A day on a snowmobile was eye-opening

Published 11:20 am Thursday, February 28, 2013

Column: Guest Column, by Joel Myrhre

Despite living in Minnesota my entire life, I’ve never been much of a winter guy.

I’ve dabbled in ice hockey, cross country skiing and downhill skiing. But I certainly haven’t had the passion for those sports the way I do for, say, golf or running.

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Of course, in this country, you really aren’t a winter person unless you’re into snowmobiling and ice fishing. Clearly, it’s a part of the culture up here.

Joel Myrhre

Joel Myrhre

If you enjoy those two sports and you live in Fergus Falls, your winters are just as enjoyable as if you enjoy golf and spend your winters in Scottsdale, Ariz.

I really didn’t understand that fact until last Saturday afternoon.

I decided to take up the offer of a friend to spend the afternoon snowmobiling in and around Maplewood State Park, riding the trails and lakes as far as the Ice Hole Bar on the north end Lake Lida.

It was a nice day, with little wind and temperatures in the 20s. There was plenty of snow on the ground (and this was before the big storm). And I had had a long morning at the office, and needed a diversion.

Over the 56-mile, four-hour trek through trails, roads and over lakes, I experienced more than I expected:

• I could appreciate the fact that my friend enjoys snowmobiling, but doesn’t feel the need to spend $14,000 on the latest, greatest, fastest, smoothest sled. The early 1990s models we drove were plenty fast for my amateur snowmobiling skills, and I felt the bumpy ride added to the challenge.

We certainly saw our share of expensive sleds on a high-traffic day. My question is, who can afford to spend $14,000 on a toy? There either are a lot of multi-millionaires who ride snowmobiles, or there are people with a whole different set of spending priorities than I.

• I was surprised at how much physical effort riding snowmobiles requires. My arms were a sore mess by the time I had gone through four hours of hanging tight through the turns, and easing your way over the bumps.

• Especially on a cloudy day, it’s hard to get your bearings when traveling by snowmobile. I’ve lived in this area for close to two decades. Yet, following my friend on the trails, there were times where I had no idea where we were until we hit, say, Minnesota Highway 59 or Lida Lake.

• There’s a lot to see in the backcountry of Otter Tail County that you just can’t get to by car. We saw massive ice heaves on the island in Lake Lida. We saw a group of 35 wild turkeys somewhere near Erhard (though not sure exactly). We saw stunning views of area lakes.

• There is definitely a snowmobile community. They have unique hand signals to let each other know how many more are coming around the corner. They have places where they stop, warm up and enjoy each other’s company, sort of like truck stops for snowmobilers. They give each other directions along the route.

• I didn’t realize how much fun snowmobiling is. It’s sort of a cross between downhill skiing and dirt bike racing. I always have had a taste for adrenaline. But I didn’t think I’d get so much of it while snowmobiling.

Will this mean I’m going to run out and buy me a sled? I’m not quite sure about that. My life is a bit too busy these days to fit regular snowmobile rides into my schedule. I noticed that most of the snowmobilers were either old enough that their children rode with them or were long out of the house, or young enough not to have any responsibilities. I’m not there yet. And I’m already hooked on a time-consuming sport in the summer.

Did I gain a better appreciation of what makes this area so great, and why, for many, the cold and snow aren’t necessarily a bad thing? Absolutely.


Joel Myhre is the publisher of the Fergus Falls Daily Journal.