Snowmachine clubs have big plans – as soon as the snow flies
Everyone’s fingers are crossed as the cold winds begin to replace our hot summer days and the idea of snowflakes and fresh powder starts to fill the air. Last winter left most feeling a little empty, with a lack of snow throughout the state. However there was also an upside in lower fuel costs and therefore more riding was feasible for all. This year, clubs are hopeful that the snow will come down hard, their memberships will take a boost and the governor will reconsider his decision on SnowTRAC, a statewide funding source for snowmachine enthusiasts.
Alaska Mining & Diving Supply: If you didn’t catch the Open House Oct. 29, look forward to its annual garage sale at the end of December.
Hatcher Pass Polaris: An Iron Dog Open House is set for 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 12. Meet Iron Dog racers, and enjoy hot dogs and drinks. Stop by and check out the new 2017 models while you’re at it.
The Fairbanks Snow Travelers hope to have group rides planned for every weekend, weather permitting this season. The schedule includes a mix of different types of rides, including weekends for the whole family as well as weekend events for seasoned riders.
A few members of the Snow Travelers will volunteer with Iron Dog in February, and in March the club will be teaming up with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers at Chena Lake State Recreation Area to put on a family fun day called “Snow Rondy.” During “Snow Rondy,” there will be vintage sleds for viewing, a small track to let kids ride the 120s, a radar run with help from the North Pole police force and a race track set up by the Fairbanks Snowmobile Fun Lions. Jody Nolan, Snow Travelers president, says the club hopes to make this an extra special Rondy, but is keeping the specific details a secret for now.
In Tok, the Alaska Trailblazers Club says it has seen a decrease in membership, likely due to less-than-ideal snow conditions. The club is taking this season to focus on grooming trails and increasing its numbers through community outreach.
“Our club just doesn’t have enough members,” said Robert Brooks, former president of the Trailblazers and an active member of the club for the past six years. Because of decreased enrollment, Brooks said the club has passed on the Trek Over the Top to the Tok Chamber of Commerce, which will organize the yearly race from Tok to Dawson City.
Trailblazers will instead focus on holding events for their community. There will be a Turkey Bowl toward the end of November, with 20 hams or turkeys being given away to participants, and in November or December – dates haven’t been finalized yet – there will be a snowmachine safety training at Tok High School.
The biggest issue, Brooks said “is trying to get more active members, especially younger members. It seems like the younger people aren’t involved in their communities anymore. … So we are trying to get the word out and push for new members.”
It will help, Brooks said, if snow actually arrives.
“We couldn’t even groom trails last year,” Brooks said, because there wasn’t enough on the ground.
The Lake Louise Snowmachine Club in Glennallen is looking toward preparing its trails for riding as soon as the snow is deep enough.
“We’re going to be marking our lake trails on Dec. 10 and 11,” said club president Harry Holt. “We’re planning on starting to groom during the second week of January.”
In March, the club’s annual Wolf Pack fundraiser will be held, and coming in the spring Lake Louise Lodge will have a schedule through April of weekend poker runs or fun runs that the club will promote.
The club is also planning for a spring poker run sometime during the first part of April – as a family-style event, where the club will be selling their merchandise and giving out chili dogs. Following this poker run the lodge will be hosting its annual vintage run.
The club’s main issue, though, Holt said, has been SnowTRAC.
“We’ve been sending letters to the governor’s office and will be pushing our legislators come January,” he said. SnowTRAC is a statewide funding mechanism that is supported through snowmachine registration. In the past six month’s the program has faced the budget ax of Gov. Bill Walker, and while funds have been somewhat restored for this season, the program remains in jeopardy for years to come.
Although the club is funded this year through the Borough and past SnowTRAC funds, Holt said, it is trying to get more trails formed. For now, he said, “we’re pretty well funded so we should have a pretty good year.”
Craig Clayton, a board member for the Big Lake Aurora Lions Club, and Founder of Mat-Su Vintage Snowmachine Racers Club, said the Lions Club has about 100 active members who will come out and participate throughout the season. Kids 120 races will be every Sunday at noon at the Big Lake Lions Recreation Center so long as there’s snow or ice.
Like other clubs, membership has declined, largely due to lackluster winters with little chance for off-the-beaten-path snowmachining opportunities.
“We’ve actually had some great events here, and it’s kind of fallen off the last few years,” Clayton said. “I’m not sure what it is, but I’m dedicated to keeping it going.”
One of the most popular Valley events is the Willow Winter Carnival, which will take place Feb. 4, 2017, and includes vintage races, show and shine, games and more. This season marks the 15th anniversary of the event, which is now dubbed the “longest-running vintage event in the state.”
Another popular event, Clayton said, is the fifth annual Big Rob 50 Memorial Race and fun run, a memorial race for “Big Rob” Schachle, scheduled for March 4 at the Islander.
“It’s basically our pinnacle event, and it’s a ton of fun, it has a huge turnout,” Clayton said.
The Big Lake Aurora Lions Club also supports the local community through food drives throughout the year, with proceeds going to the Big Lake food panty, as well as collecting eyeglasses to be refurbished and distributed by Lions Club International. The club also supports local dog mushers, and in the past has supported cross-country snowmachine races.
The club also continues to provide insurance to Mat-Su Vintage and Alaska Motor Musher clubs, and has also raised funds with the American Legions in Wasilla for the annual Honor Flight for veterans to fly to Washington, D.C., to visit the Veterans Memorial Center.
The club stays active in the summer too, Clayton said. In August it hosts the Kids Fishing Derby at Montana Creek, with more 125 kids, ages 15 and younger participating last year during the two-day event.
“It’s just a lot of good family fun,” he said. For more information about what the Big Lake Aurora Lions Club is up to, you can find them on Facebook.
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