In the waning days of snowmachining season in March, the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers launched what they hope will be the first of many Military Appreciation snowmachine weekends for deserving men and women in uniform. The Military Appreciation Weekend took place March 12-13 at Freddie’s Roadhouse in the Caribou Hills, and played host to 12 enlisted military men and women of all riding abilities.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Dave Ramsey, a CHCH club member whose idea it was to offer the special weekend to enlisted soldiers. “The interesting thing is 12 of them showed up and only one of them had been on a snowmachine before, and none of them were from Alaska. But these kids caught on quick. By the end of the weekend a couple of them tried the oval drag racing Freddie’s has on Sundays.”
Recognizing that the Cabin Hoppers has many of its own veterans in club membership, Ramsey said he thought hosting current military personnel would be a good way to say thank-you for all they do. Last November, he approached the CHCH board of directors to pitch the idea: an all-expenses paid weekend to include lodging, meals and, of course, snowmachining in the vast Caribou Hills of the Kenai Peninsula. The Board immediately voted unanimously to pursue the idea and handed the reins to Ramsey.
“They approved something like $2,500, but we spent $2,400,” Ramsey said. “We have a lot of veterans who are in the club and they all thought it was a good idea.”
The first thing Ramsey did is contact Better Opportunities for Single Servicemen, or BOSS, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where he asked if there would be interest in such a weekend away.
Sgt. Courtney Garris, with BOSS, responded with a definite affirmative. Within a few days, 14 enlisted men and women had signed up for the event. Two eventually had to cancel due to work conflicts, but the 12 remaining were willing learners. With the Roadhouse now booked, Ramsey proceeded to arrange meals, snowmachine rentals, fuel and instruction for those who may not have much riding experience.
“They didn’t know anything about snowmachining,” Ramsey said. “They were all wondering where the gear shifter was and how to work the accelerator. But after our how-to clinic, they learned quick.”
Freddie Pollard and his staff – the Calabrese family: Steve, Chris and Tony — welcomed the soldiers to the first-ever event during a perfect-weather weekend: ideal snow conditions and clear skies.
“It couldn’t have been any better,” Ramsey said. “We had blue skies and no wind. You could go on any trail you wanted.”
After cabin assignments and a basic snowmachine clinic, the riders were anxious to go. They split into groups of three depending on their ability and to keep the riding groups small and manageable, and volunteers from the Caribou Hills club acted as guides.
“The groups went off in different directions to enjoy the more than 100 miles of groomed trails and the highcountry above treeline,” said Shelley Ramsey, Dave’s wife.
Over the two days, the groups rode three times – including a night ride on Saturday, and after the weekend was complete, they were eager to get back again to ride another day.
“All the soldiers, men and women, were absolutely thrilled and appreciative of the experience,” Dave Ramsey said. “Even though they had little experience with snowmachining, their learning curve was so easy.”
The club has already approved another Military Appreciation weekend for this coming season, and Ramsey said he hopes it becomes a tradition. Seeing the enlisted men and women take to such an Alaska sport and gain confidence in their riding is the perfect way to give back, he said.
— Melissa DeVaughn