By Darren Tromblay
Lake Panorama Times
This is the time of year when Lake Panorama’s Mike Patten rues.
As winter outdoor sports wind down around Lake Panorama in direct proportion with the rate in which temperatures go up, the president of the Raccoon Valley Snow Chasers snowmobiling club looks back on what has been an outstanding couple of months of “sledding.”
Central Iowa was blessed with record-breaking snowfall totals in 2020-21. And while most people stayed inside and complained about Ol’ Man Winter, Patten and his group of 30 to 35 members were outside taking full advantage of it. As were others. The Lake Panorama area and surrounding trails are a perfect combination of beauty and fun for snowmobilers of all ages.
Area snowmobilers have been chomping at the bit for the last five years to get out, throttle up, and put some miles on their sleds.
“In the mid 1990s, we had good snow, but had no grooming machines,” Patten said. “We just kind of freelanced around. Ironically, the last five years, the machines have been better, but the snow has been spotty. This was the first season in which a trail could be ridden for more than a week.”
Like its summer brethren the waverunner, snowmobiling can be a great winter outdoor activity for young and old alike. That is, if the snow falls. Here in Iowa, that’s touch and go. One big snowfall does not necessarily mean weeks and weeks of great riding.
“One of our biggest problems is that we get a blizzard, and then it takes a couple of days to get the snow settled down to where we can enjoy it,” Patten said. “And then we have a day or two before it melts. When it snows, we have to hit it hard.”Being a part of the club
Raccoon Valley Snow Chasers Media Director Jim Wyckoff said the popularity of snowmobiling reached a peak in the 1970s and has tapered off ever since. Former President Eric Chrystal helped jumpstart the club, bringing in new members, sponsorships and, most importantly, renewed interest in the sport. Now that baton has been passed to Patten.
The Chasers became involved with the Iowa State Snowmobile Association (ISSA) in 2009 and won the ISSA Club of the Year award in 2011.
In the ISSA, the state is divided into 10 regions, with individual clubs within each. The Raccoon River Valley Snow Chasers is in Region 7 and includes members from Guthrie, Greene and Dallas counties. Everything within the club is done on a volunteer basis, Patten said. Each club applies for grants through ISSA, which allocates funds to the clubs, covering costs such as fuel and repairs for groomers.
Wyckoff said the efforts of the Patten family have made a great deal of difference, not only in keeping and recruiting new members, but in helping acquire the grooming machines that have made riding much more pleasant.
“They do a great job of keeping the club active,” Wyckoff said of the Pattens’ efforts. “We currently have about 120 miles of groomed trails, and it makes the riding really nice.”
Overall, nearly 8,000 miles of snowmobile trails exist in the state of Iowa for riders to enjoy.
The club gathers the second Thursday of each month, November through March, at the Lake Panorama Conference Center.
“They provide us a good menu, good wait staff, good food, and we really enjoy holding the meetings there,” Wyckoff said.
At the meetings, members review finances and take care of business like most clubs do, but most of the time, Patten says, it’s just about getting together with friends.
“Most of the time, we just get together, have fun, and talk about what we’ve done, where we rode, and how the trails are looking,” Patten says.
Yearly membership dues are $40. It is $10 more for a Raccoon River Bike Trail pass, which riders must possess if they plan on taking the trail.Looking back
Both men have long histories in snowmobiling, dating back to when they were young children. For Patten, his love of the sport extends beyond just getting outside with some friends.
“I grew up doing it, and I like the family aspect of it, but I also like that when it’s cold and snowing out, and everyone is complaining and moaning, you’re the one who is excited,” he said. “You get to go out there and have a great time.”
Wyckoff remembers the days in which he’d have his sled parked in the garage as much as he’d have it outside and running properly.
“Back then, you worked on them more than you rode them,” Wyckoff joked. “Technology has greatly improved over the years. They are so much better ergonomically, and they’re more reliable. Modern snowmobiles are considerably safer than those of decades past. They’re much more expensive, too, but it’s a greater pleasure to ride them these days.”
His father turned Wyckoff on to snowmobiling when he was 10 years old. His first sled was a 1969 Galaxy, followed by a 1971 Ski Doo Nordic. Wyckoff said he got away from the sport once he graduated from high school and moved on to other things in life. But the itch was still there. His decision to scratch it was one of the best he’s made.
“About 20 years ago, I was trying to figure out where I was going to take my family on vacation in the winter, and we decided to go to Yellowstone for a snowmobile tour through the park,” Wyckoff says. “That was an awesome experience. We got to go down snow-covered roads right in Yellowstone Park, rode right next to buffalo that were walking beside the road. That kind of got me back into it, and I’ve been doing that for the past 20 years or so on a regular basis, including several trips to Minnesota and Wisconsin.”The rules of law
Snowmobiling rules are similar to those for cars, only you’re not riding on the road, Patten says. He offered the following tips for snowmobilers:
Make sure you know the area or go with someone who does.
Stop at the stop signs along highways and watch out for cars.
Never ride alone, which is probably the most important tip.
Speed is mostly common sense. “I think 50 mph is a good number. We put low speed limits in town to help keep the noise down.”
Wear good gear. “It was so cold this year, and people would ask how we could snowmobile in that weather. If you have good gear, you’ll be all right. There’s no such thing as poor weather, just poor clothing.”
Snowmobilers must have an updated registration as well, Wyckoff added, which can be obtained from your local county courthouse. Riders also have to have a state trail pass, including for the Raccoon River Bike Trail, which riders have to obtain as well.LPA rules
According to John Rutledge, general manager of the Lake Panorama Association, snowmobilers are required to follow LPA rules and guidelines:
All regulations regarding snowmobiles promulgated by the State of Iowa shall apply, including, but not limited to, age restrictions.
The off-road recreational vehicle regulations and laws of the State of Iowa shall apply to the Lake Panorama Subdivision.
Snowmobiles may be operated on a member’s lot only, or on areas specifically designated by the Lake Panorama Board of Directors or LPA management as authorized by the Board of Directors.
Rutledge says the bottom line is people can snowmobile on the lake and on the marked route that is maintained by the Raccoon Valley Snow Chasers organization.
“As long as they are on the marked trail and are doing things safely along that trail, we’re fine with it,” he says.
Rutledge encourages people to be especially vigilant now as the season winds down.
“The rapidly increasing temperatures, along with rainfall and snow melt, can make the ice variable and unsafe,” he says. “We encourage people to use a lot of caution as we move into the thaw period.”Raccoon Valley Snow Chasers Board Members
• Mike Patten - president
• Craig Flack - safety director
• Jim Wyckoff - media director
For more information, email Mike Patten at email@example.com
or Jim Wyckoff at firstname.lastname@example.org
. To join the club, email Patten or call him at 515-669-0473. The club meets the second Thursday of each month.