, — the St. John River — becomes a lot less daunting during the International Snowmobile festival, hosted by both towns.

For the festival weekend only, snowmobilers can ride both trail systems for the price of a $30 pass, but a special snow-covered lane on the international bridge gives easy access to both countries. Proper border-crossing documents are still required.

The festival started in 1996 as a way to boost snowmobile tourism on both sides of the border, and has grown into a fun weekend where the main attractions are the trails and riding, said Stephen Hughes, executive director of the Greater Madawaska Chamber of Commerce. The event lures up to 500 snowmobilers each year to ride in what’s considered one of the four corners of the continental U.S.

Sure, there are other festival-related activities such as a spaghetti dinner, fireworks and a drag race, but the consistent snow, 600 miles of trail and four suggested snowmobile loops are the primary draw, Hughes said.

The four loops, from 90 miles to 200 miles, use trails on both sides of the border and hit area highlights, including popular pit stops and overlooks (check out the views of Long Lake on the Maine side).

Eighteen area clubs are involved with the festival, and part of festival proceeds go to support the clubs, and the longest loop scoots well up into New Brunswick via a town called Moose Valley. Keep an eye out for the real Bullwinkle on both sides of the border.

Passes can be ordered in advance (and will get you on the trails faster) through the festival website or from local clubs.

Seney Veteran’s Ride
Seney, Michigan• March 12, 2010 • www.foxrivermotel.com • 906/499-3332
Highlights: The short, sincere pre-ride ceremony to thank veterans and the post-ride pig roast.

There’s a military term called “Expedient Methods” that involves quick, efficient problem solving. Donna Reed employed this tactic last year when it became clear, shortly before the annual Seney Veteran’s Ride, that they had grown too big for their dining area in the club’s groomer barn.

An army tent was located and erected, heat was pumped in and the show went on for the nearly 200 snowmobilers who came for the evening pig roast.
“Everyone has a good time, and we don’t sweat the small stuff,” Reed said, of the various “expedient methods” needed at the event over the years.

Reed, an Air Force veteran and honor guard member from Seney, Michigan, felt she spent too much time thanking veterans at their graves. So she and her husband, Don, also a vet, combined their desire to honor service men and women with their favorite sport.

What started six years ago as a simple event has grown to include 191 riders — about one-third of them veterans. The motto, said Reed, is “Be a vet, bring a vet, thank a vet.”

The day starts with a flag-raising ceremony where veterans are recognized and publicly thanked. “We have a couple of World War II vets that come every year,” Reed said.

Participants break into assigned groups for a guided tour of Seney-area trails for a ride up to about 110 miles. Rides are led by local guides, and include groomed trails and forest roads. Everyone stops at a pre-determined clearing in the woods for a hot lunch. The evening ends with a pig roast and a bonfire.

“Everyone, even the non-veterans, appreciate it. They like that it’s a family type event,” Reed said. “The camaraderie is the big thing. The same people come back every year — and they bring a friend.”

Participation is free for veterans, including meals and a T-shirt; others pay $20 for the ride and meals. Rental snowmobiles are available for $100. Registrations are preferred in advance and volunteer help is appreciated.

Women’s Rally 4 A Reason
Island Park, Idaho • January 16, 2010 • www.rally4reason.com • 209/558-7390
Highlight: The camaraderie among racers and spectators, and the ride through gorgeous forests.

Any snowmobile race aficionado would associate a long-standing cross-country race with a bunch of tough men in a state like Minnesota.

So it may be a surprise that there’s a 25-year-old cross-country race, specifically for women, in Idaho.

The Old Ladies Race, an Idaho tradition, has a new name and different starting location — but the heart of the event is still the same: a women’s race to raise money for charity.

With the name change last year, Rally 4 A Reason chose a new fundraising purpose and donated nearly $7,000 to local efforts in breast cancer awareness. This year, monies raised will again go to breast cancer awareness, but causes could change from year to year, said Tania Phillips, event organizer. Race-day HQ is the Trouthunter restaurant.

The race is as competitive or as casual as individual racers desire, Phillips said. Some ride for the tremendous scenery in the Caribou and Targhee national forests; others ride for the checkered flag. On a 10-point scale, she put the competitiveness level at 7.

It’s strictly an amateur event, but with professional-style organization, including a race director, rules, spotters/flaggers on the trail and an area for the pit crew.

Women race the 75-mile course in teams of three: all three must start and finish together, and be at various checkpoints together. There are three classes, age brackets and displacement requirements. Personal style is encouraged: Phillips’ team uniform included pink helmet Mohawks; another team called itself the Mammy Grammys.

The race takes place on Saturday, but the event begins on Friday with a Western racing tradition: a Calcutta. The public is invited to wager on a teams’ success by “buying” a team. Last year, a team “sold” for $1,500. It’s a raucous evening, with a lot of mixing between racers, crews and fans. Events following the race include a silent auction, raffle and awards ceremony.

The event costs $175 per team, and includes a post-race lunch. Pre-register though the website or at Mountain Mayhem dealership in Island Park.

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