The Year of the Arctic Cat
Minnesota winters can get pretty long for some folks. For others, the season just isn't long enough.
Around these parts, those folks would probably be snowmobilers, and many of them are members of Farmington's Sno Tiger club. Fortunately for those with sleds, the 2010-11 winter is offering them plenty of snow for their rides.
"This is our first year of having good snow that we could get more active," said Sno Tigers president Jim Hoeft. "The last couple of years have been touch and go. That makes it tough for the clubs."
But this year is not one of those years. This year, the Sno Tigers have been "going gangbusters," Hoeft said. For the first time in a long time, they're able to plan multiple events and not have to worry about canceling them due to lack of snow or poor trail conditions.
The Sno Tigers do a couple of things around the community. They offer snowmobile training sessions for youth. They prepare and groom trails throughout the season. And they plan rides for members and the community.
On Jan. 29, they'll host what they call the Special Ride at the Dakota County Fairgrounds. One of the members has a child with special needs, so the club is setting aside a day to take Farmington kids who are physically handicapped out for rides. It's an open invitation, he added.
"We just want to give back the sport to people who don't have the opportunity," Hoeft said. "It's always fun to see the smiles on their faces when they get off."
The Sno Tigers have been around Farmington for more than 50 years. Its membership increases and decreases, but a lot of times, Hoeft said, newer residents don't even know there's a snowmobile club around.
Club members spend a lot of time building, grooming and maintaining the 50-plus miles of trails around the area. Hoeft figures he has spent around 40 hours out grooming trails, and there are quite a few members who enjoy going out to work trails almost as much as they enjoy riding them.
Snowmobile safety is always important, so they teach that in their classes and make sure their trails are in good, safe condition. Snowmobilers frequently contact the Sno Tigers to let them know if a stop sign has been knocked down along a trail, or if there's a weak ice spot along an ice crossing, like at a creek. In those cases, members will go out to fix the problem or add signage as it's needed.
"We're constantly monitoring everything that goes on on the trail system," Hoeft said.
The club's membership breaks down into two groups - the hardcore riders who will easily log 100 miles or more in a day; and the hobbyists who like to take it easy, maybe take the kids along and head to a nearby destination for dinner.
They try to schedule a few rides for both types of enthusiasts. On Sundays, they have a group that heads out from the Farmington American Legion, and they offer rides to folks who are interested in going out but who might not have sleds. That's also a good time for the families to join in on the fun, because the runs they take are shorter.
They also have a couple of longer runs planned for the year, too. On Jan. 21-23, they'll take a run to Sawmill Inn in Grand Rapids, and another run is set to go to Pines Resort on Lake Winnibigoshish.
There have been times when runs have been canceled because the trails were in such bad condition due to lack of snow or melting snow, but this year doesn't look to be one of those years. Even when a few inches melted a couple weeks back, Sno Tigers groomers were out on the trails, making corrections and getting things back in shape for the city's snowmobilers.
To help get the word out about the club and its activities, the Farmington Sno Tigers have set up a website, www.farmingtonsnotigers.com. Meeting dates, training sessions, activities and runs are all posted on the site, as well as contact information for anyone who might want to join in the fun.