How the Cascade Drift Skippers became the 2017 International Snowmobile Club of the Year

Chris Mayer celebrates their Cascade Drift Skippers International Snowmobile Club of the Year award out on the trail.

When B.C. native Chris Mayer moved to Seattle and joined the Cascade Drift Skippers, he found club members had a definite interest in learning more backcountry riding and safety skills. People were joining for learning and camaraderie, and club meetings are the perfect venue for knowledge-based seminars. Word spread and membership grew, as the Cascade Drift Skippers took their sled knowledge on-snow with group rides throughout the winter. What followed earned them the state, national and international awards. With a focus on education, here’s how the Cascade Drift Skippers became the 2017 International Snowmobile Club of the Year.

“When I grew up in a small-town mountain environment, snowmobiling was not a sport. It was just a mode of transportation to get into the backcountry for ice fishing or skiing,” says Mayer. “Backcountry knowledge was inherited, everything you needed from hauling sleds to survival and avalanche awareness was learned at a young age under supervision.”

After time off for University, Chris resettled to Seattle and started snowmobiling again. He joined the 40-year-old Cascade Drift Skippers to meet riding partners, and shortly fell into a leadership role.

“The first meeting I went to was very traditional By-Law style: old business, new business, motions to the floor. While serving a function, it wasn’t the meeting format that compelled more people to join the club,” Chris said. “When you live in a more populous area like Seattle, and you didn’t grow up snowmobiling, it is very difficult to get into the sport. As such, snowmobile clubs have to provide every opportunity for current and prospective members to learn new skills from the beginner to advanced levels. The meetings are a great place to start.”

As club president, his first order of business was to refocus the club meetings on education. On snow skills rides, beginner rides and family rides were soon to follow as senior club members contributed to education programs.

The Cascade Drift Skippers snowmobile club on the road.

With a background in marketing and K-12 educational software development, Chris decided to gather some sponsors and create the Backcountry Ascender education program. He defined beginner, intermediate and advanced levels and created a growth path within the club so people could progress into different rides, pairing experience to less experience. The club grew 400% in last four years to 350 members. They had some of the first interclub competitions within the Backcountry Ascender platform, which lead to more and more members progressing with their avalanche safety training.

All of these factors earned the Cascade Drift Skippers the Washington State Snowmobile Club of the year. They then won the national and international snowmobile club awards, which they collected in Winnipeg in June of 2017.

“Increasing our club membership has been easy with our education initiatives because the need is there,” says Chris. “It’s been very rewarding watching the club grow and our member’s skills progress. We have such great members, all of whom step up to lead or help with new members.”

In addition to education, the Cascade Drift Skippers have some incredible community outreach, fundraising, and membership recruitment programs. If you are looking for new ideas for your snowmobile club, read excerpts from club’s application to learn more about how the Cascade Drift Skippers became the 2017 International Snowmobile Club of the Year below.

Seattle Times outdoor writer Tan Vinh trying to level out his snowmobile on a sloping trail out from Crystal Springs Sno-Park with the Cascade Drift Skippers Club. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)


The Cascade Drift Skippers Nomination for The American Council of Snowmobiles, International Snowmobile Club of the Year

How does your snowmobile club promote membership to new people?

The Cascade Drift Skippers promote the sport of snowmobiling through these avenues:

  • Good Will: CDS’ best snowmobiling promotion is community involvement. Within this last year, we did trail clearing in the summer, SnoPark Clean up in the spring, and had many members on various boards and committees so that we can maintain good community relationships and continually promote our club and the sport of snowmobiling.
  • Seminar Style Club Meetings: Each club meeting is designed to be informative but also have an engaging educational element to it as well. This has helped greatly in attracting membership. We have extended the reach of these seminar-style meetings by presenting at dealerships (Premier Polaris), and at the State Snowmobile Expo. The content of our seminars ranges from Backcountry Winter Survival to Snowmobile Extraction and Mountain Skills and Techniques.
  • Club Activities: In addition to our engaging meetings, CDS is well known for its club rides. Every season we have many Family and Beginner Rides, Skills Rides, and Destination Rides, such as Whistling Jacks, and Destination Trips, like to Whistler, Valemount, Revelstoke, or McCall. Each of these activities generates social media influence and has helped us grow our member base.
  • Media Relations: Every year we try and work with some media outlet to promote our club and the sport of snowmobiling. Last year, we were able to take the Seattle Times out riding, which generated this local news story.
  • Promotional Ads and Videos: The club uses Youtube to post promotional videos like its snowmobile club recruiting video. And we participated in a Valero national commercial for their #fueledby campaign. Below are the links to two versions of the commercial and the fueled web page where the Cascade Drift Skippers are called out by name!

The Cascade Drift Skippers Snowmobile Club recruiting video.

How long has the club been active?

Our club has been active since 1969!

Does your club have an  online presence?

In addition to our Youtube channel, our club has a website – cascadedriftskippers.com, and Facebook page.

How does the club participate in fund raising events?

Fund raising is an important part of our annual initiatives so we can adequately fund our training and safety campaigns within the state. We also try to keep fund raising fresh with new supporters. Over the last several years we have raised, or helped raise money in these fashions:

  • The Cascade Drift Skippers (CDS) has created a fundraising opportunity through a raffle ticket program. Approximately 70% of the prizes are purchased by the club with the other 30% being donated through our vendors. We try to minimize the yearly task of continually reaching out to our vendors/dealers for support.
  • CDS members attend the WSSA Winter Rendezvous in support of their efforts to raise money for the legal action fund. Many of the members purchase raffle tickets for the annual trailer giveaway and participate in the live and silent auction.
  • Every summer we invite members and non-members alike to participate in our Sledfit summer condition program. We charge $30 for the program, which provides 12 weeks of personalized training designed specifically for snowmobiling conditioning. In addition to raising thousands for the club, it keeps members engaged all year round.
  • CDS is an Amazon Affiliate, so when our members, their extended family, and club acquaintances use our affiliate link to purchase from Amazon, CDS gets 3-6% of the total purchase price back.
  • Every year, CDS volunteers hundreds of person hours for our annual state expo. This generates money for both our club and the Washington State Snowmobile Association.
  • Out of the box thinking! This year we were able to participate in a Valero national commercial shoot, and as a result raised thousands for our club.

The Cascade Drift Skippers have more than quadrupled its snowmobile club membership in the last 5 years.

Does your club have any partnerships with other organizations?

The Cascade Drift Skippers partners with many organizations every season an integral part of fostering good will and promoting our sport. Here are a few examples:

  • Wounded Warriors Project: Every season, CDS partners with the Wounded Warrior Project to host one or two rides for wounded veterans. We coordinate efforts with Joint Base Lewis-McChord to provide a day of riding for soldiers that are in the Wounded Warrior program. For many of the participants, it is their first time on a snowmobile. We provide all equipment, training, and education on how to ride, supervise their riding and provide encouragement.
  • The Nature Conservancy: Seemingly an unlikely alliance, The TNC is now one of the largest private landowners in and adjacent to our riding areas. We established a great relationship with them by mapping and cataloging our riding areas and trail systems. Now we help them with trail clearing and enforcement.
  • The US Forest Service: over the last year, CDS has worked with the USFS first to certify six members with Chain Saw certifications so then they could then work again with USFS on trial clearing activities. CDS also worked with the USFS this year to get a special use permit under which we were able to house an Avalanche Transceiver Checker Station.
  • The Northwest Avalanche Center: The Cascade Drift Skippers is heavily committed to safety and education. In the last two seasons, over 75 club members have completed avalanche safety and companion rescue courses, 24 club members have completed Ivy Level 1 courses, and two club members have completed Avy Level 2 courses. We continually partner with NWAC on training and education initiatives.
  • Other Sled Clubs: The Cascade Drift Skippers frequently partner with other snowmobile clubs to organize rides, safety/training, and community service events.
  • Big Tent Membership: CDS maintains an active partnership with the Big Tent Outdoor Recreation Coalition to raise awareness of the economic, social, and health benefits of the outdoor recreation sector across Washington.

The Cascade Drift Skippers take veterans out snowmobiling on a Wounded Warriors ride.

How does the club represent snowmobiling and snowmobilers at club, regional, state, and national activities?

Over the last 40 plus years, the Cascade Drift Skippers has been a club that motivates their members to learn the important things to be a great rider by teaching them riding positions and avalanche safety.  The club encourages members to be partners with the U.S. Forest Service by taking their “Chain Saw Class” so that they can help clear snowmobile trails that need to be opened up for grooming. It also encourage members to work with other clubs to promote snowmobiling.

CDS sends its members to All Trails Day in Olympia and visit every politician’s office with the same message. It partners with the Northwest Avalanche Center to provide online news about avalanche conditions. It is involved with the Washington State Snowmobile Association by providing leaders to the offices of President, Vice President, Membership, Treasurer, Safety, Scholarships, Tourism, Winter Rendezvous Coordinator, and Land Use, among others.

On a Regional level, they partner with other states, provide leadership for the Western Chapter and provide people to teach workshops. On a National level, they provide Leaders and Board Members for the American Council of Snowmobile Associations. They support those who go to Washington, D.C. to testify and also attend the ACSA Fly-In in D.C. On an International level, CDS encourages members to attend the International Snowmobile Congress held every June. The club partners with the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association to promote Backcountry Ascender, and maintains a the CDS website that provides information on rides, classes, avalanche centers, a great photo gallery, and other activities in which the Club is involved.

Cascade Drift Skippers’ members show off their new BCA Float MtnPro Vest avalanche airbag, a prize in their annual raffle.

How does the club promote safe and responsible riding for members and non-members?

  • Seminar Style Club Meetings: Each club meeting is designed to be informative but also have an engaging educational element to it as well. This has helped greatly in attracting membership. We have extended the reach of these seminar-style meetings by presenting at dealerships (Premier Polaris), and at the State Snowmobile Expo. The content of our seminars ranges from Backcountry Winter Survival to Snowmobile Extraction and Mountain Skills and Techniques. These seminars are open to all members and hundreds of non-members.
  • Ride Expectations: When we post club ride invitations and host club rides, it is made very clear that the right level of equipment and training is required for the level of ride in question. If someone does not show up with the right equipment then they will not be allowed to join the ride. No exceptions. While this sounds harsh, it actually encourages preparedness and skills growth. We have an unprecedented number of prepared riders as a result, and people joining our club for the training opportunities we provide. No alcohol is ever allowed on club rides.
  • Avalanche Training: In the last two seasons, we have put over 75 club members through ‘on snow’ avalanche companion rescue courses, 24 club members through a Level 1 course, and 2 club members through a level 2 course. We are making it an expectation within our club that avalanche training is required of members and all rescue equipment, transceiver, shovel and probes are required for club rides.
  • Avalanche Safety Gear: Club members are expected to carry and wear avalanche safety gear, including BCA Mtnpro protective vests and/or avalanche airbags, shin guards, avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels, along with BC Link radios for group communication.
  • Avalanche Transceiver Station: This season, the Cascade Drift Skippers worked with BCA, USFS and Boulder Creek Grooming to obtain, permit and set up the first Avalanche Transceiver Checker Station at a SnoPark in Washington State. This station is just out of the Salmon La Sac Sno Park. The signage of this check station promotes our club and snowmobiling, and has hundreds and hundreds of motor and non-motorized users pass this station every day, it reinforces our commitment to bettering the sport of snowmobiling.
  • Search and Rescue: The CDS maintains several proficient SAR personal and equipment, including two EMS Trauma toboggans and Extraction Kits the club has built and are available for usage. Within the last year, CDS club members have responded to over 8 SAR incidents, each usually have several club members in response. We believe to lead by example, and training and preparedness fosters safe and responsible riding.

BCA avalanche transceiver checkpoints at trailheads ensure sledders transceivers are on and transmitting before they head out on a ride.

What methods does your club use to introduce non-snowmobilers to the sport?

  • Beginner, Q&A, and Family Rides: At least twice a month, we will have an entry level ride where new or beginning riders can join, learn and feel no pressure to ask questions. We will help will any and all aspects of the support, including initial equipment purchases, loading and unloading, hauling, safe operation and skills development. We have incubated numerous riders from scratch though our club, who are now, in turn, leaders in our sport and community.
  • Bring a Friend: We encourage members to bring friends, family, and acquaintances new to the sport out for a beginner club ride. This has created a sled-skiing group within our club where many backcountry skiers have joined our club to learn our sport for better accessibility to theirs. Many have turned to become hardcore sledders!

CDS snowmobile club members learn to probe as part of avalanche safety on-snow training.

What activities has the club done in the past year to promote a positive image of snowmobiling?

  • Wounded Warriors Ride. We coordinate efforts with the Joint Base Lewis/McChord to provide a day of riding for soldiers that are in the Wounded Warrior program. For many of the participants, it is their first time on a snowmobile. We provide all equipment, training, and education on how to ride, supervise their riding and provide encouragement.
  • BCA Beacon Check Station. This season, the Cascade Drift Skippers were able to work with BCA, USFS and Boulder Creek Grooming to obtain, permit and set up the first Avalanche Transceiver Checker Station at a SnoPark in Washington State. This station is just out of the Salmon La Sac SnoPark. The signage of this check station promotes our club and snowmobiling, and has hundreds and hundreds of motor and non-motorized users pass this station every day; it reinforces our commitment to bettering the sport of snowmobiling.
  • Sledfit. Sledfit is a 10-week light conditioning program consisting of ‘do-at-home’ exercises and group hikes. The exercises are three times a week, take less than 20min a day, and focus to increase overall core fitness with an emphasis on the endurance and strength required for the rigors of riding. This program promotes good physical fitness makes safer, proficient riders.
  • Ladies Ride. Every season, CDS hosts a LADIES ONLY ride that will include a safety and skill session. You must register for the ride by going to the event on the CDS club calendar. (CDS membership is needed) All safety equipment is required: Radio, transceiver, shovel, probe and helmet and there is a suggested $20 donation for a local charity.

Ladies Only snowmobile ride.

  • SnoPark Clean Up. Every spring for the past 40 years, the Cascade Drift Skippers have cleaned up three snoparks in our riding area as part of our no-trace riding mantra.
  • Skills Ride. Our club schedules a day of riding based on what skills people that sign up for the ride want to learn. Riding off camber, throttle/brake control, uphill turns are examples of what’s instructed. It is a platform to provide instruction on proper technique vs. riders acquiring poor technique, which can increase the percentages of accidents and injuries happening.
  • Companion Rescue and Avalanche 1 Certification. CDS has provided these courses through Avalanche1 and Mike Duffy. Collectively over 70 students have attended these courses that are snowmobile specific. This is a first in Washington State that sleducation – snowmobile specific avalanche training  – has been available.

Less experience club sledders learn how to fall off their snowmobile and get back up while out on the trail.

What distinguishes this club from other clubs?

Our club is continuously distinguished from other clubs by its accessibility. One thing that we did a few years ago was to establish a level of difficulty of rides, similar to that used by ski hills, and every ride is labeled as one of the established levels. This has invited new and learning members to join without intimidation, while also attracting more accomplished, often younger riders to join without fear of it being beneath them.

Further, through our seminar style meetings and skills development rides, we offer a path of progression for all riders to progress and improve their ability and training. As a result, the average level of training per club member also distinguishes us from other clubs.

What is one special thing we should know about your club?

Our club has grown to be such a great, tight knit, community. But what makes us special, is that through our beliefs and behaviors in training and conduct, we are beginning to have a positive effect on the culture and perception of snowmobiling, not only in Washington State, but internationally.

Over the last two seasons, Cascade Drift Skippers has had over 100 members go through some sort of formal avalanche training course – including 3 members who have a Snowmobile Specific Level 2 Avalanche Training Course (that is 3 out of the 20 snowmobilers total in the US who have this level of training).

By implementing the first BCA Transceiver Checker Station at a Washington State SnoPark, and being the inaugural snowmobile club to participate in and early adopt the international Backcountry Ascender backcountry education program.

The Cascade Drift Skippers are leading the way in what is expected of a modern, capable and safe snowmobiler. Our membership is growing at an astronomical rate we offer entry to members at any level and we offer a path for improvement.


Chris Mayer is the president of the Cascade Drift Skippers and founder of Sled360, creator of Backcountry Ascender and the 12-week Sledfit fitness program.