18-year-old Minnesota snowmobile racer was victim in crash near Bemidji
FOREST LAKE, Minn. -- Hunter Houle came from a snowmobile racing family. His father, brothers, uncle and grandfathers all raced.
And from an early age, the Forest Lake teenager knew he wanted to follow in their footsteps.
“Hunter started wearing a race helmet when he was a 2-year-old,” said his father, Steve Houle. “He insisted on wearing a helmet to bed at night.”
Hunter Houle died after crashing his snowmobile Friday while taking a practice run before a season-opening race on Pine Lake, northwest of Bemidji, Minn. He was 18.
The accident cut short the career of a rising young cross-country snowmobile racer with a family pedigree of success.
Houle’s father, his uncle, Mike Houle, and his grandfather, Charlie Lofton, are all inductees in the Snowmobile Hall of Fame.
Steve Houle said that when his son started driving a child-sized snowmobile at the age of 3 or 4, he would yell out race commentary while he rode.
“There was always a last lap pass, and he’d go on to win,” Steve Houle said.
Houle said his son started racing at 13 and came in second in his first race. Over the next four years, he won close to 20 races, won a 2015 driver of the year award in his junior cross-country snowmobile racing class and won the season points championships for all the classes he raced in.
Houle graduated from Forest Lake High School and was in the pre-chiropractic program and on the baseball team at Minnesota State University in Moorhead.
But Houle’s father said snowmobile racing was “what he loved to do more than anything.”
“I don’t know if there would be anything we could do to hold him back,” Steve Houle said.
Brian Nelson, owner of United States X-Country Snowmobile Racing, which was holding the Gerald Dyrdahl Memorial-Pine Lake 200 race last weekend on Pine Lake, said no one witnessed Houle’s accident and it did not involve another snowmobile. He said Houle crashed while taking a sweeping turn in a practice run before the racing on Saturday and Sunday.
It was a “freak accident,” Nelson said. “People fall off snowmobiles all the time. It’s rare that it’s a fatality.”
Nelson thought Hunter Houle had the potential to win national championships as a pro racer.
“He was smart; he was motivated; he was in good shape; he did all the right things,” Nelson said of Houle. Nelson said Houle was wearing a race helmet and other protective equipment. “He was the last person you’d think this would’ve happened to.”
Steve Houle said he believes his son suffered head trauma after being hit by his own snowmobile during the crash.
He said another snowmobiler found his son unconscious on the ice. Houle was airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, but efforts to revive him failed.
Steve Houle said his son once broke a collarbone motorcycling but never had a serious snowmobiling injury.
“I (raced) for 20 years and have never set foot in an ambulance, but I still realized the danger involved,” he said.
Clearwater County Sheriff Darin Halverson said the cause of death is still under investigation.
Houle is also survived by his mother, Charlene; brothers Lucas, Jeremy and Larry; and sister, Jennifer Peterson.
A funeral service is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Hosanna Lutheran Church, 9300 Scandia Trail, Forest Lake. Visitation will be today from 4 to 8 p.m. and 10 to 11 a.m. Wednesday at the church.