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Organizers optimistic about conditions for snowmobile festival

Kevin Henley, who sits on the Michigan Snowmobile Festival Committee, prepares to take off in his snowmobile on Dec. 21, 2023.
Michael Livingston
Kevin Henley, who sits on the Michigan Snowmobile Festival Committee, prepares to take off in his snowmobile on Dec. 21, 2023.

A winter time tradition may return to northern Michigan in the new year — if Mother Nature allows it.

The Michigan Snowmobile Festival typically draws in hundreds of riders from around the country. It draws in tourism dollars for the city of Gaylord and rallies the snowmobiling community around the promise of food, prizes, and events.

For the past two years, however, the event has been postponed, first because of the pandemic in 2021, then because of poor trail conditions in 2022.

A well-groomed trail with plenty of snow is essential but organizers never really know if conditions will be right until the last minute.

“We waited until we absolutely had to pull the trigger on it before we canceled last year. So unfortunately, all the planning was already in place,” Gaylord Tourism Bureau spokesperson Christy Walcott said. “But, the nice thing is, everything was pretty much in place for this year. So we've got a great event ahead.”

Next year’s festival consists of a two-day event dubbed “Michigan’s Richest Snowmobile Fun Run.”

Participants have two days to visit nine Gaylord area businesses and drop registration slips at each stop. It’s one of many ways the festival boosts the local economy, Walcott said.

“Gaylord is a four-season community and we rely very heavily on winter," she said. "There are certain winter activities that bring in more people – and snowmobiling is a biggie."

Kevin Henley sits on the planning committee for the festival but is also an avid snowmobile rider in his free time.

He said while heavy snowfall has been off to a slow start this season, he’s confident conditions will be passable come February.

Even if they aren’t perfect, he said the festival is still a great time.

“There's always the guy that gets stuck, or the guy that falls off, there's always something to harp on somebody about,” he said. “It's about enjoying the outdoors and going to see Michigan at its finest. It's just beautiful in the wintertime.”

Gaylord sits in the middle of a snowmobile network that runs more than 500 miles across eight counties.

Next year’s festival is scheduled for the weekend of Feb. 3-4. Events conclude at the Eagles Hall at 515 S. Wisconsin Ave., featuring live music, beverages, complementary food, prizes and a $1,000 cash drawing.

Pre-registration is available online. Riders can also register in person at the Gaylord Tourism Bureau office located at 319 West Main Street on Friday, Feb. 3 from noon – 6:00 p.m. or Saturday, Feb. 4 from 8:00 a.m. – noon.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.