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Snowmobilers enjoying best winter in years

Trailblazer President Chris Stevens rides his prized Arctic Cat through the woods on a local trail outside New Richmond. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)1 / 10
Trailblazer Club members (from left) President Chris Stevens, Vice President Ron Cook, Rob Riccardi, Troy Riccardi and Pam Riccardi. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)2 / 10
Snowmobilers enjoy a long straight-away leading up to the Erin Corners Tavern. (Photo by Tom Lindfors) 3 / 10
Clubs are responsible for maintaining all aspects of a trail, even bridges like this one over the Willow River. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)4 / 10
(From left) Troy Riccardi, Ron Cook and Rob Riccardi wait for fellow riders to mount up last Thursday before hitting the trail just outside of New Richmond. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)5 / 10
Troy Riccardi checks under the hood of his Ski-Doo Renegade before heading out to the trail. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)6 / 10
A pack idles at dusk. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)7 / 10
The Trailblazers are responsible for grooming trails and providing trail signage. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)8 / 10
Members of the Trailblazers enjoy dinner at Ready Randy’s. (From left) Pam Riccardi, Secretary Diane Warner, Treasurer Marlin Warner, Amy Stevens, President Chris Stevens, Vice President Ron Cook and Rob Riccardi. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)9 / 10
Trailblazer Club members (from left) President Chris Stevens, Vice President Ron Cook, Rob Riccardi, Troy Riccardi and Pam Riccardi. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)10 / 10

This winter has tried the patience of even the most diehard fans of winter.

Well, almost.

If you have commuted between New Richmond and Star Prairie along Highway 65 you most likely have been accompanied occasionally by a brightly colored snowmobile or two rocketing alongside you on the trail that runs parallel to road. On any given night you might also encounter a pack of parked sleds at any one of a number of local taverns or restaurants from Ready Randy’s to Erin Corners Tavern. For local snowmobile enthusiasts, it has been a winter to remember.

“What better way to enjoy this cold weather than snowmobiling?” said Chris Stevens, president of the New Richmond Trailblazers snowmobile club. “You can get places on a snowmobile you cannot get to in other manners because it is often private property that no else has permission to access except us snowmobilers. You get on one of those spine bluffs around La Crosse where you can see 50 miles in either direction; we’re the only ones who can do that. That’s what’s so cool about snowmobiling.”

The club is responsible for securing relationships with private landowners, as well as working with local and county governments to create trails. They groom the trails and provide trail signage and maps. Trails represent valued relationships with landowners established over time and are maintained just like the trails themselves.

“The most important thing our club does is mark the trails,” Stevens said. “That work requires a ton of volunteer footwork and time. We put in a new 11-mile trail to Emerald this year. We had to contact the landowners, acquire permission, identify the best route for the trail avoiding creeks and roads and then mark and clear the route. Even in an open field, you may have to take down fence lines and level the ground. The cooperation we received was amazing, and we got the perfect trail.”

Property donated for a route is classified as recreational land by the state, and the landowner is covered by liability insurance provided by the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs (AWSC) and the local club. If a landowner opts to rent the route, he must provide his own insurance. At the end of each season the club hosts a landowner appreciation dinner at the Laurel Supper Club to recognize its contributions.

Twelve clubs share responsibility for grooming more than 215 miles of trails in St. Croix County. Stevens chairs the Trailblazers seven-person grooming committee responsible for 70 miles of trails surrounding New Richmond. The grooming committee oversees 15 section leaders each responsible for six to 10 miles of trail. Each section leader works with a crew of volunteers both during the season and in the off season maintaining both the trails and the relationships that make those trails possible.

Double-wide trails are groomed twice a week weather permitting. All groomers statewide are paid an hourly wage by the state. St. Croix County is one of only two counties that have professional operators performing its grooming.

Groomed trails equal safer snowmobiling.

“Our trust with a landowner is such that we have permission to have a trail. We don’t have permission for people to be venturing off on their own running over trees, hitting fences and hurting themselves. It is in the club’s best interest that people abide by the rules, follow signs, stay on trails and take advantage of the situation the club has worked so hard to set up. Club member or not, everybody gets to benefit from the relationships we have built,” Stevens said.

Need for speed One of the major attractions for many snowmobilers is speed. Whether this need is genetic is arguable, but the responsive acceleration and high-end speed is fact. Shooting across a wide open prairie, wind zipping by a high-tech heated helmet, straddling a rocket decaled to look like an Indy car, flying barely three feet off a white blur formally known as Earth, is not everybody’s cup of tea. But, it does fulfill that need completely.

“A big difference between the sleds now and the sleds of the day is, that in some cases, they have probably triple or even quadruple the horsepower. Some of us are speed freaks. These things are quicker than the fastest car on the planet; 160 horsepower is about as much as they make in a stock machine, but that’s still more horsepower than my wife’s Equinox,” Stevens said.

That also translates into 15 mpg for the average sled, multiplied by a 10-gallon tank, and that equals a 150-mile cruising range. One more thing you should know: there’s no speed limit in Wisconsin.

“There is no speed limit for snowmobiles in the state of Wisconsin except at night when it’s 55 mph. During the day, you can go as fast as you want. There aren’t many toys you can get going fast and not get a ticket,” Riccardi said.

That’s not exactly true. Both the DNR and the Sheriff’s Office are out on the snow enforcing the law.

“Officers will set up at a stop sign where they will check you, ask you where you are from, ask you your name and at the same time they will be detecting if you have been drinking by whether your speech is slurred and they’ll watch you walk,” Cook said.

“Snowmobiles are treated like a vehicle. If you get ticketed, it’s a DWI and it goes against your driver’s license,” Riccardi said.

“Everybody since 1982 is required to take the snowmobile safety course so basically anybody on a sled should know the rules of the road,” Stevens said.

More than snowmobiling To say it’s all about speed sells short why many snowmobilers love the sport. They will tell you it’s about so much more.

“Snowmobiling is at its best when there’s a destination. Then it becomes this big adventure. It’s one of the only sports where you can come across complete strangers on the trail and everybody waves, like we are all part of this big family. We share this same little niche, we take care of each other,” club member Pam Riccardi said.

Her son Troy added, “I’m spending time with my dad in the garage learning about these machines, learning about the technical aspects. That becomes advantageous in the future. If I come across someone sitting on the side of the trail and their sled’s not running I will always stop and make sure they are OK before I continue on.”

Local economy The club regularly recruits new businesses to become sponsors, especially those located along trail routes. They promote those businesses not just locally but to the wider snowmobiling community, encouraging visitors to take advantage of these businesses when they come to the area to ride local trails. Maps identify not only local trails but also the locations of sponsoring establishments.

Randy Calleja, owner of Ready Randy’s Sports Bar & Grill, has been a sponsor of the New Richmond Club for the past seven years. As a sponsor, his establishment is identified on the St. Croix County snowmobile trail map.

“I would estimate our business from snowmobilers is up at least 60 percent from last winter. On any given weeknight, we might serve as many as 20 snowmobilers and as many as 60 on a Saturday,” Calleja said.

That translates into about $300 a week night and $900 on Saturdays.

“This winter in particular, we’ve seen a lot of new clientele from out of the area, people who in past winters have had to travel farther north for snow. Being located out here by a number of subdivisions just off the trail we also see a lot of families with younger kids come in on week nights,” Calleja said.

Calleja also allows snowmobilers from out of the area to park their trailers in his lot while they take advantage of local of trails.

“They are always very courteous and ask for permission. They usually stop by later for lunch or dinner before they head home. All the local trails certainly bring new people into New Richmond and that’s good business for everyone,” Calleja said.

The Trailblazers are working on a new website, and information about them, as well as trail condtions and maps, can be found on Facebook at A family membership runs $25 for a season and automatically enrolls you as a member of the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs (AWSC).