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2020 Snowarama for Easter Seals Kids crosses borders to benefit kids with physical disabilities

Jan 24, 2020 06:52AM ● By Editor
On Saturday, February 8, the Thunder Bay Snowarama for Easter Seals Kids will head south of the border to Grand Portage, only 45 minutes from Thunder Bay, attracting snowmobilers from across northwestern Ontario and Minnesota to enjoy some of the finest groomed trails in northern Minnesota. Helping to plan the big event are, from L-R: Todd Ford, Rhonda Harrison, Sally Deschampe, Mary Anne Gagnon, Tony Swader and Emilie Pike. Staff photo Brian Larsen

From the Cook County News Herald - January 24, 2020

Emilie Pike, 9, sure looked cute in her outfit that depicted Frozen star Anna, and several other members of the animated cast of the top selling Disney movie.

Emilie and her mother, Ashley, had come from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to attend the kickoff for the 17th Annual Snowarama for Easter Seals Ontario that was held at the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino on Wednesday, January 15.

In her fourth year as a representative of the Ontario Easter Seal’s Snowarama, Emilie and Tony Swader, president of the Grand Portage Trail Riders, were old friends, and Swader was giving her a hard time about what she had just eaten for lunch.

“Did you eat a hamburger?” he asked.


“Did you eat some french-fries?”

“Nope,” she giggled.

“What kind of kid are you?” he asked in mock astonishment as she laughed out loud.

Once the kidding, which went both ways, had subsided, it was time to talk about the Snowarama.

“This is the biggest Snowarama we do,” said Ontario Easter Seals Senior Development Officer Rhonda Harrison. “So far we have raised $495,000 and after this year’s event we will go over the half million dollar mark,” she said, adding, “We are very excited for that milestone.”

About 150 riders are expected to travel to Grand Portage to take part in the ride scheduled for Feb. 8, on well-groomed trails surrounding Grand Portage Lodge and Casino. 

“This event is a good shot for our local economy. It’s great for the kids and it’s a whole lot of fun,” said Grand Portage Lodge and Casino Marketing Director Todd Ford.

The money raised from the Snowarama is used to purchase mobility devices (wheelchairs, braces etc.), communication equipment, and gives kids an opportunity to attend Easter Seals’ fully accessible summer camps,” Harrison said.

About 95 percent of the riders come from northwestern Ontario, added Harrison. “It’s a great time for families. They get out and ride on beautifully groomed trails, stop for a bonfire and picnic on the trail, and then there is a dinner and dance in the evening at the casino. Most people make a weekend of it. One thing I noticed is that each year there are about 30 percent new participants that take the place of those who can’t come back for one reason or another. That’s a lot of new people that learn about Grand Portage.”

All Snowarama participants will enjoy a complimentary dinner and live Saturday night entertainment, featuring Blue Collar Cocktail, a band from Minneapolis, said Ford.

“This is the 17th year of the Grand Portage Snowarama, and we feel very privileged to have such dedicated support from Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, along with all of the other local sponsors and riders who make this event a big success year after year,” said Kevin Collins, President and CEO, Easter Seals Ontario.

Minnesota trail permits are $51 (available at Ryden’s 66) and will be required for those riders who venture off the Grand Portage Reserve trails. Some riders will travel as far as Hungry Jack Lodge, said Swader, a round trip of about 120 miles. Depending on the rider, the trip usually takes about three hours each way, he said. 

“It is believed that Frank Vecchio started the Snowarama,” said Ford, who noted that last year he moved here from Las Vegas to take Vecchio’s place when Frank announced he was leaving his job at the lodge and casino to move to Las Vegas. “We just sold our house in Las Vegas and my family will be moving here soon,” noted Ford.

To celebrate the 17th year at Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, with every $100 participants raise, they will receive a ballot to spin the wheel and win 1 of 10 Snowarama prize packages. 

For more information, to register or to donate, visit

“Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, the Grand Portage Trail Riders, and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa are happy to sponsor the Snowarama,” said Ford.

“We are glad to have them as our partners,” said Harrison. “This is the biggest Snowarama we do every year and this event kicks off our fundraising for Easter Seals each year. I think this is a win-win for all of us, and especially for the kids.”

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