Snowmobiling has come a long way since the first sled was invented by a Canadian man by the name of Joseph-Armand Bombardier way back in 1935.
For example, that sled — basically a car sitting on skis and a track better meant for a tank — is a far cry from the modern machines of today.
Where people ride and why has evolved over the years as well.
Once used mostly for utilitarian purposes, today snowmobiles are used nearly exclusively for recreation (unless you’re Levi LaVallee and you use it mostly to jump trains in downtown Duluth), with a majority of riders looking to get from Point A to Point B in the winter via a groomed trail made exclusively for a Polaris, Ski-Doo or Arctic Cat.
“Back in the early days of snowmobile history, people rode to destinations for the fun and the excitement to see if you could actually make it there, but more so, if you could make it back home,” says PathBlazers Snowmobile Club President and Trail Administrator Dan Marich. “There were no groomed trails like today and machines were not the most reliable. You always had to carry spare parts, like a spare belt, spark plugs and definitely a tow rope.”
Today, not so much, and Minnesota is one of the top destinations for riders on high-tech sleds looking to put hundreds of miles a day on their snowmobiles, particularly in the Arrowhead Region which is home to some of the best of the best of the 22,000 miles’ worth of trails found in the state.
That includes a particularly popular stretch approximately 67 miles long that runs in, around and to Hibbing, Chisholm, Side Lake, and Buhl, and is maintained by the volunteers that make up the PathBlazers Snowmobile Club.
And in order to keep those trails in perfect riding condition, they need equipment — including some very big pieces — to get the job done right.
That means they need a big building — something the PathBlazer Club now has thanks to several years of planning, preparation, and work.
Saturday, the club will hold an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony at the new facility at 119 6th Street Southeast in Chisholm to celebrate that fact.
The event will be held from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and is advertised as a way to see the new facility, get up close with the grooming equipment, and meet the club members.
It’s open to the public and will feature free burgers, hot dogs, chips, sweets and beverages. There will also be prizes given away.
A ceremonial ribbon cutting with the Chisholm Chamber of Commerce will take place at 1 p.m.
The all-metal 40×60 foot building is metal sheeted on the inside and is heated, with the new heater donated by Mesaba Heating and A/C. It was built by First Call Renovation with dirt work preparation done by ETG (Emerging Technical Group). Electrical was done by Hart Electric and other construction supplies came from L&L Rental.
Marich said by email last week that planning for the $130,000 building had been going on for about five years, with the club initially looking for an existing building in either Hibbing or Chisholm. When they couldn’t find anything that would suit their needs, they changed course.
“It had to be big enough, tall enough and with close proximity to our trail. We just couldn’t find anything that met the requirements, so we started the process of looking for land to build a building,” Marich said. “We ended up working and collaborating with the City of Chisholm and their city administrator, mayor and city council to secure two parcels of land in their Industrial Park, which is adjacent to our trail.”
Chisholm Mayor John Champa said by email Friday that the ATV and snowmobile community is huge for his city.
Agreeing to help the club was easy.
“We want them to come through town, stop for lunch, or stop for gas. We are probably one of the most pro-recreational vehicle cities on the Iron Range,” Champa said. “I believe I am one of the most pro-business mayors up here, so when Dan Marich contacted us to discuss the project, the answer was, ‘yes we will help you make it a reality.’”
Champa said the city sold the club the two parcels of land for a dollar each and reduced the earnest money the city requires so that the club had more usable money during the project.
“We also made sure the club knew that they could reach out to us any time during the project if there was something the city could do to assist. Through this process they also reached out to Northern Traxx to see if they needed storage for their equipment and I believe they may be allowing the club’s bulldozer to stay in the building when not in use. We are thrilled they selected Chisholm,” Champa added.
The club paid for the project using money “received through all of our volunteer work, and our Grant-in-Aid Trail dollars were saved over many years to achieve this goal,” Marich added.
“This building is important as we needed a new home to store, maintain and protect our equipment. We originally were storing and maintaining our grooming equipment at a property in Hibbing that was owned by longtime club member, Jack Matthew. He wanted to sell that property, so we progressed forward to where we are today. Many thanks go out to Jack for his generosity for his use of his property and buildings for many years.”
The building will be used to house and maintain the club’s equipment — none of which is small but all of which is necessary to maintain the PathBlazer’s trails.
“We have three groomers, a Bombardier B100, a Bombardier B180 and a New Holland T6090. We have three grooming drags, two Arrowhead drags and one Trail Genie drag. We also have a wide track Polaris snowmobile that was donated by Mohawks Salvage, that we use for trail maintenance work,” Marich said. “We also have an articulating grass and brush cutter attachment that mounts onto our New Holland T6090, along with many tools for maintenance of the property and machinery equipment.”
There will also be room for additional equipment as the club has plans to try to secure an ASV brush cutting machine at some point as well.
There are about 149 volunteer members of the PathBlazer’s club, including Marich. He first joined in the late-1980s and was elected president and trail administrator two years ago.
“I joined because I have always loved the sport of snowmobiling and have always been and have tried to be a good volunteer to the community in many different ways. My father told me at a young age, “to get more out of life, give more of yourself,’” he said. “Volunteerism is so very important. Our Club is very fortunate to have so many great volunteers.”
He added that he enjoys working “with such a great group of fellow members and together as a club, build, strengthen and enhance this club for the future. Our club has grown a lot and it’s all due to the great members and team spirit of working together and having a lot of fun along the way.”
Marich said the PathBlazer’s Club was started in the late-1960s and today’s version is the result of a merger in the early-2000s between the former Hibbing Trail Blazers and former Chisholm Pathfinders clubs.
Like the sport itself, the club has also evolved over the years.
“The sport has had its good and bad years, depending on the economy (and) good and bad snow years. Our club really started to grow back in the early-2000s when the Hibbing Trail Blazers merged with the Chisholm PathFinders to form the PathBlazers Snowmobile Club of today,” Marich said. “Back when the two clubs merged, the IRRRB elected to get out of the grooming business and we received the Tucker Sno-Cat groomer from the IRRRB to do the grooming of our trails.”
After that, a club member named Tony Kaml, who was a Polaris dealer in Nashwauk, bought a groomer and did the grooming for the club for quite a while. Eventually the club acquired its own grooming equipment.
“From there we have continued to acquire and update more equipment to what we have today to groom and maintain our trails,” he added.
The PathBlazer’s Club is a member of the State Association, MnUSA (Minnesota United Snowmobile Association) and has hosted Region 2 Association Meetings and the annual MnUSA Fall Convention in the mid-1990s, during which meetings were held to work with the State Legislature to enhance, fund and grow the sport of snowmobiling as many other clubs did across the state.
As president and trail Administrator, Marich has many duties, including running the monthly meetings, handling marketing, any legal work that needs to be done, and working with companies and private landowners to maintain trail permits, submitting and maintaining all of the paperwork to St. Louis County and the State of Minnesota for Grant-in-Aid trail funding, and other things.
But he’s not the only one heavily involved, as the club also has Chairperson Jodi Olson, Vice Chairperson Patrick Stahl, Trail Coordinator Joe McKenney, Treasurer Erin Husmann and Secretary Dave Houghton, and “very active and dedicated club members.”
“The true success of our club is our team effort spirit,” Marich said.
And that team is always seeking new members, he added.
“We are always looking for and encouraging people to join our great club. You can find us on Facebook, plus, we will be having our new website up and running soon. You will be able to sign up and pay online too,” Marich said. “Or, you can contact any one of our club officers or members to learn more about our club or to join.”
Written by Jesse White, originally published on Sep 25, 2021 in the Mesabi Tribune.