The woods have all the color of an Ansel Adams photo as dusk seeps in on a Wisconsin afternoon. The world seems reduced to snow and shadow in a forest stretching to Canada’s Arctic reaches. Slender pines arch under loads of powder, black slashes across a white trail. I’m navigating through this world of binary color behind the guiding streak of Dick Decker’s yellow Ski-Doo snowmobile. He leads me through a curve, taillight flashing red as he squeezes the brake and leans into the turn. I focus on the blaze of Dick’s blue coat, watching for his hand to point to an upcoming side trail.
Dick and a few of his pals are taking me on a two-day swing along the 500 miles of trail outside Eagle River, the trademarked Snowmobile Capital of the World. Sno-Venture Tours’ longer treks spend a week or more touring Ontario, Lake Superior and even Iceland and Alaska for those willing to fly to the trailheads.
On this trip, nearly everyone squeezes the throttle a few times, waiting for the satisfying surge of the sled leaping forward on the trail. But multiday tours increasingly draw riders simply because the treks unlock huge tracts of winter scenery that are otherwise out of reach. Typical days cover roughly 100 miles between motels.
We spend long stretches cruising straightaways and meadows, snow blurring into a crystalline streak under the track. I’m impervious to the wind, thanks to thick clothes and handlebar heaters so robust that I leave them on only a few minutes before it feels like I’m gripping hot bars. Soon, we slide to a stop in the snowy blanket on a frozen lake, kill our engines and pull off our helmets. My ears ring in the silence. The alternating speed and stillness each make the other more thrilling.
Day’s end brings dinner inside the log walls of the White Spruce Inn, Eagle River’s oldest building. Snowmelt glistens on helmets stacked by the door, and snowsuits swish by constantly. Dick surveys the crowd, full of people he considers both clients and friends, and some of the best folks he’s known. He leans back and says, "I’ve never met a really bad snowmobiler. " I can’t help but be proud that he’s looking at me as he says it.
Written by Trevor Meers. Photographs by Aaron Peterson