- Associated Press - Sunday, February 7, 2016

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) - The sounds and smells in the hills north of Baker Lake rivaled those of an auto racetrack as snowmobilers prepared to take off along Forest Service Road 13.

Members of the Northwest Glacier Cruisers snowmobile club weren’t happy about the rain and gravel they encountered in the parking lot. More snow is always better, they said.

Still, club veterans and newcomers came together along with some snowmobilers from as far away as Oregon to participate in the club’s annual poker run fundraiser.

Some ride snowmobiles for the rush of it. Others for access to great scenery. And some, simply because their parents do.

That was the case for 7-month-old Silas Ronhaar, who was bundled up and strapped to the chest of her mom Jessica Ronhaar for the ride.

Several club members said they have always included their children in their snowmobiling adventures.

“My kids were sitting between our legs in front of us (when they were little),” club president Dana Gerdes said.

Kevin Hoglund of Burlington remembers riding with his family when he was young.

“I started riding snowmobiles when I was 5. I’m 47 now,” he said.

Whatever the reason for starting, club members agree it’s easy to get hooked on snowmobiling.

“The only thing that keeps me going in the wintertime when it’s raining is knowing it’s snowing up above and we’re going to head for the hills come Saturday. It breaks up the doldrums of winter in western Washington,” Gerdes said.

He has been club president for three years.

“I wanted to do it to give back to the sport that my family loves and that I have loved for years,” Gerdes said. “This is a wonderful sport to be involved with.”

Jeni Huffstetler said the scenery she has seen while snowmobiling is unlike anything else.

Tucked in the hills between Highway 20 and Mount Baker, Forest Service Road 13 offers views of Baker in the distance on clear days.

The group celebrated as fresh snow began to fall that morning, and at the end of the seven-mile journey to the club’s warming hut, the snowpack was thick, with blue undertones.

Delicate icicles lined the roof of the cabin-like hut, named Ploug’s Place after one of the club’s longest-standing members, Doug Ploug. Ploug donated the materials to build the hut, club secretary Tina Shields said.

Inside the hut a fire crackled and gear - helmets, hats, gloves and coats - were hung from pegs and rafters to dry.

While warming up in the hut, Lacey Lawson signed the club’s guest book.

Lawson came up from Portland with Shawn Meyers and Andrew Vanzee to ride with the Northwest Glacier Cruisers for the first time.

The three, who are friends from high school, can’t turn down a good ride and poker run, Lawson said.

Outside, dozens of snowmobiles were parked alongside the hut. Children climbed snow berms and rode plastic sleds back down.

In the distance, Anthony Ronhaar coached his 3-year-old daughter Cierra on how to drive her miniature snowmobile.

Behind the hut, club members fired up barbecue grills and served lunch before rallying the young club members for some training from the Northwest Avalanche Center.

“The cool thing about winter recreation is that it can be such a family outing,” said Jeff Hambelton of the Northwest Avalanche Center. “That’s the cool thing about being here - seeing three generations out here together.”

Six youngsters ages 5 to 15 gathered around to learn about snowpack, avalanches and companion rescue.

Two of them, 5-year-old Dregan Kortlever and 8-year-old Isabelle Kortlever, were at the event with their father and grandfather.

But here, with the Northwest Glacier Cruisers, it’s like everyone is family.

“The people you meet are wonderful and it’s amazing to see the kids like Cierra learning to ride,” Huffstetler said.

For Drew Peters, who moved to Anacortes from Hawaii last year, the poker run marked his third ride with the club. Still, he felt just like one of the pack, he said.

Mike Couch, who is on the Lyman Town Council, is also involved with the club.

He remembers going on his first snowmobile ride on Mount Baker with a friend in 1989. A decade later, he bought his own snowmobile.

He served as club president for five years, and still delivers the barbecue and cooking equipment for events, including the annual poker run.

Shields has fond memories of the giant snowcat snow vehicle Couch uses to haul the equipment up to the warming hut.

On July 2, 2011, that snowcat carried some of Shields’ family and friends up to a spot on the road with a special view for her wedding day. Her and husband Tom Shields snowmobile together and wanted to get married on the mountain, she said.

She also has long-standing family ties to the club.

Her father, Dick Pitman, was one of the original club trustees when it was founded in 1967, she said.

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Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, http://www.skagitvalleyherald.com

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