With the World Championship Snowmobile Derby ending Sunday in Eagle River, many enthusiasts are in the Northwoods to enjoy some of the best snowmobiling in years. This is also International Snowmobile Safety Week.
DNR Snowmobile Administrator Warden Gary Eddy says with busy trails, always keep in mind safety...
"....some of the traditional complaints we have out there when it is busy are snowmobilers cutting corners, not staying on the right side of the trail, speeding and just overall reckless operation...."
This weekend is the snowmobile World Championship, expected to draw tens of thousands. But last weekend was the World Championship for vintage racing.
Vintage cars, vintage records…but vintage snowmobiles? That I had not heard of before moving to the Northwoods. I was curious about what draws people to the sport, so I headed to the offices of the Eagle River derby track for the weekend of the vintage racing championship.
Vintage snowmobile racers compete this weekend in Eagle River in the world championship.
The world championship may be a week away…but spectators at the vintage race are all about the here and now. The qualifying rounds for the vintage championship are filled with sleds from the 70s and 80s…or older. They’re smaller and more antique looking than today’s ultrafast monsters. And though next weekend’s races will draw a bigger crowd, more people enter the vintage categories. Elmer Jensen is a longtime volunteer at the derby.
The frigid weather may have kept skiers indoors for a few days…but otherwise this season’s conditions have been prime for cross country skiing.
Tim Collins, Director of Minocqua Winter Park says the park had its biggest day ever the Saturday after Christmas.
“We had over a thousand people out at Winter Park, on Saturday December 28. And the numbers before and after were very close. So all of our trails, 100 kilometers of ski and snowshoe trails have been groomed to perfection this season.”
Eagle River’s legendary ice castle has been built once again by the area fire department.
The design is new every year, but the method isn’t: Eagle River deputy fire chief Jim Bonson says the ice harvesting saws and other tools date back more than 80 years.
“We’ve been doing it since 1933 as a community and it just has become a tradition. When we don’t have it, like the last two years due to weather conditions, people get excited when all of a sudden it appears.”
Snowmobile trails are opening across the Northwoods. Phelps trails open Thursday, and Forest County trails open Friday.
Most Oneida County trails opened Wednesday. Minocqua Chamber of Commerce Director Kim Baltus says wintry conditions this early in the year is a big deal.
“It’s been several years since the trails have been open before the holidays, and a very long time since we’ve been able to really invite tourists to come and spend their holiday vacation hopefully between Christmas and New Years in the Northwoods.”
An early opening for Vilas County trails has snowmobile clubs and local businesses in good spirits. The date was moved up from Tuesday December 17th to this Friday December 13th at 6 pm.
Vilas County Parks and Recreation Forester Dale Mayo says opening day usually happens after the four-day antlerless deer hunt ends. But he says this year low temperatures and snow conditions seem to have discouraged many hunters.