Winter Wonderland

Recreation clubs make the most of the cold

Whether it’s the trails or slopes that catch your fancy this time of year, winter offers a host of seasonal pastimes to get you out and moving. Four area clubs reveal what makes this the “most wonderful time of the year” for them.

Hitting the slopes

Photo courtesy of Sly Fox Ski & Snowboard Club

Photo courtesy of Sly Fox Ski & Snowboard Club

“We ski the world,” says Deb Bramschreiber of the Sly Fox Ski & Snowboard Club. The club travels around the state, country and world, going to such destinations as Telluride, Vail, Aspen, New Zealand, France, Italy and Austria. “There’s always someone to ski with and hang out with.”

An international trip is planned every other year. Last month, the club went to Switzerland. “There’s just a multitude of places we’ve been to. The list is long,” adds the advisor and past president. Non-skiers also attend the trips on occasion and you can tailor what you’d like to do to a degree.

“Skiing Europe is really different. A lot of it is above the tree line,” Bramschreiber shares of the experiences, which include taking in galleries, museums, casinos, shopping, food and more. “Prague is absolutely breathtaking. Everyone should visit there. … They’re all equally fabulous. Each one has a bright spot.”

There are 150 members, from beginner to advanced levels, in the Sly Fox Ski & Snowboard Club, which gather year round. The minimum age to join is 21 and the oldest current member is 85. Members are able to participate in the trips that are fully arranged for them. Depending on the trip, typically 40-80 individuals participate. The club is made up of downhill skiers and snowboarders.

“Sometimes it’s not much fun to go skiing by yourself,” says Bramschreiber. “We are finding that we’re getting younger members and retaining our older members.”

For those who are new to skiing, most hills offer lessons and reduced rates to beginners. Rentals or the opportunity to try out different skis also may be available.

“Every place we go, we make sure lessons are available,” Bramschreiber notes. “If you need some help, all you have to do is ask. … You don’t have to be an expert skier to join. The only way you get better is if you ski.”

Making trails

For 41 years, the Fremont Invaders Snowmobile Club has been taking to the trails. Given their name due to the black, one-piece snowsuits members wear, they often venture out on trips, whether it’s a short ride or backpacking around the state to a routed or non-routed destination. As Treasurer Debi Bartel explains, you go where there’s snow and you stop along the way to explore.

Photo courtesy of the Fremont Invaders Snowmobile Club

Photo courtesy of the Fremont Invaders Snowmobile Club

“It’s something where you can take an afternoon or evening and go out to dinner, or you can take a weekend,” says Bartel. “You can really enjoy nature as you’re flying by at 70 mph.”

“It’s not the crazy outdoor junky. It’s someone who likes something a little more eclectic,” adds Michael Merbach, president of the Apple Creek Snow Ryders.

The Fremont Invaders have about 79 members ranging in age from 16-70, says Bartel. She recalls bringing her daughter out on the trails for the first time with her when she was 3 months old. Bartel put her in a baby carrier zipped up under her coat and took off in search of white fluff.

“Snowmobiling is just something a family can do together,” shares Bartel. “It’s one of those things you can do your entire life.”

Pat Hanagan, trail chairman, groomer and snow patrol with the Green Knights Snowmobile Club, has been snowmobiling for a decade.

“The sport is a lot of fun,” Hanagan says. “You grab a group of people and you take off. … It’s a rush on the snowmobile. It’s great when you can just take off.”  The Greenville-based group used to plan formal rides, but now opts to gather groups as time and weather permits, primarily for weekend rides.

“The snowmobiler’s thrill is there’s no shifting, there’s wind,” shares Merbach. “There’s no wasted time. The time that it takes to get to 55 (mph) is no time at all.”

With that said, most clubs offer safety training or can point individuals in the right direction to get them started. Each of the three clubs are willing to introduce individuals interested in snowmobiling to the sport as well.

Photo courtesy of Apple Creek Snow Ryders

Photo courtesy of Apple Creek Snow Ryders

The Green Knights formed in 1969 and today, have 34 members on their roster, ages 20-75 years of age. The Apple Creek Snow Ryders have about 80 members, with the oldest being in their 80s or 90s.

“It’s not a cheap sport, you have to maintain gas and insurance and fuel,” explains Merbach. There’s also the maintenance aspect, which involves grooming the trails, sign making and clearing trees to list a few of the jobs linked to the sport.

“I’m always busy grooming or marking,” says Merbach who doesn’t snowmobile much these days, but rather prefers to be on the groomer. He landed the job by accident when the club’s groomer at the time broke down in front of his home. While the gentleman was on the phone, Merbach managed to fix his flat tire.

“For the next 10 years, I wanted to drive that darn thing!” remembers Merbach. “If that hadn’t broken down in my driveway, I don’t know if I ever would have gone to a meeting.”

He grew up snowmobiling with family and always enjoyed watching out for the groomer.

“You were so happy to find it on the trail. It was like a treasure hunt,” he says with a chuckle.

Community involvement including parades, open houses, chili dumps, picnics, providing scholarships and becoming involved community members are just some of the duties that go into these clubs, in addition to snowmobiling.

“We’re trying to get younger kids out so they can take over things,” says Hanagan.

That is, however, a challenge, according to these area clubs.
“You can’t text an easement to an 85-year-old landowner,” notes Merbach of the process to obtain written permission from property owners to use their land. “The kids who do it, grew up in a family that did it.” It’s been difficult to get new children who aren’t familiar with what all goes into getting the trails ready for use involved in the behind-the-scenes work of snowmobiling, he adds.

The Wisconsin Trail System is funded by the Department of Natural Resources and clubs can apply for grants to get reimbursed for their efforts. A trail pass is now required to be on it. Despite the pass, snowmobilers still must respect the property, in most cases made available by private landowners, and obey the 55 mph speed limit from dusk to dawn.

“Somebody owns the land that they’re snowmobiling on. It’s not their open playground,” reminds Bartel. “It’s a privilege, not a right.”

“The reality is the trail isn’t going to be there if everyone isn’t in the mix,” reminds Merbach.

In addition to being mindful of property, Hanagan also keeps the trails safe as an active snow patrol member for the last five years. He assists the game warden and Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department with ensuring that snowmobilers aren’t trespassing, way off the trail system or in need of help.

“Our vests stick out so far ahead when they see that lime green coming,” says Hanagan. “Our colors get out and make sure they’re not goofing around.”

At the end of the day, the allure of the snow is what tempts snowmobilers to continue to hit the trails.

“It’s all that beautiful white begging you to snowmobile,” Bartel shares.

“Winter sports aren’t for everyone, but it’s nice to be able to get out,” adds Merbach.

So, the next time you’re considering venturing out into colder temperatures, be adventurous and try something new. There’s plenty to do in the Fox Cities.

— By Amy Hanson

Get involved

For more information on each of the clubs, their meeting times, membership fees and upcoming events, go to:

Apple Creek Snow Ryders

Fremont Invaders Snowmobile Club

Green Knights Snowmobile Club

Sly Fox Ski & Snowboard Club

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