These Sleds Are Made for Fun

Snowmobiling In Northern Wisconsin

By Eva Apelqvist

In other parts of the world, a foot of snow dumped overnight, ice-covered highways, and 40-below wind chill are sound reasons to pull the shades, crank up the heat, and turn on the television. But to young Spooner resident Tayler Livingston and his family, snow is a precious natural resource because it means one thing: snowmobiling.

When Tayler imagines a perfect winter day, he thinks of being out on his dad’s Arctic Cat, on a stick trail crossing Big McKenzie Lake, building speed while he leans in behind his dad’s broad back. “On a lake, you can just go,” he says, his eyes glittering. Add in an expanse of snow flying past and a break for cheese curds, soda, and fries with Mom, Dad, and big brother at cozy McKenzie Landing, and what could be better?

Tayler’s parents, Layne and Rozanne Livingston, have helped create a number of snowmobile-centered family memories for Tayler and his older brother, Travis. “What I like about snowmobiling,” says Rozanne, “is being with friends and family.”

One not-to-be-missed family outing is the annual chicken barbecue, held the third week in February in the Namekagon Barrens, near Webb Lake. The family starts out from their home north of Spooner and drive two hours northwest. “On some of the trails in northwestern Wisconsin,” says Layne, “there are places where you feel you’re nowhere. You can turn off your engine and just listen to nature.” On any other day of the year the Barrens is just such a place, an open meadow in the middle of forest, created by a wildfire years back. But hundreds of snowmobilers arrive from near and far for the chicken barbecue.

Like his sons, Layne Livingston has his favorite snowmobile destinations, all in Wisconsin, where the trails are relatively uncrowded and where he can begin the journey from his own backyard. One favorite destination is Port Wing, along Lake Superior (though they typically trailer the sleds up to the lake, as it’s a long drive). “We drove along the shore one time when the ice was just breaking up on the lake,” he remembers. “The wind had created these pyramids of ice on the lake. From underneath, the water was creating ice waves. It was gorgeous.”

The family also likes heading for Valhalla, an old ski resort near Washburn; Timm’s Hill, near Phillips, the highest point in Wisconsin; and the old covered bridge by Park Falls.

For snowmobilers in Washburn County, Spooner’s Jack Frost Fest, held the first weekend in February, is a must. Tayler enjoys the antique snowmobile show at the fest, turkey bowling, the toilet seat toss, and the minnow races. The World Championship Snowmobile Derby, held the third week of January in Eagle River, also draws hundreds of snowmobilers from around the region.

Jim Dienstl, president of the Rolling Hills Snowmobile/ATV club in Washburn County, says that the state’s trail system is one of the best in the country, in part because it’s maintained and supported by both volunteers and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And there’s another reason for the smooth trails, he adds: They’re old. In 1972, a few enthusiasts with a vision secured the first easements to build trails on private land—trails that have been perfected over the last 40-plus years.

No matter what trails they travel or how fancy their sleds are, snowmobilers in northern Wisconsin have one wish in common: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.