Snowfest celebrating 50 years

—With or without snow . . . Snowfest is still a go
HOWARD COUNTY - It all started because of a love of snowmobiling.
Trails were secured by those owning snowmobiles. The Driftrunners Snowmobile Club was established to organize the trail system. Members worked with other groups to initiate the first Snowfest celebration in 1971.
According to Times Plain Dealer archives, the Cresco Chamber of Commerce sponsored the Jan. 28-31, 1971 International Snow Festival. Representatives of the Chamber, CIDC (Cresco Industrial Development Corp.), Cresco Jaycees and Driftrunners organized the event. It was chaired by Bud Combs.
First Annual
That first year was a benchmark of fun for all subsequent events. Snowfest included sanctioned United States Snowmobile Association (USSA) competition racing,  winter sports show, hockey games (which were canceled due to the poor condition of the ice), snow sculpturing plus many other family activities.
• With more than 150 miles of guided and marked trails, there were six Snow Safaris planned. Starting at 7 p.m., a 50-mile family trail run began on Thursday, with events planned in Protivin. Friday’s event was a 35-mile hike starting at 9 p.m., which took riders to Granger with a rest stop at George Johnson’s Ponderosa. There were two events taking place on Saturday, with one starting at 4 p.m. and the other at 8 p.m. (heading to Schley) at 25 miles each. Sunday had two 50-mile runs, also at 4 and 8.
• Snowmobile races had around 200 entries from Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota. One event was a 25-mile cross country race. There were also drag races and races around the track at the fairgrounds. There were prizes totaling over $3,000 for winners.
• Hobo stew was served at the Wildlife building on Thursday. Cost was 25¢ with a Sno-Button. They were $1 for a day or $2 for the four-day festival. 
• On Friday night was the popular Torchlight Parade. It began at the fairgrounds and traveled around Cresco. A band riding in a horse sleigh played music along the route. A bonfire was held afterwards.
• A teen sleigh ride was held at 7 p.m. on Friday.
• An Olympic-sized skating rink was set up at the fairgrounds for youth speed skating. After Snowfest, it was kept for winter recreation fun.
• Horse and cutter races were held at the airport on Saturday.
• The Blue Flames performed at the snow dance on Saturday.
• The county 4-H clubs handled concessions at the fairgrounds.
• Cresco Kiwanis had a Sunday breakfast for the snowmobilers.
• It was originally planned to have a Snow Queen crowned over the weekend, but that fell through. Miss Iowa, Cindy Helmers of Sibley, did attend the event.
• It was anticipated that close to 10,000 visitors would come to Howard County for the event. Unfortunately, a blizzard hit the area, with temperatures figured at 50 degrees below zero windchill, but that didn’t stop around 2,000 from showing up.
• Area hotels were booked, and organizers were asking locals to invite some visitors to stay in their homes.
• The event cost about $12,000 to pull off. Driftrunners is expecting this year’s event to cost around $17,000.
Proceeds of this first annual celebration were to be used to develop winter recreation for the young people of Cresco.
Notable events
As with everything, changes take place. Some events at Snowfest have been added and others that have dwindled in participation have been put on a shelf to be looked at in the future. Some of the changes are listed below.
1972 — For the second annual Snowfest, Dale Turnmire was the chairman. Activities were very similar to the year before.
With snowmobile racers and factory racing teams from across the Midwest and Canada participating, close to $10,000 in cash prizes were to be given away.
A fresh snowfall on Wednesday topped off the area’s snow cover.
Thursday was again a trail ride to Protivin labeled Czechoslavakian Night, with activities arranged by the town. Other rides took place throughout the weekend.
On Friday, the Saddle Club had sleigh rides.
Ecumenical Church at the 4-H building at the fairgrounds was an added attraction, as was a hockey match between teams from Waterloo and Cedar Falls played on the Olympic-sized rink at the fairgrounds.
Seven safari trail rides were planned, but with so much interest, nearly 40 were conducted.
1975 — On the fifth anniversary of Snowfest, which drew an estimated 1,000 snowmobiles, there was plenty of snow as the ground was covered from Thanksgiving until spring. The safaris were popular, with each group having between 150 and 200 machines participating. The races had about 180 drivers and more than $2,400 in prize money. It was the second year for the gymkhana (timed obstacle course).
1976 — A mild winter forced organizers to put water on the fairground’s oval track several times to coat it and make it slick by the time races began.
Safaris went to seven surrounding communities, including Lime Springs, Protivin, Ridgeway, Granger, Davis Corners, Schley and Lourdes.
New that year was the Cresco International Snow Festival Open Wrist Wrestling Championship. Registration was $3 in advance or $5 at the door. It was a sanctioned event by the Midwest Wrist Wrestling Championships.
1980 — Snowfest was still sponsored by Cresco Chamber of Commerce, which had downsized activities for the 10th annual event. It was eventually cancelled due to exceptionally mild weather.
1981-1982 — No events were held.
1983 — Dale Vagts was a newcomer to the area and urged the Driftrunners to work with the Chamber again to have a fun winter activity. After a three-year hiatus, a one-day Mini Snowfest event was being held on Saturday, Feb. 12. It included a broom ball tournament (using brooms and a volleyball), snow sculpting contest and scoop shovel races at Beadle Park. In the afternoon, snowmobile drag races were held at the fairgrounds. A sweetheart dance ended the activities that evening at the Wildlife Club.
Club members had rides on Friday evening and a moonlight ride on Sunday ending with a chili supper sponsored by Cresco Yamaha near Golden Ridge. That event still happens today but not in conjunction with Snowfest. Charlie’s (Nast) Chili Feed is held the Saturday closest to Valentine’s Day every year.
Local businesses had Crazy Day bargains throughout their stores.
1984 — This was the first mention for the popular annual Poker Run event.
1985 — At the 15th annual Snowfest, the broom ball  tournament had eight teams and was held at the skating rink at East Park on Saturday morning. In the afternoon was the obstacle course and timed rescue races. The torchlight parade went through downtown Cresco. The SnowBall dance was held at the Tower Club at Vernon Springs.
Sadly, there was little snow, but there were blizzard conditions for the celebration.
The ISSA was coming to Cresco, and they were raising funds for spina bifida. This was the first year for Driftrunners to embrace spina bifida as its main charity.
1990 — It was another close call on getting snow for the annual Sno-Fest/Snowfest celebration. Seven inches fell the Saturday before. As late as the Monday before the event, Driftrunners Snowmobile Club decided to move forward with the celebration. 
It was planned to have an obstacle course and radar run at the fairgrounds, along with the Sno-Ball dance. Members were busy grooming 250 miles of trails.
1992 — Up until Tuesday, Driftrunners Snowmobile Club was planning to hold the event. And then it rained, reducing snow cover, which cancelled the festival.
Before that, members were busy changing routes and establishing trails where there was snow — mainly in road ditches and wooded areas.
Then on Friday, three inches was forecast, which ended up being six inches. Visitors still came and enjoyed the new snow and annual Snowfest/Snowball Dance on Saturday night.
1995 — A large number of businesses participated in the Dealer and Vendor Show taking place in the Expo Center at Howard County Fairgrounds. The event drew all sorts of vendors selling snow and winter-related items. It hasn’t been held for three years, with the last one being held in 2018.
1996 — The 26th Annual Snowfest also marked the celebration’s 25th anniversary. Two dances were scheduled, along with a special meal. 
One of the big events in the first few years of the festival were the oval races at the fairgrounds. But 25 years later, because of high insurance costs and unfavorable weather conditions over the years, the Driftrunners started concentrating on trail rides and special events.
In addition, although there were scheduled rides, snowmobilers were encouraged to ride the trails at their leisure throughout the entire celebration.
Thursday started off with an organized ride from Granger to Kendallville. 
Friday morning, dealers and vendors set up in the Expo Center. That night was an old timers reunion. It included an old favorite, hobo stew and a dance featuring Tim’s Polka Band.
Saturday is always the big day of the event. For that anniversary year, the day started off with a breakfast sponsored by Cresco Scout Troop 261 from 6-9:30 a.m. Cresco Kiwanis had the lunch stand from 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Drag races were held at the Cresco airport, a spina bifida ride to Schley was held, along with a radar run. Later, the torchlight parade started at the Expo and traveled to Vernon Springs for the annual bonfire.
Sunday morning, the ISSA held its annual meeting at Scooter’s Tower Club, followed by the spina bifida brunch.
1997 — For the first time in many years, Snowfest featured snowmobile races. The event replaced both the radar run and obstacle course. An overnight campground was added to the fairgrounds, taking away the space used for the radar run.
Fireworks were held on Saturday night after the torchlight parade.
2001 — The Driftrunners’ 13-year-old groomer was busier than in the prior four winters as there was plenty of snow.
All the regular activities were taking place, including Boy Scout breakfast, lunch, ride for spina bifida, torchlight parade, dance, poker run and of course trail rides!
2006 — This was another year with not much snow, but the Poker Run was held by car; breakfast and lunch were held at the Expo Center; vendors were available; a bonfire and fireworks show were at Vernon Springs Mill Pond; and the band Final Answer played on Saturday.
2011 — The area was fortunate to see freshly-fallen snow for the 40th anniversary celebration for Snowfest.
To commemorate the weekend, two bands were playing on Saturday — The Jim Busta Polka Band in the afternoon and Back Home Boys that evening. In addition, just like this year, the Driftrunners are celebrating vintage sleds. In 2011, there was a ride to Schley. 
2021 — Club members are still hoping for enough snow to make the weekend enjoyable for local snowmobilers and visitors. 
Snow or no snow, most of the events will take place, even if an enthusiast can’t ride a snowmobile, supporters can get from Point A to Point B by car or truck and still enjoy the social aspects (distancing and wearing masks) of Snowfest.
Thursday events include Vokaty’s Early Bird Adventure, 50/50 Poker Run for spina bifida and an evening ride.
Friday has the ladies trail outing, evening trail ride and bonfire at Reno’s Smokehouse near Schley.
Saturday is the big day. Raffle and silent auctions will be at the Expo, as well as the Boy Scout breakfast and other food. A Vintage Sled Show will be at the Featherlite Center. Afterwards, a vintage sled ride will leave for Vernon Springs. An ISSA Club Iowa Ride will take place that morning.
New this year is the First Annual Snowfest Chilly Cookoff! It should be a great time to show off some cooking skills!
Bingo will take place at the Expo, in addition to children’s activities. A torchlight parade will go through downtown Cresco, with a bonfire and fireworks afterwards. The Dweebs will play at the Expo for the evening finale.
Sunday is the day to turn in Poker Run cards and enjoy a Sunday Recovery Run.
Each year is a new experience for those attending Snowfest and this year is no different. Even if you don’t have a sled, stop out at the Expo Center to see what you’ve been missing!

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

Sign Up For Breaking News

Stay informed on our latest news!

Manage my subscriptions

Subscribe to Breaking News feed