When Joe Tonso began grooming snowmobile trails in 1988, he never guessed that 16 years later he would be named International Groomer Operator of the Year.
On Feb. 27 the International Snowmobile Congress will fly Tonso and his wife to the Snowmobile Hall of Fame in Grand Rapids, Minn., to honor him as the best groomer operator in the United States, Canada and Switzerland.
"I'll fly out there on Friday, go to two presentations on Saturday, and Sunday I'll fly back home and go snowmobiling again," Tonso said.
Tonso's photograph and his snowgroomer resume will be displayed at the Hall of Fame and he'll win an Arctic Cat snowmobile of his choice with matching suit to use for one year.
In 2004, Tonso was named Colorado Groomer Operator of the Year, which made him eligible for the International Snowmobile Congress' regional award. He won the West chapter's honor and become one of six groomers from Canada, Switzerland, and the three U.S. chapters eligible for the international honor.
Following a lengthy interview process with many of Tonso's acquaintances, the snowmobile congress selected Tonso as international groomer of the year.
Tonso is a charter member and chairman of the Northwest Colorado Snowmobile Club. He has been grooming trails in the Black Mountain area northeast of Craig since the club began grooming.
Originally, the club began grooming trails as a safety matter, Tonso said. To prevent accidents, club members made snowmobile trails 18 to 20-feet wide.
But a groomed trail is also a comfort issue. Many people use the trails to get into the wilderness and access the fresh powder, Tonso said. After a long day of beating themselves up and getting their machine stuck, they can enjoy a smooth ride back to the trailhead.
In 1990, Tonso became the Colorado Snowmobile Association grooming president.
"I was talking when I should have been listening," he said.
In that capacity, he developed a formula to use snowmobile registration fees to help fund the grooming of Colorado trails. Tonso's formula was adopted by the state legislature and is administered by Colorado State Parks to snowmobile clubs that groom trails.
Aside from grooming trails, the snowmobile club hosts avalanche awareness classes and pokers runs that raise money for scholarships and charities.
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.