Snowmobilers loving wild winter, so farPublished 5:24pm Thursday, January 16, 2014
CASS COUNTY—The abundance of snow in southwest Michigan this year has helped make it a great season for those who love all types of winter sports, and snowmobiling is no exception.
“This year’s been better than the last two years for snowmobiling,” said Norm Krupp, president of the Edwardsburg Snowmobile Club and owner of Krupp’s Power Sports in Edwardsburg, Mich.
And, when there’s more snow, interest in snowmobiling tends to rise as well.
“My email always picks up when the snow is good,” said Jeff Robinson, co-president of the Airline Snowmobile Club in Dowagiac, Mich.
With snow like we’ve had this year, southwest Michigan is a popular place to get involved in the sport. There are a number of state-sponsored and private clubs in the area, and the Michigan DNR has a well-regulated program that funds itself through trail permit sales.
“I venture to say that there’s no state in the country with such an extensive trail system that is kept up so well,” said Robinson.
Folks who would like to try snowmobiling for themselves have a few different options, one of which would be riding along with a friend or neighbor who owns a sled.
“That’s what gets a lot of people started,” Krupp said. “They see their neighbor out there and say, ‘That looks like fun,’ and they talk to them a little bit, maybe go for a ride, and then, the next thing you know, they’ll be in to see us or some other dealer, looking to get started.”
“I lived on a road with snowmobile traffic, and one of my neighbors had one,” Robinson said. “If you can go riding with a friend, that’s really ideal.”
Another way to get a taste of the sport is to rent a snowmobile.
“Rental is not cheap, but it’s money well spent if you’re not sure if it’s something you want to get into,” said Robinson. “There is a great place north of Baldwin called Wolf Lake Lodge. There are also several places in the Cadillac area.”
“Most of the rental places rent gear and everything right with it, and you can go out and try it,” Krupp said. “And if you like it, you may invest in your own stuff.”
“That would be a great ‘try it before you buy it’ opportunity,” agreed Don Munro, a former president of the Airline Snowmobile Club.
The website for Pure Michigan, available at www.michigan.org, provides a list of locations where snowmobiles can be rented, including Leader Marine in Kalamazoo, Mich. The website for the Driftskippers Snowmobile Club, www.driftskippers.com, also has a number of links on it that can help people find more information on a range of snowmobile-related topics.
If a person tries out snowmobiling and wants to get further into the sport, the next step would be to buy a sled.
“I’ve always said, reputable dealers in the area are a great place to get a used sled,” Robinson said. “Norm Krupp in Edwardsburg has been in it for many, many years. He’s a Ski-Doo dealer. Also, Glenwood Snowmobile Sales in Dowagiac is a good one. That’s an Arctic Cat and Polaris dealer.”
“Talking to friends and neighbors is also a good way to find a used sled,” Robinson said. “If you’re smart about it, you can get a sled for under $2,000. It’s not going to be the biggest, it’s not going to be the fastest. … But, are the people who paid a lot more for their sleds having any more fun than I am?”
Visiting the Michigan DNR’s website, at www.michigan.gov/dnr, is also an important step to take when getting involved in snowmobiling. All of the rules and regulations that govern the sport are discussed there, including information about safety classes, trail maps, registrations and trail permit stickers.
“If you’re under 16, you have to take the DNR’s snowmobiling class,” Robinson said. “I took it with my children, and I recommend that everyone takes it.”
Joining a snowmobile club offers some advantages to people who are just starting out in the sport. There are two types to choose from: private clubs that have their own trails — like the Airline club, and state-sponsored clubs that are involved in the upkeep of state trails — like the Edwardsburg club.
“With a private club, like Airline, the trails are not groomed, but there is a lot less traffic. If you like to have the trail to yourself, and if you have younger kids, the private club is the way to go,” Robinson said. “We can ride on our trails and not pass anybody all evening. We’re more of a grassroots club.”
“We have 25 families in the club,” said Robinson. “All of the members are like an extended family. We have 55 miles of trails. It’s a smaller-scale operation than the others around here.”
On the other hand, state-sponsored clubs, sometimes referred to as “grant sponsors,” provide members with many more miles of groomed trails. Clubs like the Edwardsburg Snowmobile Club and the Four Flags Snowmobile Club provide the volunteer labor that keeps the state trails maintained and groomed.
“At last count, there were 68 grant sponsors in the state, maintaining about 6,500 miles of trails. It’s a multi-million dollar program, and it’s well maintained,” Krupp said.
“Our grant covers the 99 miles that we maintain. Four Flags in Niles has got about 55, I think, and there are four other clubs in the area that take care of different segments, and they all interconnect. We have the most of anybody in this part of the state,” Krupp said of the Edwardsburg club.
More information about several clubs can be found on their web pages, including www.airlinesnowmobile.com, www.edwardsburgsnow.com and www.fourflagssnowmobileclub.org. Most clubs also have a Facebook page.
Whether folks choose to rent a snowmobile for a weekend or to buy a sled and join a club, snowmobile enthusiasts have many reasons to look forward to a winter full of snow.
“I’m passionate about it because it is my escape,” Robinson said. “I encourage people to get out and give it a chance.”
“It’s just a really good time,” Munro agreed. “There’s just something really fun about sliding across the snow under the stars at the end of the evening on a snowmobile.”