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Camaraderie in the snow

For the 300-member Rogue Snowmobilers Club, riding is clean, safe, affordable — after purchasing a machine, of course — and full of fun and camaraderie.

The members’ favorite spot is Thousand Springs Sno-Park near Crater Lake, a getaway they retreat to for whole weekends of “sledding,” as they sometimes call it. They ride all day and cozy up to a nighttime fire in the shelter, which they built.

“It’s exhilarating to ride out there,” says Lisa Duncan, treasurer of the club, the biggest snowmobiling club in Oregon. “You get so much pleasure out of it.

“It’s a great club, lots of camaraderie, and everyone looks out for everyone else.”

The club maintains over 600 miles of trails, most of which are groomed weekly with a large grooming machine, similar to those used on Mount Ashland. Snowmobilers generally travel under 20 mph, but they can get up to twice that on a straightaway with clear vision ahead, says member Chuck Allen of Medford.

You don’t have to stick to the trails, he adds. Many go “boondocking,” which means zipping up and down adjacent hills or cruising broad meadows. For an adventure, some make the trek across open country to Crater Lake, about eight miles northeast, catching some stunning views of the High Cascades.

There’s lots of laughter up in the snow, but no recklessness — and respect for the environment is key, says Duncan. Riders use hand signals for oncoming sledders, telling how many are behind them.

“It’s not about speed,” says Duncan. “It’s about the exhilaration of riding the trails and seeing beautiful scenery, looking across vast vistas of it.”

The snow trails are many feet off the ground, so there’s no wear on terrain, he adds, and in summer, club members work with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to maintain trails and facilities.

“It’s all one big family to me,” says Jim Gulrich of Medford, photographer and trail-grooming boss for the club. “Probably that’s the biggest thing I take away from this club, the camaraderie. It’s got that family atmosphere. Our kids have grown up together.”

Then there’s the sport, the feel of freedom amidst so much beauty.

“It’s the outdoors, on the edge of the wilderness, with wonderful views of Crater Lake,” says Gulrich, who has been doing it for 28 years. “You can cover 30 miles in a day and enjoy the countryside, but not be tired, unlike cross-country skiing.”

Members say they are not fixated on just the sport. They get together Saturday evenings for a big potluck in the shelter, something they manage to carry out with no screens or Wi-Fi — a rarity these days.

What do they do? They talk and play darts and cards. They also do a poker run on snowmobiles. That’s where you buy a card, then sled to five spots and try, through various games, to get a good hand. If you do, you get part of the big prize money. The rest goes to charities, chiefly Candlelighters, which helps children with cancer and their families. They also bake pies and do a big pie sale with the same goal.

Anyone can join the club, if you have a snowmobile. Snowmobiles cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars for no-frills models to many thousands with all the bells and whistles, says Gulrich.

See http://roguesnowmobilers.com/ for information and to view pictures.

Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Sam Butler carves turns on his snowmobile outside his friend’s cabin at Lake of the Woods.
Jared Broadwater of Prospect takes a break from playing on his snowmobile near Crater Lake.