Snowmobiling: A Social Sport
Snowmobiling is a popular winter sport in McHenry County steeped in tradition, stewardship and camaraderie.
“I’ve been snowmobiling a long time,” admitted Errol Westgaard, Johnsburg resident. “My father bought me one of the first snowmobiles when they came out in 1960. That is where we started.”
Snowmobiles came into popularity 50 years ago, with the notion of snowmobiling existing as a simply novel idea. In the Westgaard family, Errol and his brother raced their snowmobiles, which then evolved into a family affair and then to a county-wide phenomenon.
The culture of snowmobiling requires great dedication from a wealth of willing workers whose winters revolve around blustery trips through hundreds of miles of cleared trails in McHenry County.
Snowmobiles are built with the capability of traveling at high speeds – breakneck speed for its relatively unprotected riders.
However, it isn’t the need for speed that draws Westgaard and his compatriots into the sport of snowmobiling.
“It is the camaraderie,” Westgaard explained. “We go up North; we can go up there during the week and there aren’t a lot of people up there.”
Care for the Trails
Although these northerly trips provide a break from familiar scenery, much of the snowmobiling that Westgaard and crew do is within McHenry County, over the aforementioned trails that require attention and care throughout the winter season from him and many dedicated others.
“Dave Rudolph, the president of our club – Spring Grove Sno-Grovers – and I have been known to groom the trails until one in the morning,” Westgaard said. “Grooming,” the official snowmobiler term for clearing trails of extra rubbish, reduces hazardous materials on trails and allows for a safe, average speed of 40 to 50 miles per hour on the trails, an average speed of a car traveling on an urban road.”
The McHenry Country Snowmobile Association, a cluster of separate clubs throughout McHenry County, operates and maintains the trails, which exist with an expense of upwards $10,000 simply in fuel costs as the operation is based on only volunteer groomers.
The foundation of the program is fellow snowmobilers helping fellow snowmobilers, reiterating the importance of camaraderie throughout the sport.
Fun for Family and Friends
Groups of friends plan trips and vacations around snowmobiling activities. Since almost any age rider can participate (the young ones as passengers, of course), snowmobile trips are a family extravaganza, from Westgaard, the pro rider, to the little girl clad in a fuchsia snowsuit.
Once four to six inches of snow fall on the ground this winter, Westgaard and his cohorts will once again commence the same winter rounds they have been making since the
establishments of trails in McHenry County.
An added plus is that when the snowy roads get too difficult to maneuver after a blizzard, the snowmobiles are sometimes the only vehicles that can easily be taken on the roads.
Keep in mind that there are safety classes that riders can take and rules that they should adhere to in order to keep safe.
Sidbar: Upwardly Mobile
Check out some local snowmobiling resources:
• Illinois Clubs – www.ilsnowmobile.com/clubs.html
• Riverbend Benders – www.riverbendbenders.com
• Spring Grover Sno-Grovers – www.sno-grovers.com
• Woodstock Snowmobile Club – 815-338-SLED
• Harvard Snow Gophers – www.harvardsnowgophers.com
• McHenry County Snowmobile Association – 815-334-SNOW
• Richmond Trail Blazers – www.richmondtrailblazers.com
• Wauconda Snowmobile Club – www.ilsnowmobile.com/clubs/wsc.htm