Ski Dooing It

a fascination with family snowmobiles

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

Like many of you (the awesome ones), I really hope we get more snow. We need it. But not just for Christmas. And not just for everyday winter fun. We need it for an oft-overlooked, yet important Wisconsin subculture: the snowmobilers.

Without snow, snowmobilers are simply mobilers. What could be sadder? Without frosty trails for the snowmobilers to ride, things just aren’t the same. For anybody. After all, what’s winter in Wisconsin without the constant, slightly nasal and totally insane wail of a snowmobile? All day and all night long, a relentless waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah as countless motorized snow sleds rip through the serene winter landscape. Magical.

Yes, yes, packs of snowmobiles often represent the winter life blood to taverns and lodges throughout the Northwoods, giving their bottom lines a big shot in the bottom, but it’s more than that. It’s the attitude. It’s the mystique. It’s the fantastic adult snowsuits. It’s just all a part of life in Wisconsin.

On a somewhat more serious note, I’ve always loved my dad’s old snowmobiles. He’s always had one or two for as long as I can remember, and they were a fixture of my youth. My family always had a cabin in the northwestern part of the state, so we always had wintertime access to snowy trails and frozen lakes. My dad loved snowmobiling, and even before I could drive one myself, I loved it, too.

I  just liked the machines themselves. It didn’t even need to be winter. In the summer, I’d end up sneaking to the nook in the back of our garage to plop down onto the dusty vinyl seat of Dad’s old ’71 Ski Doo Olympic. Sometimes I’d make vroom sounds and pretend I was zipping around a woodland trail, dodging rocks and trees. Mostly, I’d make vroom sounds and pretend I was zipping around the Forest Moon of Endor, dodging Ewoks and Stormtroopers.

Oddly, my favorite part of the old Ski Doo was playing with the headlight. You yanked on a little handle and the headlight popped up out of the hood. How cool was that?

What’s that, Princess Leia? You say it’s getting too dark out here, and you can’t see all the Ewoks and Stormtroopers? Bam-ka-zam! Secret headlight the rescue, m’lady.

In the winter, I spent a lot of time on that old snowmobile, riding in front of my dad as he steered us through the woods around our cabin up north. I logged a lot of time with my grandpa, as well, roaring down trails and across lakes on his ’74 Polaris TX*.

* By the way, lest you think I’m some kind of wintery macho man, I had no idea what the models and makes of these snowmobiles were until I called up my dad to ask. To me, they were “the yellow one” and “Grandpa’s.”