Bassett's Blog: A midwest travelogue
Wisconsin and Minnesota offer some of the best snowmobiling—and industry signposts—anywhere
Story by Jerry Bassett, Jan. 30, 2008Email a friend Print Friendly RSS
During the first stage of our travels, we visited the Mincoqua, Wis. area. Long known as a great fishing and summer getaway spot for Illinois vacationers, Minocqua is a wonderful snowmobile destination complete with great restaurants, many of which are off the beaten path.
As a guest of the area, it was exciting to try out a few pit stops that were a bit off the main highway, but convenient to the many miles of groomed and marked snowmobile trails. Because Minocqua proper is actually a series of businesses located on a few islands, snowmobiling in town is pretty much a no-no. You can, however, access just about all of the main hotels and restaurants right off the lake.
Off on a spit of land by the bridge entering town from the south is a place we've been known to frequent. Albee's Yacht Club and Grill does greater business during the summer, but its location on the main trail means that it's busy during snowmobile season as well. If you like to sit and chat snowmobiling, this is a great place to get local info about most trail conditions. Local area snowmobilers frequent the Yacht Club and can be trusted to supply good data on which trails lead to the most fun areas.
If you should duck out of the Yacht Club after a burger, you can sneak under the river bridge and park outside Bosacki's Boat House in downtown Minocqua. This fourth generation family business features a full lunch and dinner menu. Whether you enjoy a post-ride beverage, you should take in the huge and unique Bosacki bar.
Chef Rene's Back Bay Cove
One of our most interesting stops occurred at Chef Rene's Back Bay Cove. Located nearly 10 miles out of downtown Minocqua off Highway 70 headed west, this gourmet restaurant sits back about a half-mile in at the dead end of Back Bay Road.
As we entered the restaurant to meet up with our party, we found a familiar and friendly face behind the bar, Gus Jones, a former Ski-Doo sales representative for the midwest. As we chatted up old times, Gus explained how Chef Rene (yes, there actually is a Chef Rene) left one of the area's top restaurant's to go out on his own.
One of the top chefs in the Northwoods (and, believe it or not, there are quite a number here), Rene Ayvazzadeh likes to challenge the palate with uniquely prepared items such as duck comfit on a bed of flash-fried spinach. That was the specialty Gus recommended after he took me back to meet Chef Rene in the kitchen. Suffice to say, it was an enjoyable treat—both to be allowed into the kitchen to chat with the chef and at dinner to enjoy the chef's effort. Of course, here are more traditional items on the menu, including a huge porterhouse steak. If you order that, you best be riding a wide track snowmobile to get you home, for it's not light fare.
Chef Rene's Back Bay Cove was a highlight of our adventures in the Northwoods. But keep in mind that Minocqua, like the Adirondacks in upstate New York, is home to many exceptional places to dine. Just as the Adirondacks attracts diners from New York City, Philadelphia and New Jersey, this Wisconsin resort area attracts some fussy eaters from the Chicago area. That will readily explain why many of the taverns sport Chicago Bears banners alongside Green Bay Packers gear.
A great winter getaway, Minocqua tries to keep snowmobilers updated with current trail conditions on its website (http://minocqua.org/Chamber-Info-/Trail-Conditions.php). One of the local clubs—Cross County Cruisers Snowmobile Club—supplies firsthand reports written by a groomer driver who provides first hand knowledge of the trail conditions in the Minocqua area. The Cruisers work hard to give you the most up to date info and some of the best trail riding in Wisconsin!
As we continued our travels, we headed to Roseau, Minn. Sitting about a dozen miles south of the Canadian border, this town is the birthplace of Polaris snowmobiles. When we visited Roseau, the temperature was double digits south of zero Fahrenheit and it seemed an inconvenient truth that climactic warming was anywhere near. Flat and tundra-like, Roseau was originally established by the Hudson Bay Company as a fur trading post on the eastern edge of the now extinct Roseau Lake. Since 1954, Polaris Industries has built its snowmobiles here.
For a taste of that history, all true snowmobilers, regardless of favored brand, must visit the 5,600-square-foot Polaris Experience Center. This is a unique tribute to the people who created and still manufacture Polaris products in the area. Not a true museum, this is a self-guided peek into the history of a company that created not just a snow machine, but laid the groundwork for an industry and a sport. Remember, inventing the snow machine was relatively easy. What we tend to forget is that these inventors had to also create a demand for a product that was frequently misunderstood! Other than diehard sportsmen, prior to the snowmobile's invention, who really ventured out in the winter if they didn't have to?
Polaris' history outlines the creation of products, but know that Polaris' history is linked to the creation of a distributor and dealer network, backing the creation of a trail network and supporting users—those who bought the product and wanted places to enjoy them.
Says Lyle Grindy, coordinator of the Polaris Experience Center when it opened: "What it does is take guests from the beginnings of Polaris. From the second snowmobile ever made, in 1956, to later innovations such as four-wheelers, Snowmobile and the new Victory motorcycle, it's quite a ride."
The Polaris Experience is located in the Reed River Trading Co. building just north of the Polaris plant. The center weaves product displays with lifelike exhibits, enlarged photographs and interactive video presentations. There's even a miniature theater with DVD Surround Sound that tells the company's story.
As you begin the tour, you pass a replication of the Hetteen Hoist & Derrick Co. machine shop in which Brothers Edgar and Allen Hetteen and a friend, David Johnson, founded the company in 1945. The company was later renamed Polaris Industries, because Edgar Hetteen felt it was more diversified.
Another display tells the story of the first long-distance snowmobile trek, from Bethel, Minn. to Fairbanks, Alaska, in March 1960. Edgar Hetteen, Erling Falk and Rudy and Bessie Billberg used three Polaris snowmobiles to complete a 1,200-mile journey at an average speed of 12 mph. The goal was to showcase the durability and utility of the snow machines.
Displays feature snowmobile racing, vintage clothing and Polaris ventures into such products as the Star Car, which was a miniature racecar, and a motorbike called the Trail Tractor.
You'll find an assortment of mementoes of Polaris' past. They also shed insight into the past of the sport itself. Polaris tried various ways to diversify itself in case warm winters made demand light for its snowmobiles. Sound familiar?
You will find that each visit may be unique as many exhibits are actually on loan from private collectors and displayed vehicles change frequently. Polaris donated working cutaways of engines and other historic products, such as an early ATV and a prototype Victory motorcycle. There is a kiosk with Internet connections for ordering Polaris products online, as well as a souvenir shop.
"The comments we've had since we opened have been unreal," Grindy says. "We're just really proud of it—not only for Polaris and its employees, but also for the Roseau area."
Connected To The Future
Interestingly enough, during our travels and conversations with the powers in snowmobiling, it has become quite obvious that all of us snowmobilers are going to be getting more and more of our information from the Internet. Polaris, for one, is launching a whole new campaign to personalize its information to us as individually as its marketers can. Special websites are being created to bring snowmobile product information to us about the 2009 product lines, and targeted information will be sent right to our email inboxes.
One Polaris marketing type noted that about 90% of its customers (and potential customers) are Internet savvy. The vast majority of those without Internet knowledge are aged 55 and over.
Count all snowmobile companies in on this new brand of customer interface. Why? The electronic age allows customers to be better targeted and is much more cost-effective than direct mail and other forms of advertising. Plus, customers can get all the information they want faster to allow them to take advantage of both pre-season and in-season deals. The new age of digital marketing has arrived.