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Breaking The Ice - The North American XJ Association: Winterfest

Posted in Events on August 1, 2010
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The North American XJ Association (NAXJA) held their 10th annual Winterfest last March at the Badlands Off Road Park in Attica, Indiana. With almost 100 XJs in attendance, Winterfest is the largest event in the NAXJA event portfolio-but we found that even though it's the biggest, the event felt more like a cozy gathering of friends. The event had a unique ambience that felt like a family reunion of those sharing a common bond. We know that sounds mushy (like most of the trails were at Winterfest, and we'll get to that in a minute), but it's true. The positive vibe and the sense of camaraderie were obvious.

We corralled the majority of XJs in attendance for a group shot. All kinds of XJs from bone-stock to sliced-n-diced were represented.

What exactly is NAXJA? Well, it's an Internet-based club centered on the Jeep Cherokee XJ (but also open to the Jeep Comanche MJ). The club was formed in 2000 and currently consists of 10 chapters located throughout the United States. The NAXJA website is a gold mine of XJ info, and it features everything from tech talk to trail talk. Much of the forum is open to the public, but joining NAXJA allows access to members-only areas with even more info and interaction. Each of the 10 NAXJA chapters hosts one major event yearly, and these events happen in some of the hottest wheeling areas the U.S. has to offer. Additionally, these chapters host other events, gatherings, and trailrides as well.

As we said, Winterfest celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, and as it has for nine of its ten-year history, it returned to the Badlands Off Road Park in Attica, Indiana. The Badlands is a great venue for the event and popular with participants due to its wide range of terrain, front gate-located camping, nearby hotels, and restaurants. Event logistics was handled by the Midwest Chapter of NAXJA. Current Midwest Chapter President Tyler Preston and his crew made sure that everything ran smoothly and on time. Technically, Winterfest was a one-day event in 2010, but we were there a day early and there were XJs wheeling all over the park. In addition to a day of trail rides, there was a Saturday evening catered dinner at the local VFW, followed by a raffle. This year, the raffle included products graciously donated by Rough Country Suspension, JcrOffroad, H.D. Offroad Engineering, Mayberry Farms, Warn, ARB, Master Pull, and Tom Wood's Driveshafts, among many others.

Indiana weather in early March can be anyone's guess, but this year it was actually very good. The winter snow was gone from the western Indiana terrain, but the ground at the park was still saturated with moisture. The night before the event, temperatures dipped into the 20s, which froze the ground solid. By late morning on the day of the event, the sun was shining and a full-scale melt was in process. This turned most of the trails mega-slippery, which was just fine with the Winterfest participants.

Winterfest 2010 lived up to its name, offering a taste of cold weather wheeling and a festive atmosphere. If you'd like more info on NAXJA or Winterfest, visit

Why Is The XJ Still So Popular?
It has been out of production since 2001, but the Jeep Cherokee XJ continues to be a popular SUV both on- and off-pavement.

We asked some NAXJA club officers why they thought the XJ is still a fav, and they responded with "durability, accessibility, and price."

Durability: Solid axles at both ends; coil spring (Quadra-Link) front suspension; rear leaf springs; lever-activated transfer case; no complicated traction control or skid control electronics.

Accessibility: The XJ was manufactured for a mind-boggling 17 years, so accessibility is a given.

Price: These machines are very reasonable in cost-far less than a Wrangler costs, for instance.

It's also worth noting that thanks to the long production run there are scores of aftermarket companies making products for the XJ. Building a unibody rig has challenges that a ladder frame rig doesn't, but the aftermarket has answered that call as well, with chassis stiffener kits and the like.

Late in the day, the trailriding was winding down and everyone's thoughts turned to the catered meal to follow. Apparently, Sean Rafferty was distracted by the pros and cons of chicken vs. beef-on the last obstacle he drove his rig straight into a boulder on a steep downhill, which resulted in a unique view of the Badlands for him and his wife Laura.

Fellow NAXJA members sprung into action and with the use of two winches lowered Rafferty's rig into the canyon. They helped remove the spark plugs so that the cylinders could be emptied of oil and Rafferty then drove the rig back to camp.

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North American XJ Association
Attica, IN

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