By Mark Crawford
Snowmobiling is all about enjoying the winter landscape—whether it is traveling through a snowy woodland, admiring the beauty of the surroundings, or watching some of the country’s top drivers race their “sleds” at dazzling speeds around challenging tracks in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
Both Wausau and Eagle River host popular snowmobile racing events that draw fans from across the country. Proceeds from Wausau’s 525 Snowmobile Championship are used to fund local scholarships and support children with critical healthcare needs. A week later Wausau hosts the 525 Snowmobile Vintage Races — a great opportunity to see the top machines from decades ago.
Eagle River, the self-proclaimed “Snowmobile Capital of the World,” hosts the world-famous World Championship Snowmobile Derby. Snowmobile racing in Eagle River dates back to 1964 and has grown steadily ever since, attracting up to 50,000 spectators for the weekend event. Hundreds of drivers enter the event to show off their racing skills on oval and snow-cross tracks, sometimes exceeding speeds of 100 miles per hour.
A lot of the fans don’t come just to watch the races, either — they bring their sleds and stay a little longer to enjoy one of the most beautiful and well-groomed trail systems in the state. Even though thousands of riders are on the local trails during the race weekend, it still doesn’t seem too crowded because they are enjoying the “Eagle River 500”: more than 500 miles of interconnected trails that are expertly maintained by local trail groomers and snowmobile clubs. These well-marked trails provide fantastic views of forests, wetlands, and lakes, with popular stops for food and relaxation along the way.
The World Snowmobile Headquarters, with its International Snowmobile Hall of Fame and Antique Snowmobile Club, is also in Eagle River. Check out their exhibits that capture the history of what has become an integral part of our Northwoods culture.
Doug Johnson, former president of the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs, bought his first “sled” in 1989 and has been an avid rider ever since. He regularly attends the World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River.
“One of the highlights for me is seeing old friends,” he says. “The World Championship races bring back many of the same people, year after year. It’s always an exciting time. The variety of races, along with world-class snow-cross action and a Friday night show with racing under the lights, culminating with a spectacular fireworks display, make Derby Week a winter highlight that everyone can enjoy.”