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Snowmobilers from across state gather in Brainerd Lakes

Snowmobilers take off from Cragun's Resort across Gull Lake during the Minnesota1 / 2
Snowmobilers go for a ride on a frosty morning across Gull Lake during the Minne2 / 2

It’s a part of living for some people. It’s like air. Family.

There’s just nothing quite like a snowmobile ride with a few comrades.

Nearly 300 of those snowmobile enthusiasts will take over the trails this weekend for the 2013 MNUSA Winter Rendezvous at Cragun’s Resort.

The event is conducted each year by one of 250 state snowmobile clubs. This time, the Crow Wing County Snowmobile Trails Association will play host.

“(The Brainerd lakes area) used to be the mecca for snowmobiling in the state,” said Mark Kavanaugh, president of the local association.

As other parts of Minnesota built up their trails, that status was lost, he said. But events like the rendezvous help bring in newcomers — and hopefully will one day make the Brainerd lakes area again be the go-to place for riders.

An almost contagious smile spread through volunteers as they set up early Thursday for the weekend itinerary of guided trail rides, a VIP ride and an awards program.

Most riders start off young and never seem to drop the habit, said Keith Twombly, director at large of the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association.

Twombly himself had his first ride at 8 months old.

“When you’re out in the woods with nature, you get to see wolves, deer and fox,” he said. “You just wave as you go by.”

It’s the nature aspect that keeps Jack Hinsley, vice president of the Hinckley-Pine City Flames Snowmobile Club, gripped to the sport. That and family tradition.

He started out at 10 years old, and put his son on the machine when he was 8.

“You and your family can see scenery that you can’t access one bit during the summer,” he said.

There’s a misconception about snowmobiles, Kavanaugh said, that they are loud and smelly.

But once a new rider gets out on some of the 22,000 miles of snowmobile trails Minnesota has to offer, that all is lost, he said.

“It’s a lifestyle,” he said with a smile.

The last four decades of his life have been spent on the trails.

It’s the cold, crisp air hitting your helmet. The crinkle of your suit as you turn.

“It’s freedom,” Kavanaugh said.

For this weekend, though, it’s a chance to show others that they don’t have to travel to the North Shore or northeastern Minnesota for some beautiful trails, he said.

And until the Brainerd lakes area hits that “mecca” status again the local snowmobilers will keep promoting it, one trail ride at a time.

JESSICA LARSEN may be reached at or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at