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Snowmobiling: Ready to ride

Although she had been inundated with snowmobiling information all day, the first thing Nicole Clifton did when she got home on Saturday night was jump on her sled. With a brand new safety certificate with her name on it, the 15-year-old finally got to drive her own snowmobile.

Clifton, along with 25 other students, took advantage of a snowmobile safety course offered by the Rosemount Sno-Toppers Saturday at the West End Gun Club.

The Rosemount snow mobile club puts on the class once each winter so locals can get their safety certificate, which is required by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for everyone born after Dec. 31, 1976.

Growing in popularity, snowmobiling, for some, makes the long cold Minnesota winters bearable. It's a fun activity that appeals to people of all ages, said Sno-Toppers president Jerry Tompkins. But just like everything it comes with its own set of risks.

Beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday morning the students, who were all at least 12 years old, took in eight hours worth of safety and mechanics from DNR-certified instructors. Similar to an automobile driving course, the class covered rules, safety and maintenance of a snowmobile. Students also had to pass a driving test on a pre-designated course.

Despite the cold temperatures Saturday, the students seemed to enjoy the class, especially the driving portion. Lighthouse Motorsports donated a set of snowmobiles for the students to use for the day. While he didn't get to fulfill his need for speed, Brandon Sullivan said driving was the highlight of the day for him.

"I like the driving part the best," said Sullivan.

Sullivan, an eighth grader from Lake Elmo, said he couldn't wait to drive a snowmobile by himself. When asked if he learned anything surprising from the class Sullivan said he didn't know there was a speed limit for snowmobiles.

"My favorite thing is to go fast," he said.

Asked if he would follow the speed limits, Sullivan dutifully answered "yes".

While some of the information is dry, Tompkins said it's important that the kids have a good understanding of the safety and mechanics involved with the sport.

"We try to make it exciting," said Tompkins. "But the biggest thing is that they have a good understanding of safety."

Pictures and videos helped the instructors get their points across. After seeing an image of frostbit fingers, one kid in the class said he would never lose his gloves again.

The videos shown during the day emphasized the danger of hypothermia and the need to be careful around open water.

Although she has snowmobiled with her family for most of her life, Clifton said she didn't realize until Saturday how dangerous snowmobiling could be.

"It can be really dangerous," said Clifton.

In addition to providing the class each year the Sno-Toppers take care of area trails. The members of the small club are happy to provide the services to the community but have struggled the past few years because of low membership numbers.

The club also grooms 25 miles of local trails around Rosemount. The extensive trail system starts in downtown Rosemount and goes all the way to Coates along 160th. The trails along 160th are one way. Trails also go through UMore Park. Most of the trails opened Dec. 1.

Though the few members of the club are devoted, more members are needed so it can continue to offer its services, said Tompkins.

The club has a great history in Rosemount. It started in 1969. To get it going, two members put their house on lien. The club has since maintained trails in the area and offered the DNR course. Every other year the club also puts on a fundraiser and donates the money to a area charity.

The Rosemount Sno-Toppers meet at the Rosemount American Legion, the first and third Tuesday of each month during the fall, winter and spring. The next meeting is at 8 p.m. Dec. 16. The meeting is open to anyone interested.

For more information contact Jerry Tompkins at 651-324-8608.