After riding last weekend we were resigned to the fact that the season was going to be pretty much over, but after getting reports on Thursday that the trails from Two Harbors north were still in good shape we decided to trailer up to the Alger lot and head North from there. We pulled in at 8:00 AM to find that we were the first to arrive. I walked over to the trail to see that it had been groomed the night before and that it was soft (not rock hard frozen). We unloaded and rode to the Yukon, our plan was to head to the Knotted Pine Resort but once we got on the Yukon it was so hard and icy that my temp started skyrocketing. I suggested we head back to the North Shore Trail where the snow was a little more powdery to get into the heat exchangers. We rode north on the NSST and my temp came under control, Allen, however, insisted on getting back to the Yukon so we took the Yukon spur and started our trip to Knotted Pine. If last week gave us the best riding conditions of the season, then this week was a close second. The Yukon trail was absolutely fantastic and we made great time until we got about 6 miles away from Knotted Pine and hit logging activity and a snowless trail. With snow being crucial in these warm temps we reluctantly turned back, failing to reach our objective. Still an AWESOME day of riding. By the time we got back to the lot it was a whopping 44 degrees, and we knew that in spite of the deep snow (as much as 3 feet) the trails aren’t going to hold up much longer. All in all it was a great way to cap off the season!
One of the best things about snowmobiling is its unpredictability. You have no idea what the trail is going to hold for you or who you will meet and today was no exception for us. The latest snowstorm missed the Duluth area and we knew that last week there were already some bare spots on the trail. Because of that we decided to revert to our old standby the CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail. Too be honest I had grown a little tired of the NSST this year as for most of the season it was the only rideable trail we had. Lack of snow had kept most of the GIA trails closed or in horrible riding condition until mid February so the prospects of abandoning them and going back to the NSST was not something we looked forward to, but in the real world it was our best option.
Right away I was surprised to see that there were already six trailers in the Martin Rd. Lot, usually we are the first ones there but not today. As I waited for Allen’s sled to be unloaded I watched the other trailers unloading their sleds and thought I recognized one of the guys unloading. He looked and sounded like my childhood neighbor Randy. Randy was a few years older than me but like everyone else that grew up on my street he was a big time snowmobiler. I had bumped into him once or twice over the last 30 years and I wasn’t entirely sure that it was him. I went over and asked and was astonished to find out that it was in fact my old neighbor Randy. The odds that I recognized him and that he would happen to be in the lot at the same time as we were were astronomical. As it turned out that was only our fist surprise of the day. Our second Surprise was how awesome the trail was. It had been groomed the night before and was solid and icy but smooth. I instantly started having overheating fears as I watched my temperature gauge climbing. The trail was so hard that I wasn’t getting enough snow into the heat exchangers and the sporadic bare patches didn’t help. As we left Duluth conditions gradually improved and the temp started to drop, alleviating my fears. We hit the gravel Pit where the Reservoir Riders trail comes in and had a decision to make. Allen decided we should keep heading north as we knew the snow was better so that’s what we did. Enter astonishing moment #2- as soon as we left the pit the trail got better and better, in fact they were the best trails we had seen since January of 2014 and the farther north we went the better they were. We rode up to the Yukon where we bumped into who else- but Randy and his friend Eric who were taking a break on the side of the trail. We sat around and talked sleds for a while and then headed up the Yukon. We spent the rest of an amazing day hitting trail after trail, each one better than the last. If you didn’t ride today you missed out big time. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like Mother Nature is going to cooperate for the rest of the season as temps are projected to climb into the mid forties by Wednesday.
Snow. For the most part snow has been avoiding the Duluth area all winter. So right now 30 miles south of Duluth snow conditions are great- 30 miles north of Duluth snow conditions are great- The trails around Duluth have some bare spots and ice but they are rideable- I would call them fair to good depending on what direction they are running as south facing trails are taking a beating from the sun. If you are North or south outside of the no new snow band I would call the trails good to excellent. That being said the clubs around Duluth are out there moving snow trying to cover the thin areas for the weekend. With the forecast ahead this could be the last weekend of good riding.
On February 17, 2018 the 8th Annual Yeti Tour to benefit the March of Dimes took place. The Yeti Tour is a 140-mile snowmobile ride that was created by Nate and Kelly Alvar and a small group of friends who wanted to combine their love of snowmobiling with Kelly’s efforts to help newborns and moms. Since the first event was held in 2011 it has become one of the premier snowmobiling fundraiser events and attracts a growing number of riders and sponsors despite being plagued by mother nature’s refusal to provide favorable snow and weather conditions on multiple occasions. This irony was once again played out after this year’s event when upon completion of the festivities on Saturday the 17th it literally started snowing. Even with all of the weather adversity the Yeti Tour has endured it has still managed to raise over $150,000 for the March of Dimes. Snowmobiletrail.com has been a sponsor of the Yeti Tour since its inception and once again we rode in this outstanding event, which, as usual, contributed its fair share of unusual occurrences…
The morning started off beautifully, a crisp 15 degrees when I rolled into the Sunset Bar and Grill lot to hook up with my riding buddy Allen and the rest of the Yeti Tour riders. We were informed before the event that our usual route from the Sunset to Fish Lake was impassable do to heavy logging activity that had stripped several miles of trail of any snow. Our new route would detour us from the Sunset along the new Rice Lake trail to the Martin Rd. Lot and the head of the CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail- a familiar trail to those of us at snowmobiletrail.com as our headquarters sits just a few hundred yards from the trail. Because of this change in route only about 35 riders were starting at the Sunset, another 20 riders were spread out at alternate starting points: Fish Lake, The North Shore State Trail Head parking lot on Martin Rd, and Billy’s Bar and Grill. This brought the total riders for the event to 55, a new record number of riders for the event. The plan was that the different starting pods would all converge at the old gravel pit where the Reservoir Lakes Trail and the North Shore Trail meet up. This years event was being documented in pictures and video by Ron Alvar who would tag along on his gear laden 1998 Polaris Touring sled to capture all of the memorable moments.
With Ron’s camera rolling, the Yeti Contingency departed the Sunset at 9:00 AM led temporarily by Jim Bianchi, the president of the Hermantown Snowmobile club, to guide the group of sleds through the trail to Martin Rd. Part of our new route was also being worked on by Minnesota Power as they were installing new power poles leaving us with a few spots of the trail that had been entirely cleared of snow.
Once we hit the North Shore Trail the group started to fracture into its own little cliques. One of the things I like the most about the Yeti Tour is the ability to settle in with a group of riders that enjoy your same pace. The Yeti Tour always seems to fracture into groups like this but this year the spread was almost instant. My friend Allen and I found ourselves out front with a couple of guys on Arctic Cats who later broke away from us when we stopped to do some helmet venting adjustments. Although the trail lacked a ton of snow it was incredibly smooth and enjoyable to ride. We reached the gravel pit where we assumed we would meet up with the Fish Lake crew but were surprised that they weren’t there yet. We did however meet the Martin Rd Lot guys who had left just ahead of us and had now joined with the two Arctic Cats. As the Martin Lot group waited for some of their friends from the main pack, Allen and I headed out to the Pequaywan trail, which, true to form so far this year, was phenomenal. From our first ride of the season the Pequaywan trail has been in amazing condition and the Pequaywan Area Trail Blazers snowmobile club has done what I would say is one of the finest grooming and maintenance jobs of a trail I have seen in recent memory. On one hand I may regret saying this by inadvertently sending hordes of riders up the Pequaywan trail after reading this but if you ride the North Shore Trail and haven’t been up the Pequaywan you are definitely missing out on some great trail conditions. Somewhere along the Pequaywan trail I looked in my left side mirror to see who was behind me only to find that it had fallen off somewhere along the ttrail. It had been loose since earlier in the season when I clipped a snow laden branch with it while ditch banging and now it decided to just fall off. I have to be honest, I never liked the hood mounted mirrors on the 2015 Polaris Indy anyway- you could never seem to get them into an agreeable position and the way they were situated in relation to the handlebars you always needed to move your hands to see anything and even then, they never wanted to stay in the same place. (Mini Rant here: I have a 1999 and a 2000 Polaris in my garage and the mirrors on those older sleds are 10 times better, stronger, more stable and more adjustable than the hood mounted mirrors on my 2015- Come on Polaris- you can do better- heck, go back to your old mirror set up- it is better than the junk set up you have now. Rant Over.)
We soon arrived at the Pequaywan Inn and were given a warm welcome by the staff and one big wet hairy smelly Yeti who was busy taking his usual photo ops with a slew of admirers. The rest of the group quickly filled the bar and we found ourselves joined by the Billy’s group and finally the missing Fish Lake group who had gotten a late start. It is here that we found out that not long after our departure our videographer Ron Alvar blew the driveshaft
on his trusty old ‘98 Polaris two up. That and top fund raiser Joe Addy had also had an early breakdown, along with one member of the Fish Lake group whose bogey wheel actually made it farther into the Yeti Tour than his sled did. It turns out that as the Fish lake group was leaving one of the riders hopped off his sled and went running down the lake chasing his bogey wheel that had come off when a rear axle bolt snapped on his sled, instantly ending his day. Luckily these turned out to be 3 of the four casualties of the day and they occurred so early in the ride that our trailing support vehicle had very little to do the rest of the day.
After eating our fill of Burgers and Fries Allen and I teamed up with Nate Alvar (The events founder) and Yeti Veterans James and Jess Carr and we blazed out onto the Brimson trail heading toward Hugo’s, the next checkpoint and the halfway point on the normally 140-mile Yeti Tour Route. At Hugo’s we filled up with gas and met up with Steve Brandt from the Voyageur’s snowmobile club out of Two Harbors who had come from our next check point, the John A. Brandt Memorial Shelter, where he had started in indoor fire, so riders could go warm themselves while taking a break.
James and Jess decided to stay and hang out with another group of riders at Hugo’s but Allen, Nate and myself were anxious to head out to the Yukon Trail, visit the shelter and then do a little extra riding up the Yukon before heading back toward Duluth. That is another wonderful thing about the Yeti Tour- the ability to detour a little bit on the many trails that intersect with the Yeti route, and that is exactly what we did- ride up the Yukon which as Steve had told us, was fantastic riding. From there we cut over on the Bear Pit Trail back down to the NSST and back to Duluth, surprised that the trails were still in good shape, but there was so much dirt poking through that at times it seemed more like you were four wheeling rather than snowmobiling. We got back to the Sunset at a nice tidy 3:30- plenty of time to run home, clean up, and get back to the Sunset by 6:00 for the banquet where we had pizza, handed out door prizes, participated in the Yeti Tour basket raffle (which was a new addition last year and a huge hit again this year) and then the crowning moment of the night where one lucky person won a brand new 2017 Arctic Cat ZR 4000 snowmobile courtesy of the Yeti Tour’s Presenting Sponsor RJ Sport and Cycle in Duluth.
As I left the Sunset pleased with another successful Yeti Tour I laughed to myself as it started to snow- missing the ride by just a few hours. Over the next seven days the Yeti Tour route received a whopping 22 inches of snow. How will the weather be for Yeti Tour 2019? Go to yetitour.com this fall and sign up to ride and find out for yourself!
Snow, snow and more snow! Yes after 3 years of waiting we actually have a respectable amount of the white stuff. As a result all trails in Northeast Minnesota are open and in good condition. On top of that there is more snow falling right now and more on the way this weekend. Take advantage of it because spring is just around the corner. Also be careful in the corners, there is a little bit of ice under the snow and it doesn’t take long for wannabe racers to wash those corners down to ice.
Well we are busy setting up for riding in the Yeti Tour this weekend but we did get to check the trails out this afternoon. Around Duluth the CJ Ramstad North Shore Trail was groomed but it has some bare spots in areas facing the sun- otherwise it wasn’t bad and as always the further north you go the better it gets. The GIA trails up north are open and in good shape. Happy riding to you all!
Tucked away off a little known trail just past Two Harbors, Minnesota, is one of the greatest hidden gems in the world of must see snowmobile destinations: The John A Brandt Memorial Shelter. I know right away you are thinking to yourself “Really? A shelter made your list of must see snowmobile destinations in the state?” The simple answer to that question is a resounding “YES!” Sure, there are plenty of trailside shelters all over the state of Minnesota, some are simple and some are more extravagant, but the John A. Brandt Memorial Shelter is one that in our humble opinion, has yet to be topped. So what makes this shelter a yearly destination for snowmobilers in the know and why should you put it on your snowmobile trip must see list? To answer that question you first need to know the story behind how this shelter came to be.
There is no doubt that the undisputed King of Northeast Minnesota snowmobile trails is the CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail. The NSST starts in Duluth and runs 150 miles north to Grand Marais, it is the snowmobile trail version of I-35. Everybody knows about the North Shore State Trail, and it gets widely
used primarily because it is the center point of the entire Northeast Minnesota trail system- throw in occasional stunning views of Lake Superior, dramatic terrain changes and a variety of snow conditions and it is easy to understand why the North Shore State Trail gets so much traffic. What the majority of people don’t know is that while the NSST is a great trail, it provides access to trails that are even more dynamic and give you a more enjoyable riding experience without all of the traffic. The Yukon trail is one of those trails. Most people have no idea the Yukon Trail even exists even though thousands of snowmobilers ride past its entrance every year. The main reason the Yukon goes unnoticed is that it is a Grant-In-Aid trail that virtually runs parallel to the North Shore State Trail. Although the trail entrance off of the North Shore State Trail is well marked, hundreds of people blow by it every day, and boy are they missing out.
Minnesota has 22,000 miles of state snowmobile trails, many of which were built in the 1970’s for 1970’s era snowmobiles, which mean lots of sharp turns that were designed for sleds with a top speed of 30 miles an hour. When the Yukon was constructed in the mid 80’s, it was designed to handle more modern and powerful snowmobiles, this means long straightaways, wider trails and not as many of the tight hairpin turns that are common on other trails. The trail is meticulously maintained the Voyageur Snowmobile Club out of Two Harbors, and best of all the Yukon trail leads you to the iconic Tomahawk trail, which is regarded as one of the best trails in the entire United States.
Once you leave the North Shore State Trail and head north on the Yukon you will eventually come to an intersection of the Yukon and Brimson trails, just past that you will come upon a sign that reads “Scenic Overlook” with an arrow pointing up a steep hill. If you take that turn you will find yourself at the John A. Brandt Memorial Shelter and realize you have just found your own little slice of snowmobile heaven.
The Shelter was actually the brain child of John Brandt and other members of the Voyageur snowmobile club. While scouting possible locations for a new shelter in the winter of 2010-11, John pointed out the site and told the other members of the group that he thought it would be a good spot to build a shelter. In March of 2011 John was killed in a snowmobile accident, that summer the club decided to go ahead with the shelter on the site that John had pointed out, they bushwhacked their way to the top of the hill and then brought in a dozer to level things off. In the fall of 2012 construction of the various buildings began and by the time the snow fell the shelter was ready.
Initially only the club members knew that the shelter existed, but as time passed a few snowmobilers that had straggled onto the Yukon trail followed the signs to the top of the hill where they found top notch accommodations and spectacular views. Among other things the site boasts the mother of all shelters, complete with a deck, benches and an indoor fireplace. There is also often times a gas grill available for cookouts, as well as a large outdoor fire pit, a wood shed and the nicest outhouse you may ever see in your life. But what really takes your breath away is the fantastic views of the Northern Minnesota wilderness. Atop this hill you can see for miles in every direction at rolling snow covered hills and valleys- every square foot of the site gives you another stunning view to the point that you use up all of your cell phones memory taking pictures.
Soon these snowmobilers told their friends about the shelter and then they told their friends and it rapidly became a must see destination for countless weekend rides as well as a pit stop for other organized snowmobile activities Like the ALS Blizzard Tour or the March of Dimes Yeti Tour charity rides. Throw in the fact that the Voyageur club is often present cooking up some burgers, hot dogs and brats and it makes it that much more rewarding.
A trip to the John A. Brandt memorial shelter is always a memorable affair. Often times you can stop at the shelter and you will be in the midst of up to twenty or more sleds, other times you and your buddies are the only ones there to soak up the solitude and beauty of the place, then there are those truly magical times when you spy a bald Eagle gliding over the valley below. Club members like to think the Eagle is John’s Spirit looking down over all of the snowmobilers that stop at his shelter enjoying the day, just like he had done out on the trails so many times in the past.