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Want to try snowmobiling without breaking the bank? Here are a few tips

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CATHY WURZER: We’re going to take a little time this month to focus on what we do for fun in the winter. It’s our series Winter Play. Well get this. Minnesota has 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, 280 organized snowmobile clubs, and more than 202,000 snowmobiles. If you’re one of the Minnesotans who’s never jumped on a sled but would like to give it a go without breaking the bank, you’ll want to talk to our next guest.

Scott Wakefield has been riding a snowmobile since he was six. He is currently president of the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association. Hey Scott. Welcome to Minnesota now.

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: Hey, Cathy. It’s great to be with you today.

CATHY WURZER: Thanks for being here. Who put you on a sled when you were six?

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: My dad said, if you’re strong enough and tough enough to start that snowmobile, go ahead and take it. So I went over there and I got that snowmobile started. And I started riding that snowmobile. What I started doing was using his gas as well. And then he interrupted me on that.

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: Okay. So obviously that fueled your fun in snowmobiling.

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: Yes, in Western Minnesota. Big, wide, open locks. Easy to drive. Not much of a problem with anything in the ditch to worry about or anything. So I had a great time there. And then moved to Waconia in 1974. And I end up with a 4,000 acre lake in my front yard.

CATHY WURZER: Oh my goodness. Perfect surfaces of course for snowmobiles.

So I have to be honest with you. I’ve never been on a sled before. I like speed, but I think snowmobiles drive me a little crazy because you can go really fast. And I don’t know what’s underneath me. Do you know what I’m trying to say? What’s under the snow. What are the feelings you get when you are on your sled?

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: Well, it’s great to be out and about. So that would be the first thing on a groomed, marked trail. So we’re safe if we go out, Cathy, and do.

But I’ve taken many legislators who have never been on a snowmobile for the first time. And I have been a DNR Snowmobile Safety Training Instructor for over 30 years. And once you’ve got the basics down, and you get on that snowmobile, and you get to that difficult, packed trail, and you can read the signs that tell you to be careful or make a turn, stop ahead , I think you’re doing really, really well, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Okay, I feel a little better about this. How many snowmobiles do you have?

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: Well, I had 37–

CATHY WURZER: What?

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: –at some point before I got married. And then I got married, and now I only have seven.

CATHY WURZER: You know you can only ride one at a time, right?

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: And that’s what my wife told me. You can only ride one at a time. So that’s why I’m on seven.

CATHY WURZER: Okay. What are you driving now?

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: I ride or 2019 Polaris 800 Indy. It’s a very nice snowmobile, a 129 track, so a short track. My wife loved that so much that I ended up getting a 2023 Polaris VR1 with a 137 track, longer track. And then I have several antiques and a few special ones in my collection.

CATHY WURZER: So get on your sled. What about the experience that brings you joy?

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: It’s just fun. I mean, it’s just great to get out and about in Minnesota in the winter. Many people go inside and hibernate, I don’t go out there. It’s terrible weather. But you have to come out and embrace Minnesota and embrace all things Minnesota. And snowmobiling is one of those things. And so it’s just exciting to see nature. It’s so calm.

And everyone says the cold. Not with today’s technology. Technology has expanded tremendously over the last 30 years, even down to the gear we wear. So we have Thinsulate. We have good equipment that we wear, technology at that, with our helmets so they don’t fog up the windshield, the face shield. Everyone is confused. I can not see anything. Now we have electronic heated face shields that connect directly to your snowmobile.

And it’s just the ergonomics of the snowmobile, how you sit more upright, so you’re not on your back, that gives you lower back pain. You are actually sitting in almost a semi-standing position. Heated steering wheel, heated seats. I mean, you’ve got it all, Cathy. I mean, if you’re just someone who doesn’t really like the cold, snowmobiling isn’t one of those things that really gets you cold.

CATHY WURZER: Sure, I bet you’ve heard this from other people as well, like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the woods. And then you hear this, the whine of the snowmobiles. What do you say to people who say, oh, thank you so much for ruining my quiet day in the snowy woods.

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: We’ll be in a hurry. Wait a few seconds and we’re off. Decibel limit is 73 decibels. That’s the law in the state of Minnesota. So if they exceed that decibel limit, they’re doing something illegal. But the DNR spent a lot of time on noise reduction. And we’re in — the manufacturers are in the number. So I’d say, we’ll be back soon. I used to be a ski instructor for Three Rivers Park, so with a snowmobile course in addition to a ski course. And I’ve never really had any complaints.

CATHY WURZER: So you said you’re an instructor with the DNR. You’re clearly saying that it’s important for everyone to learn how to control one of these things, right? I mean, it’s good to take a course.

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SCOTT WAKEFIELD: Right. And even if you were born after December 31, 1976, the state requires you to have a snowmobile safety training certificate in order to ride them. And so we also have courses for adults. And the adult courses are all done online through a supplier. And then we have the 16-year-olds, who are also going to do that course for adults.

But we train the 11 to 15 year olds in the youth academy. There are two ways to do that: traditional class, where you go to a location three nights a week and read through a book. Or you do it online, self-learning online. And we call that the hybrid. And then you come in for a little review of about an hour. And then we do a test behind the wheel through a designated course. And that’s the second way you can get certified in the state of Minnesota.

CATHY WURZER: So when I see people on trails, it seems like you’re sitting there and you seem like you’re having a good time. Absolute. But it’s not like you’re just a bump on the sled. I mean, it looks like you’re really using your body.

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: Right. It’s one of these big misnomers, that you just sit there. It’s lazy, da da da da da. There are many people. We train before entering snowmobile season if we will be riding a lot. And we have the passion as I have the passion.

So you start exercising early in the fall. And you want to train your leg muscles, back muscles and then your upper body to drive that snowmobile. But yes, you move your body in the corners. So you need to get your weight transfer.

And that’s one of the things I test. I teach young children how weight works to their advantage during the testing process. So if you shift your body weight more than halfway on the snowmobile to the turn you’re making — so to the left, let’s say — it becomes so much easier to turn, which is less work for your muscles to turn the steering wheel . And you will have a more comfortable ride.

So if you go out and have a really bad snowmobile experience, it’s not good because you’re never going to do it again. But I can teach you the way. And I teach people how to have a good experience by using body weight.

CATHY WURZER: Is it similar to what you would do on a motorcycle, for example?

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: Yes. Yes, it’s like moving back and forth. We have standing positions, which are the opposite of what a motorcycle would be. But if you use your body weight, it’s very similar to a motorcycle. But standing, going up a hill, going down a hill, we have all kinds of different positions and ways you have to move. So you are very active when you drive a snowmobile.

CATHY WURZER: So what do you suggest to someone who listens today and thinks, well this could be a good thing? Maybe I should just try. What does it matter? So imagine renting a snowmobile? Can you buy a cheap one? What do you think?

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: Yes. So I had a man the other day. I was recently at Topgolf. And he said, hey, I’m thinking about going to this Brainerd place. I’m new in town, another transfer to Minneapolis. I work in a Fortune 500 company. And I wonder what… I have to get out of the house. Got to embrace this Minnesota thing.

And I said, the first thing you should do is go somewhere and rent a snowmobile. And I would suggest going to Cragun’s in Brainerd because that’s where they rent the snowmobiles. You can stay overnight. They have packages, similar to other resorts in Northern Minnesota and also here in the Twin Cities.

And rent the snowmobile first. And make sure it’s something you want to do. If so, buy something used in that $5,000 to $8,000 range. And then once you have the kind of experience that I have, then you can move into the… and you don’t have to have as many… 50 years as I do.

But I mean, if you’re at it for a few years or whatever, you buy the $19,000 to the $20,000. But first, rent a snowmobile for a few hundred dollars a week, a weekend. And first make sure you like it.

CATHY WURZER: Maybe find a club too.

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: Yeah, join a club.

CATHY WURZER: I bet there’s…

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: We have 280 clubs.

CATHY WURZER: I wanted to say. And I bet there’s probably a website you might want to pass on.

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: There is, yes, mnsnowmobiler.org. Go to that website. We have a plethora of snowmobile clubs in the area for you to join. The MnUSA membership fee is $20.

And join the club. And meet a lot of the people that we have in the state of Minnesota. Our association has 25,000 members. As you opened up earlier in your mind, there are 202,000 registered snowmobiles. We are the third largest snowmobile registered state in the country. We have two of the four manufacturers here in Minnesota, with Polaris and Arctic Cat.

So yes. First go out and join a club. Join MnUSA. And make your life a lot easier.

CATHY WURZER: Good. Scott, I appreciate the time. Thank you so much.

SCOTT WAKEFIELD: Thanks, Cathy, for having me. All the time.

CATHY WURZER: Scott Wakefield is president of the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association. Learn more about upcoming events, such as the Vintage Snowmobile Show and Winter Gathering, at mnsnowmobiler.org.

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