FORTUNE BAY— The largest snowmobile fundraiser in the world made a swing through the Lake Vermilion area this past week as part of their ongoing effort to raise $1.2 million this year for the fight …
FORTUNE BAY— The largest snowmobile fundraiser in the world made a swing through the Lake Vermilion area this past week as part of their ongoing effort to raise $1.2 million this year for the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
More than 250 participants in the event, known as the Black Woods Blizzard Tour, have each raised a minimum of $1,500 to take part in the three-day snowmobile tour of northeastern Minnesota. “But many have raised far more than that,” noted Mike Stephenson, director of marketing and communications for the ALS Association in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Stephenson said many of the participants in the ride raise as much as $10,000-$15,000 on their own every year to support the organization.
The money raised pays for research for a cure for this tragic disease, which typically kills those it afflicts within two-to-five years of diagnosis. In addition, said Stephenson, the funds help the more than 600 individuals afflicted with ALS, and their families, purchase medical equipment and other services to help to ameliorate some of the debilitating effects of the disease.
The event, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, has grown tremendously since four individuals came up with the idea of a snowmobile ride to raise money. “Back in 1999, four gentlemen decided to ride around Lake Superior,” said Stephenson, “and they raised about $15,000.”
The following year, with support from Black Woods Bar & Grill, a total of 38 riders raised $46,000. In the last two years, however, the growing number of participants raised $1 million annually, with a goal this year of $1.2 million. Besides being the world’s largest snowmobile fundraiser, it’s also now the largest ALS fundraiser in the U.S.
Since its founding, the event has raised just under $10 million for ALS research and help for victims.
Fortune Bay has been a partner on the event since 2001, and hosted more than 300 event participants this past week. “Fortune Bay truly enjoys its partnership with the ALS Association,” said Brian K. Anderson, Fortune Bay’s director of sales and public relations. “I’ve worked with the ALS staff for 12-plus years now and the energy they bring to this event is amazing,” Anderson added. “They are very passionate about the work they do and work tirelessly to ensure everyone who rides in the event is treated like royalty.”
George Meyer, of Embarrass, is one of the participants who attended last Thursday’s dinner and program in the Woodlands Ballroom at Fortune Bay Resort Casino. This was his seventh year taking part in the event and he’s motivated by the fact that his brother-in-law and two other friends in the area are suffering from ALS. “We have to do what we can to deal with ALS,” he said.
The event has attracted some celebrities over the years, including former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek and former catcher Terry Steinbach, both of whom lost family members to ALS. Former Twins pitching ace Jack Morris and former manager Ron Gardenhire also took part in the event this year.
Thursday’s cold temperatures did limit participation in the planned ride from the tour’s start in Proctor to Fortune Bay. Tour organizers ended up trailering some of the sleds and bussing riders to Eveleth. From there, riders took their snowmobiles the rest of the way.