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5th Annual Raptor Winter Wonderland

Raptors run wild in the Michigan snow

Megan KauschPhotographer, Writer

Once upon a time there was a group of outdoor adventurists who thought it would be fun to get together a group of crazy snow lovers and their trucks, see how well their rubber shoes slid through the snow and to see how quickly their seat heaters got up to temperature.

The inaugural “SnoBall” excursion took place in 2013 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There were some who questioned running around in temperatures below 60-degrees Fahrenheit, while others just needed an excuse to get out of the office for a long weekend. But despite all of this, on January 14, 2017, this group of truck lovers found themselves, once again, enjoying the adventure of off-roading their Ford Raptors in Michigan for the 5th straight year.

Jason and Heather Kanakry, and Mark Rowe of Great Lakes Raptor Excursions pour countless hours of their time and energy into organizing this event. There are so many details that need to be lined up prior to the start date but the folks at GLRE produce an event that is fun, safe and exciting. Most of the drivers arrived to the event on Friday, January 13. A special addition to this year’s event was an open invitation to any participant to attend a special factory tour of the Roush Performance Headquarters courtesy of RPG Offroad and organized by Nicholas Shafer, VP of Marketing at Roush. About 25 Raptors arrived for a mid-day tour of Roush Performance. It was then off to the Island Resort and Casino in the Upper Peninsula. At 8:00pm the mandatory SnoBall kickoff started where participants could chat with vendors, purchase products and get warmed up for the excitement ahead.

At 8:30am Saturday morning, January 14, the mandatory driver’s meeting took place directed by Jason Kanakry. Drivers were briefed on details of the event and course specifics and questions were answered. The event was organized into five groups and the five groups were named thus: Alpha, led by Jason Kanakry; Bravo, led by Keith Mandoske; Delta, led by Jeff Slater; Spartan, led by Todd Dessain; Yeti, led by Mark Rowe. Each group had 10-15 trucks with a designated leader and chase truck. The GLRE folks are sticklers for everyone getting home safely from the event and have three important rules that each group shared: have fun, be safe, no whining!

With the trucks rolling, the event was well underway. A few trucks got stuck, requiring a group effort to get them back on the trail. Rest assured that all drivers had plenty to talk about this night at dinner and over drinks back at the Island Resort and Casino. The final group of participants arrived to the evening’s festivities at 12:30am.

Sunday morning started bright and early at 8:30am for the driver’s meeting, and then the groups were off again at 9:00am. This year we did a throwback to the original SnoBall with all groups on the trail at the same time. There was also a stop at the UP North Lodge. Much like Dishno Road. The snow was very deep in the northern central UP causing some of the groups to get backed up, but everyone helped with the forward progress. Another day of fun, and a relaxing evening of food and story-swapping.

Monday began at 8:30am with a driver’s meeting and the teams were off once again. Monday night concluded the weekend with a banquet hosted by Great Lakes Raptor Excursions in the Island Resort Hotel and Casino banquet hall. There were raffle tickets sold at the banquet and all proceeds benefited the Intrepid Fallen Hero Fund, and overall GLRE raised $7,800 for this charity. After a fun evening of frivolities, everyone called it a night and headed home early the next morning.

In case you are interested in registering for this event next year, here are some event details to consider. Registration cost is $500 per truck with one driver and one co-driver. Included in this price is a SnoBall 500 sweatshirt for each participant, SnoBall placards, a driver’s bag, and entrance into the closing SnoBall banquet event. You must also ensure that your ride is properly equipped for an event of this type. Items like radios, two straps, shovels and above all warm clothing are needed and required, but for anyone who ever thought about off-roading in the snow, this is the event to try.