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Generation X Goes Sledding

The latest generation out and about on snowmobiles
Tayler Reynolds can already feel the crunch of fresh powder beneath her snowmobile as she breaks from the trail and twists through the pines, negotiating each turn with acute accuracy. The wind whipping against her and the sweet smell of northern Michigan overwhelm her. She is alive, and snowmobiling is in her blood, an inescapable force she can't shake, worse than a rider hugging her taillight.

Only two years old, Tayler still has a few years before personally negotiating any hairpin turns or twisting through a field of virgin pine on a cold February morning. Born to James, 33, and Karen, 31, she is the future of snowmobiling, a sport that has captivated her parents and many more Generation Xers (those 18-35 approximately).

The same group targeted by media, automotive, and fast food industries has fallen in love with snowmobiling. While other couples their age plan trips to escape Michigan's winters or purchase the latest home entertainment system, the Reynolds look forward to stealing a weekend or two a year to enjoy their favorite sport.

"I've been riding all my life," James says. "I started when I was two, Tayler's age. Even if I only ride once a year, that's enough. I just love being in the outdoors."

Karen concurs. She started snowmobiling when she met James and has been riding ever since, proud to state that she rode during all of her pregnancies.

For the Reynolds, not only does snowmobiling provide the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors during winter, but it also provides some quality family time.

In fact, for many Generation Xers, snowmobiling is a family tradition. Jacob Rye, 19, spent much of his childhood restoring a 1973 Arctic Cat Panther with his father. Doug Miller, 24, was born in July 1976- the following winter his dad zipped him up in a coat and set him on his sled.

Lori Jo Kleindienst, 31, has been riding since she was five years old. Her family would stay at their cabin in Hillman, Michigan during the holidays and snowmobile. Kleindienst would ride with her dad while her sister rode with mom.

"It was a family activity," she says. "I can remember my father letting me drive on Houghton Lake (Michigan) or any clear spot on some frozen lake. Then we would stop and cook hot dogs on the trail."

Kleindienst said, "It's the freedom that you feel compared to inside a vehicle, the wind in your face."

When Andrea Head joined her brother and boyfriend on her first snowmobiling trip, she didn't think that she would enjoy it. Basically, she just wanted to spend some time with two of the most important men in her life. Then she got hooked.
"I didn't like riding on back. I'm a control freak. So when I finally drove, it was great. What a rush! I felt the adrenaline pumping. I didn't want to go inside and eat. I just wanted to ride," says Head, who now regularly rides with both of them.

Xers agree that the speed and freedom invigorate them. Quickly, after their first ride, they become snowmobiling junkies.
"Snowmobiling gives you that adrenaline rush," Rye says, adding that he respects the power of the machine.

Dealer Ed Andrews thinks the allure of snowmobiling goes beyond speed and lies in the rebel image often associated with motorcycles. He says riding gives Xers freedom and individuality; they are out there doing something that others their age are not. With the economy strong, young people are making good money and can afford a sport that he says can be expensive to get into.

Even purchasing a used sled, riders can quickly rack up the dollars as a trailer, suit, helmet and money for food, gas and lodging are factored into a weekend sport.

However, many Generation Xers have avoided these high start-up costs by riding their families' equipment and staying at their cabins.

But when the time comes for Xers to spend their own money, many claim their love for snowmobiling has taught them how to budget.

"Helmets aren't cheap," Rye says. "I work a lot and save money for snowmobile maintenance."

Ryan Andrews knows when he travels north to ride that prices for gas and food will be a little higher. But he says it's worth it to be stingy during the week to spend money on gas and pizza over the weekend.

Doug Miller, too, has always known snowmobiling is expensive.

"I bought my first sled at 16 while I was still in high school," Miller says. "I can remember putting money from my paycheck into the saddlebags each week all summer so that I could afford to ride that winter."

While Miller still sets aside money for snowmobiling, he now finds that the work that supports his habit robs him of his riding time.
"When I worked for someone else, I used to save my vacation time," Miller says. "Now that I work for myself, I just budget my time like my money."

Dave Wheatcroft, 26, and his wife Jennifer, 25, recognize that their favorite hobby takes time and money. But they are only young once.

"Money? We just do it," they say. "Snowmobiling is a big part of our lives."

Regardless of the pressures of time and money, the thrills, freedom and love of the outdoors bring Generation Xers back to the trails again and again.

"I love being in the outdoors," Ryan Andrews says. "I try to do as much as I can outside. I hate computers and all that."

But for many snowmobiling is still a family affair. Kleindienst, like James and Karen Reynolds, plans to pass her passion for snowmobiling on to her family and hopes to someday ride with her children.

"Kids need more stimulation than reading a book, watching a movie or playing a video game," she says. "Snowmobiling is a real life experience, a family activity that is fun."

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