It was a Sunday afternoon about 50 years ago when some members of the Naytahwaush Nightriders Snowmobile Club and a horse-riding club from the Mahnomen area were all hanging out at the Pinehurst Resort, between North and South Twin Lake just outside Naytahwaush.
As the afternoon progressed, some friendly banter began going back and forth between the two groups about which was faster: A galloping horse, or a snowmobile. Sometime during the discussion, a challenge was issued, and the following Sunday, a rodeo-type competition was set up between the riders of horses and sleds, to see which had the most horsepower, so to speak.
"The horseback riders wanted to call it a rodeo, and the snowmobilers wanted to call it snowmobile racing, so they finally decided on 'snodeo'," recalls Jack Hausner, a founding member of the Naytahwaush club who was also part of the inaugural race event.
That first event included both barrel racing and something called an egg race: Each of these will be reenacted as part of the 50th Annual Snodeo, which takes place Saturday and Sunday, March 7-8, at Pinehurst Resort.
The horseback riders ended up losing to the snowmobile riders badly enough that they didn't bother to show up for the second year, Hausner recalled — but the name "Snodeo" stuck, and while the type and scope of competition has evolved considerably over the years, the Nightriders have continued to host it every winter for the past five decades.
For most of that time, Hausner has been involved in preparations for the annual Snodeo, though his role has evolved from organizing the events to taking tickets at the gate.
"I'm 84 years old, so I don't have to do all that anymore," he said. "I'm happy to let someone else handle it."
Hausner has been such an integral part of the club and its annual Snodeo, however, that he was inducted into the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame in Eagle River, Wis., as part of the Class of 2016.
Though Steve "Carrot" Paul was just a little tyke during that first Snodeo, it didn't take him and his friends long to get involved in the racing end of it: In fact, he said during a Tuesday interview, they may have "fudged" their ages a little bit so they could start racing when they were 10-11 years old instead of the minimum required age of 12.
"You have to have your snowmobile safety certificate," he said, adding that 12 was the minimum age for obtaining one back then, and still is.
There are mini-races for kids ages 6-11, Paul said, but the sleds used for those races are "mini" as well, and can't get up to the speeds the full-size sleds can, which is why there is no certificate required to participate.
Though he himself hasn't raced in several years, Paul said, his children have, and the family continues to be involved with club activities as well.
A 50-year tradition ... with one exception
The Snodeo has been held at Pinehurst Resort every year, except one, according to Snodeo volunteer Shelly Brunner. One year during the early 1980s, it was held at Broken Arrow Resort on Bass Lake, and the families that run both Pinehurst and Broken Arrow have been a part of the event since its early days.
"Pull up a chair at these establishments and the conversation will probably turn to reminiscing about past Snodeos, or riding the snowmobile trails," Brunner said in a written account of the event's 50-year history.
Speaking of those snowmobile trails, they're in a lot better shape than they were during the club's early years, Hausner said. "We have a better trail system now," he said.
Brunner noted that the current trail system didn't come about without a lot of hard work from the original members of the club, who often tell stories of clearing trails "with a tractor and a bed spring to groom them."
The club rides that have taken place on these trails through the years, "are favorite memories of many club members past and present," she said.
Celebrating a milestone
Besides the aforementioned egg and barrel races, which will take place on Sunday and include teams from other area clubs, there will also be a lineup of "one snowmobile from every year" since the Snodeo's inception.
"We're only missing a couple (years) right now," said Paul, and they expect to have at least one sled from each year represented at the event. That's in addition to the vintage snowmobile show that is held every year in conjunction with the races, Paul said.
After the vintage snowmobile show, at about 1:30 p.m., there will be an old-timers' run where riders will take their vintage sleds out on the trails from Pinehurst to Broken Arrow Resort and back again.
"It's about 7-8 miles," said Paul, adding that while this seems like a relatively short run, doing it on vintage sleds makes the event quite a challenge for some.
There will also be cross-country races held on the lake throughout both days of the Snodeo, with some of the most experienced racers from the USXC Racing circuit participating. In addition, club members and other riders from the area will be taking part in a Radar Run competition, which will be on both days of the Snodeo as well.
Saturday night will be dancing with live music from 4-Wheel Drive (live band). There will also be a raffle drawing, with prizes including an original 1972 Kitty Kat snowmobile and ZR200 Artic Cat snowmobile or $2,500 cash, along with a Mossberg Patriot 7mm .08 rifle and more cash prizes.
For more information, including a complete schedule of events, visit the Naytahwaush Nightriders website at naytahwaushnightriders.com, and be sure to check out the club's Facebook page for updates on all the action.