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When most people hear the word "snowmobile", they probably think of long stretches of trails through the Northwoods with a 600cc engine humming. And this would be true...most of the time. But some intrepid thrill-seekers wanted to hone their ski-jockey skills year-round. Enter watercross.
Watercross, quite simply, is the racing of snowmobiles over open water. Unmodified. The combination of the wide runners on the front of the sled and the powerful treads on the back make the snowmobile hydroplane over the water. It's not unlike skipping a stone over the water. Except the stone is 500 pounds and you throw it 75mph.
Some have called it the NASCAR of the Northwoods, but I think that name is misleading. These racers are a lot more insane and awesome. If you crash a car, that's it. If you crash in watercross, you sink. This is a uniquely northern sport that is as thrilling to watch as it is to race.
The first organized race was held in the northwestern town of Grantsburg in 1977. The first year was a simple 300ft drag race across Memory Lake. Most racers didn't make it all the way. But every year since then, Grantsburg has been hosting the World Championship Snowmobile Watercross. The event attracts hundreds of racers from as far away as Finland and is a weekend-long festival complete with music, beer, and festival food.
Drag racing is one thing, but the oval courses are the real test of skill. Steering on the water can only be done by leaning into the turn, adding considerably more risk of sinking. The championship race is eight laps around two buoys. In 2013 Finnish racer Antti Holmberg set the speed record of 112mph. Despite being a popular winter recreation, watercross is illegal in Minnesota.
If you'd like to see this for yourself (and who are we kidding, of course you do), you can attend the World Championship Snowmobile Watercross in Grantsburg from July 17-19. If you are unable to attend this outrageously amazing event, I've posted a video of what you are missing. Enjoy.