MENOMONIE — Old Man Winter has been late to the party this year, forcing many Wisconsin snowmobile enthusiasts to go to the snow in far-northern parts of the state, Minnesota and Michigan.
Due to the lack of adequate snow, or even bare ground in many spots, snowmobile trails remain closed this month in many Wisconsin counties.
While it’s unusual to not have enough snow for snowmobiling in Wisconsin in January, Marge Hotter, a longtime, vocal advocate for snowmobiling in Dunn County and at the state level, said it’s not unheard of.
But when nature does cooperate, Hotter said few things in life are better than hitting that fresh powder when the trees are covered in an icy, delicate coating of hoarfrost.
“You see beauty like you can’t imagine,” she said. “I think there’s as much beauty out there in the outdoors in the winter as in the summer.”
Snowmobiling has been a big part of Hotter’s life, especially for the past 20-plus years. Last spring, she was honored by the Dunn County Snowmobile Association and the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs for her volunteerism in the sport both at the local and state levels.
Hotter served many years as the Dunn County coordinator and as a director on the state board of the AWSC, which serves as the legislative voice for the state’s snowmobilers and snowmobile clubs.
The AWSC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. President Dave Newman said snowmobilers owe a debt of gratitude to those who had the vision in 1969 to form an organization to represent snowmobiling at the state Capitol in Madison.
“Somebody’s gotta do it,” said Hotter, who grew up near Elk Mound and lives along Tainter Lake north of Menomonie.
Indeed, volunteerism is at the heart of the sport of snowmobiling, from those who keep the trails groomed and post signs in the fall to those who cultivate relationships with cooperating landowners.
“No one could snowmobile without volunteers and landowners and clubs,” said Sue Booth of Boyceville. “Any time there was a problem with the trails, Marge would be the one to call ... day or night, good or bad. It’s quite a commitment.”
For Hotter, it’s been a labor of love, but she hasn’t done it alone.
“There are a lot of dedicated people out there, all willing to step in and help,” she said.
Wisconsin is home to 26,000 miles of snowmobile trails. More than 300 miles of groomed trails run through the open farm fields and wooded areas of Dunn County. Because almost all of those trails are on privately owned land, the county’s 14 snowmobile clubs and landowners must have a good working relationship, Hotter said. Most landowners are very cooperative with local clubs.
“If there was a landowner problem, I would give the club members the information they needed and, in some cases, I would meet with the landowner and answer their questions,” she said. “The main concerns were insurance and who’s liable.”
The Dunn County Snowmobile Association carries liability for trails through the AWSC, and Hotter said that, as far as she knows, they have never lost landowner cooperation due to these kinds of concerns.
Hotter said that, during her tenure at county coordinator, Dunn County obtained more groomers so trails could be groomed more often, offering riders an improved experience. The Dunn County Snowmobile Association owns four trail groomers with drags, and they’re only operated by trained volunteers.
Local clubs range from about a dozen members to as many as 50, she said.
While she always enjoyed snowmobiling, it wasn’t until Hotter attended the state AWSC convention in Wausau in 1983 with her sister and brother-in-law and met her husband, Joe, that she really got involved. The state convention typically draws 700 to 1,000 people.
Joe and Marge were married seven months after that convention. Through the years, they enjoyed many trail rides with friends as part of the Kanda Kruisers club. Initially, the group consisted of men only, Hotter said, but Joe insisted he wouldn’t go unless Marge could come, too.
Every year for more than 15 years, a local group with about a half-dozen sleds would take a snowmobile trip for a week to 10 days toward the end of January, she said. They would average about 3,000 miles.
But it just wasn’t the same after Joe passed away in 2011, and she stopped participating in the rides. Recently, she sold her sled and retired from snowmobiling. She now fills her days with reading, tending to her flower beds on her acre lot and following the Green Bay Packers and NASCAR.
Hotter said she has enjoyed everything about her work with snowmobile clubs but mostly the people. Her one regret is that she never learned how to operate a trail groomer before she retired from the sport.
“You always learn more,” she said. “You make friends throughout the state. I really miss some of them. I didn’t think I’d miss it that bad, but I do.”