A little bit of snow and a little bit of cold weather has the entire Northeast Minnesota snowmobile trail system in really nice shape. Most of the wet areas have finally firmed up and ice thickness is improving on the lakes and ponds. The North Shore of Lake Superior has been hit especially hard with various amounts of Lake Effect snow over the past week, putting snow depth over 2 feet along half of the trail system and allowing the groomers to lay down a very nice trail. We are also supposed to pick up a few inches of fresh snow Friday Night so the trails will be really fun Saturday morning. It is supposed to be really cold for the weekend so dress warm. Also as the John Beargrease sled dog marathon approaches riders are encouraged to slow down and keep an eye out for dog teams out training, especially on the CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail. Please remember that the our sport has its roots in the desire of inventors to create a motorized dog sled, in fact the first Ski-Doo was originally supposed to be called the “Ski-Dog” and was billed in their sales literature as “The Motorized Dog Team,” the prevailing theory is that they were having a hard time making the “g” look right on the V shaped logo and the artist just decided to change the “g” to another “o” and the Ski-Doo was born. In any case let’s be aware of our furry friends out there, we don’t want a repeat of what happened in Wisconsin a few weeks ago. Ride Safe, Ride Right, Keep Warm and we will see you out on the trail!
As Yeti Tour 2022 approaches on February 26th, I thought it would be a good time to reflect back on Yeti Tour 2021. I never really addressed it last year as the Yeti Tour wound up marking an abrupt and unhappy end to the 2021 Snowmobile season. Like most events, Yeti Tour 2021 had to make some adjustments due to Covid. The first change came with the structure of the fundraiser itself. With supply chain issues and demand going through the roof, the Yeti Tour was unable to secure its annual raffle prize so the primary funding structure reverted back to the riders taking donations to raise money for the Northland Newborn Foundation. Additionally the Yeti Tour’s normal base of operations for the beginning and end of the ride, the Island Lake Inn, was only open for limited seating so the big after party was cancelled and registration and ride set up had to be very structured and controlled to maintain Covid protocols. The one thing that the Yeti Tour was able to do, unlike so many other annual charity events, was to hold the ride portion of the event since it is a self-contained one day ride.
The biggest challenge for any snowmobile event is always the weather and the Yeti Tour has traditionally been a victim of horrible weather conditions regardless of the date: two years of no snow, multiple years of limited snow, extreme warm temperatures, extreme sub Zero temperatures, rain, the list goes on and on to the point that the running joke is it doesn’t matter what day you pick to hold the ride, whatever day it is the weather will not cooperate, and 2021 followed that infamous Yeti Tour tradition. Sporadic light snowfall had plagued the season and after a week of above freezing daily temperatures and bright sunshine I had no idea what kind of trail conditions I was in for. I left my house in plenty of time to ride up to Island lake and was greeted with my first problem, the ditch banging access trail I use to get to the state trail was completely melted, leaving me nothing but frozen dirt to ride on the road shoulder. Once I got to the trail I was relieved to see that there was a lot of snow still on the trail but my sled was already running hot due to lack of snow in the ditch. The week’s warm weather and overnight cold had made the trail as hard as a rock and prevented any snow from getting to my heat exchangers. I immediately thought of the ice scratchers I had on the wall of my garage that I had procrastinated installing all season and now I was paying for it. Finally I got to the Hermantown trail and unfortunately the section of trail I needed to take to Fish Lake runs North and South and there were huge patches of bare spots which jacked the heat up on my sled even more. I was finally forced to pull off the trail and let the sled cool down packing my heat exchanger with whatever snow I could find. Finally I reached the Lake and the sled had some relief until I got to the Between the Lakes Trail which was also almost compete dirt. Again the temperature rose on my sled until I reached Island Lake and was able to get some snow back onto the exchangers.
I finally arrived at the Island Lake Inn and registered at the registration booth they had set up outside. Already the morning sun was starting to heat things up and I debated just going home, but I know that the trails I had just taken were a no go so I decided to go on the ride anyway. I hooked up with my buddy Allen and we departed on the first leg of the ride which took us to the Pequaywan Inn. The trail suffered from some bare spots but t had also gotten warm enough for the hard frozen trail to become a little bit mushy and throw some snow on the exchangers. We were still running hot but not to the point that overheating was eminent. Once we arrived at the Pequaywan Inn Allen’s sled was running really hot and we mutually decided that it was best to just turn around and go home, so we did. Unfortunately we found out that the rest of the Yeti route had been blessed with a lot of snow and barely suffered any major snow melt, and the riders that stuck it out had a great time.
Allen peeled off to go back to Island Lake and I decided to take the North Shore trail back south to my house where I found large sections of the trail melted off. I was able to make it home and just like that the season was over.
So far this season we have been blessed with more snow and cold and are almost to the point that the groomers will be able to make a trail that will last the whole season barring any extreme heat and rain. This year the Yeti Tour is scheduled for February 26th. The Yeti tour is a great event and is a fun family friendly ride. You can register and find out more information by visiting www.yetitour.com.
Here are the latest Northeast Minnesota snowmobile trail conditions!
While seemingly everyone was enjoying the robust economic recovery of the 80’s the snowmobile market was reeling from its worst decade ever. It looked at one point that the snowmobile industry was going to die a slow painful death. But as a new decade dawned, things for the snowmobile industry were about to change, as forces in the late seventies and eighties combined to nearly wipe out the snowmobile industry a new combination of advancements were coalescing to launch snowmobiling into its second golden era.
TRAIL NETWORKS: Throughout the seventies and eighties a vast network of groomed trails had been created. Advancements in grooming technology had made weekend rides far more enjoyable. Gone were the old box mattresses towed behind snowmobiles, now there were Tuckers and Bombardiers specifically designed to groom snowmobile trails and drags designed to shave off the moguls and lay down a beautiful flat pan to ride on. This new and vast trail system begged for a new era of snowmobiles and the manufacturers were about to provide them.
SUSPENSIONS: After numerous missteps by the manufacturers in the 1980s, the proper balance of weight, performance, power and price were about to be met. The biggest advancement could be traced back to the racetracks of the late 1970s and the development of Polaris’ trailing arm Independent Front Suspension. The introduction of the Indy in the early 80s changed snowmobiling forever and after experimenting with multiple suspension systems the Indy IFS reigned supreme. In 1991 Polaris became the first manufacturer to have a 100% IFS fleet. After 30 years, the leaf spring suspension’s days were numbered. This made snowmobiles much more comfortable to ride and easier to control and tailor made for the new trail system, the Indy line exploded and absolutely dominated the 90s. During the decade Arctic Cat would continue developing their A Arm wishbone suspension and would have it perfected by the turn of the new century and, just like the trailing arm killed leaf springs, the A Arm would put an end to trailing arms. Better front suspensions combined with ever improving rear suspension designs made snowmobiles more comfortable and easier to control and led to a huge increase in sales, but suspensions weren’t the only thing that fueled the second golden era of snowmobiles, the models themselves were beginning to change.
PURPOSE BUILT: In the early days the snowmobile was designed as a go anywhere do anything type of machine. The idea behind the snowmobile initially was to be a gasoline powered version of a dog sled, in fact the original name of the first Ski-Doo was Ski-Dog and it was billed as the “motorized dog team.” Believe it or not the snowmobile was simply designed as a utility vehicle, Joseph Armand Bombardier’s brother, Alphonse-Raymond, however, thought the Ski-Doo was “fun” to ride and saw it more as a recreational vehicle. This mindset later transferred over to the Ski-Doo dealers who found that people were buying the Ski-Doo more for fun than for work. Joseph Armand felt that concentrating Bombardier’s production efforts on the Ski-Doo didn’t make financial sense but as sales of the Ski-Doo doubled year over year it became apparent that the Ski-Doo had changed the way people experienced winter. Bombardier developed snowmobiles strictly for work like the twin tracked Alpine and models for the family like the Olympique and as performance and power became important to the dads of the world they developed the T’NT. This diversity gave Ski-Doo a huge edge in the early days but as the seventies wore on more and more emphasis had been placed on power and performance of snowmobiles and their diversity suffered. As experiments and missteps took place in the 80’s it became evident that things had to change. There was no longer a one size fits all snowmobile, people wanted their sleds to do specific things and it became obvious that there were different segments of the snowmobiling population that needed to be addressed. With the new trail system, performance based sleds were a no brainer and the manufacturers easily filled that segment, but there was still a group of people out there where the moms and dads wanted to take a nice ride on the weekend or load up the kids and go for a family ride. The manufacturers again looked to the past and saw that snowmobiling developed as a fun family sport so they retraced their steps and Ski-Doo and Arctic Cat released the first purpose built two-up touring sleds in the early 90s and the other manufacturers soon followed. Rebuilding this family oriented atmosphere helped improve sales and the manufacturers began looking in other areas of the snowmobile world to find inspiration. They noticed that a hugely popular trend were utility companies and others that had serious work to do were buying up old twin tracked Ski-Doo Alpines so, logically each manufacturer developed a line of utility sleds designed solely for doing hard winter work. Another trend taking place were scores of snowmobilers buying 80’s era Yamaha Phazers to ride in the mountains, the Phazer’s light weight and good floatation made it a mountain staple. Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on consistent mountain snow, Ski-Doo engineers came up with the idea of building a lightweight mountain specific snowmobile and in 1994 the Ski-Doo Summit was born. With huge sales numbers the Summit was followed by the Arctic Cat EXT Powder Special in 1995 and then by the Polaris RMK in 1996. By building a fleet of purpose built snowmobiles sales skyrocketed to levels not seen since the 1970s.
SNOW: The final piece of the puzzle is the simplest one of all, SNOW. The one constant throughout snowmobile history is that when the snow is good, the sales are good, and with the Midwest snowmobile states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan getting pounded by early season snow starting on Halloween of 1991, the decade was set for ten years of prosperity. The 90s brought some truly epic snow years and this combined with improved technology, improved models and a stable economy, snowmobiles experienced their second golden age.
Hello everyone! It’s November and for us here in Northeast Minnesota that means snow can be on the ground any day now! Of course the Grant-in-Aid trails don’t open until December 1st but it is still exciting to see the flakes in the sky!
Recently my next door neighbor celebrated his 90th birthday and, knowing that I am a huge snowmobile fan, he recounted to me about how the entire neighborhood was snowmobile crazy in the late sixties and early seventies- the first Golden Age of snowmobiling. There is a large old farm field behind my house that borders the property of 7 households and my neighbor said that at one point every single one of those households had at least one snowmobile and some of them had several and they would all hit that field night and day, snowmobiles buzzing everywhere. That was a pretty common scene in the late sixties and early seventies, in fact from 1970 to 1974 snowmobile sales topped 2.2 million machines, an average of 453,000 snowmobiles a year. Snowmobile brands were as plentiful as Crayola crayon colors. Imagine getting the yearly snowmobile buyers guide and having fifty brands to read about. It seemed at that time that snowmobiling would continue to flourish, so what happened?
By 1974 huge changes were taking place in the snowmobile industry- federal standards were put in place regulating sound decibels and exhaust standards, these were followed by numerous regulations on where a person could ride and enforcement of private property rights. At this time a small and disorganized trail system was all that existed, most trails just followed powerlines or old logging roads or trails people used to get to their cabins both in summer and winter. Grooming and trail maintenance was in it’s infancy with old box spring mattresses towed behind a snowmobile as the top grooming method for trails.
With tail riding conditions poor at best the public was clamoring for better suspensions and more power, this, combined with the technology needed to comply with new regulations resulted in the cost of a new snowmobile beginning to rise. No longer was a snowmobile an item you could buy for less than $1,000. These price increases and rising product development costs made many of the weaker companies pull the plug on their snowmobile business. But more severe blows to the industry were on the way. Rising gas prices and gas shortages of the late seventies, combined with less places to ride and a string of really poor snow years, rising inflation and a faltering economy forced many companies into bankruptcy and one by one the snowmobile manufacturers who at one time numbered over 100 dwindled to just a handful, but the problems didn’t stop there. As the eighties approached and companies were experimenting more and more with trail performance they forgot about one major thing- a snowmobile needs to be able to travel in the snow! With the emphasis on power, speed and comfort on the trail, owners of new machines soon found that going off trail resulted in an endless amount of digging and the once versatile machine of easy snow travel that had been created in the sixties was now a lumbering tank that couldn’t move in deep snow. By the mid-eighties the number of manufacturers dropped to the four we have today and during that decade each of them flirted with the possibility of being out of the snowmobile business altogether.
As sales hit rock bottom with just over 100,000 machines being sold in 1986 it was evident that something had to be done. The thing that did come out of the seventies and eighties was that the manufacturers learned from their mistakes and also capitalized on their successes and a new breed of snowmobiles were about to hit the market. With an economic recovery and the dawn of successful technology along with everyone’s best friend- SNOW the 90s were about to usher in the next great era of snowmobiling. A once nearly dead sport was about to take center stage once again and it all started in 1991…
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Thursday, October 31st, 1991 1:00 PM. I was sitting in history class at the University of Wisconsin Superior next to my wife. We had just moved back to Duluth, Minnesota earlier that fall and had an Apartment on 6th Ave East, right in the heart of Duluth on the busiest road leading into downtown. Like everyone else in the state we were still reveling in the Twins winning the World Series, little did we know that the second major event of 1991 was just about to get underway. As my professor meandered on, my eyes wandered outside and I saw snowflakes falling onto the grass and sidewalk. “Look it’s snowing outside,” I said as I nudged my wife.
“The weather said this morning that we might get a little snow this afternoon,” one of my classmates said.
“I wonder if it will stick?” my wife replied. “I wanna go to the Mall after class. It’s probably sticking up there.” Duluth is notorious for having different climate zones, the downtown area usually got far less snow as the warmth of Lake Superior often suppressed snow totals, but in the higher elevations around the lake it was a different story, with almost 1,000 foot elevation change the air was colder and snow piled up early and if the wind was right you could get some really heavy lake effect snow. The weather man had predicted some snow that morning but they didn’t think it would be much, believing that it would probably start as rain in the beginning and maybe change over to snow but here we were with full blown light snow falling.
We got out of class and drove up to the Miller Hill Mall and as predicted the snow was heavier over the hill and sticking to the ground and the roads had already become slick slowing down traffic. I started to worry because I was supposed to be at work at Domino’s Pizza in West Duluth by 4:00. I knew it was going to be Ultra-busy because of Halloween and the snow was going to add to the craziness, if I was late my boss would throw a fit. Sure enough I showed up late and my boss was mad as predicted. The roads weren’t too bad though and by the end of my shift at 8:00 the weatherman had said we would get one to three inches of snow out of this little event.
I got off work after dinner rush and grabbed a pizza and went home to my apartment to hang out with my wife and my friend Allen who had come over with some beer to watch horror movies with us and it was still snowing hard. We watched a movie as the snow piled up and then the ten o’clock news came on. The lead of the news was that we were now under a winter storm warning, a low pressure system had gotten more organized and was heading north and this would now bring us four to six inches of snow, no big deal for us in Duluth so we didn’t give it a second thought. We watched another movie and a little after midnight we called it a night and Allen went outside to head home. We were shocked to see almost a foot of snow on my porch! “This is a Hell of a lot more than four to six inches,” Allen said. But he was driving his Jeep so he wasn’t worried about making it home.
The next morning we woke up to a world of white, traffic was at a crawl and the occasional roar of a snowmobile could be heard out on the street. This struck me as 6th Avenue East was a snow Emergency route because it was so close to the Hospitals and they usually kept it pretty clear. We turned on the radio and found that classes at UWS had been cancelled so we decided to just hunker down for the day thinking that at some point the snow would stop in time for me to go to work, but it didn’t. At 3:00 my boss called wondering if I was coming in. “Are you crazy?” I said to him. “The roads are horrible!”
“They aren’t that bad,” he replied, “Mike is coming in so all I need is a few more drivers.”
“You can count me out. You guys are nuts. They say it’s supposed to keep snowing until tomorrow with Blizzard conditions and we could get over two feet! If you guys go to work you are going to wind up spending the night at the store.”
“Nah, It’s not going to be that bad,” Dave said, “they always exaggerate these things.”
“Good Luck,” I said as I hung up the phone. I had watched the weather and it looked to me like this storm was going to hang out right over Lake Superior and keep churning away, there’s no way I was going to go into work.
The next morning the roads were completely closed. Snowmobiles were now the main form of transportation and the snowmobile traffic outside was now comparable to regular car traffic, to the point that snowmobiles were lining up at red lights waiting for snowmobiles with green lights to clear. I had never seen anything like it. I had been a snowmobiler all my life but of course going to college and living downtown I didn’t have the money, the time, or a place to keep a sled. Watching all of these snowmobiles go buzzing by my window was driving me crazy. Most of them were heading to the nearby grocery store and later that night their destination was the neighborhood bar. The entire lot was full of sleds. My phone rang and it was my boss asking if there was any way I could get to Domino’s.
“Are you insane?” I asked. “Only snowmobiles are out on the streets right now, there’s no way I can get to work.”
“I know, I’m not asking you to come to work, I’m just trying to find someone with a snowmobile to come get me and Mike. Mike was delivering until about ten last night and then he got his truck stuck. He had to walk back to the store. We tried to get him out but we couldn’t and the storm was so bad we had to stay in the store overnight and now there is a ten foot snowdrift in front of the door and we can’t get out.”
I laughed at him with the big “I told you so” laugh. “Dude, I’m sorry I can’t help you.” It wouldn’t be until the next day, November 3rd, that they would get out of that building.
At 1:00 on November third the snow finally ended, dumping a whopping 36.9 inches of snow on Duluth, which at the time was the largest single snowfall in Minnesota History (Finland broke that record in 1994 getting an incredible 46.5 inches from January 6-8). The city was paralyzed for almost a week with drifts in some places in excess of ten feet. A little remembered fact is that the Halloween snowstorm was just the beginning. Later storms in November jumped the snow total to 50.1 inches, at the time the snowiest month on record (That record was broken in April of 2013 when Duluth received a useless 50.8 inches of snow) and created the single longest snowmobile season as the roadways themselves were accessible by snowmobile for almost half the month.
Will we see another storm like that of 1991? After all, records are made to be broken…
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It’s a question that groups of snowmobile trail riders ask every time they go out, “Who wants to lead?” The leader of a group of snowmobilers is an important position, they set the pace for the entire group and they are also responsible for deciphering the terrain and alerting the group of any upcoming danger or other snowmobilers. Most of the time the leader is the guy most familiar with the trail, but if you are in unfamiliar territory or the entire group is familiar with the trail the decision gets a little more tricky. If everyone has equal experience, often times you just swap out leaders as long as everyone is comfortable with the pace, it’s when you get into unknown areas that you want a leader who really knows what they are doing. In a sense the riders behind the leader are almost like lemmings, they are pretty much going to follow the leaders’ example pace and location wise on the trail. Sometimes this can lead to disaster.
Several years ago there was a group of riders who were all pretty confident of the trail they were on and also confident in the guy they had leading the way, there were seven guys in the group and all were seasoned experienced riders, they got into a hilly section of trail and the leader had them going at a pretty brisk pace. As the leader crested a hill he hit a mogul, got tossed off of his machine and abruptly had his sled slammed into by the rider behind him, then the sled behind him hit him, and the sled behind him hit him and so forth until all seven sleds were a mangled twist of wreckage along with several broken bones. Luckily no one suffered any life threatening injuries but all of it could have been avoided if they were going a little bit slower and the leader was able to see the mogul and slow down the group. They were overconfident in their group leader and their own riding abilities.
Unfortunately this scenario repeats itself often during the season, which emphasizes how important it is to pick the right person to lead your group. A leader has to be aware of the rules of the trails, the experience level of his group and must have the ability to keep track of everyone in the group to make sure no one is left behind with some sort of issue. Luckily for us we have a guy in our regular riding group who used to race sport bikes. He is relatively new to snowmobiling but took to it like a fish in water. Obviously when you are on a race track on a sport bike you need to be ultra-focused and luckily for us he carried this focus over to snowmobiles. He has an uncanny knack for reading the trail and setting the perfect pace for the group and avoiding any sort of danger that may lay ahead so we almost always have him lead, which of course, drives him crazy because sometimes he just wants to hang back and ride casual, that is of course until he gets frustrated when he’s not in control.
So remember when you are picking your trail leader to put some thought into it, because the person leading your group might just be the one that keeps your day of fun from turning into a day of disaster.
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Everybody has a story like this. You are riding with your buddy and he has gotten ahead of you. You come around a bend in the trail and see him standing off in the woods with his sled nowhere in sight. The first thought that crosses your mind is that he has pulled off for a bathroom break, but why is he so far away from his sled? Then you see him limping around, you look down the trail and see his sled off in the trees. “What’s wrong?” you ask.
“I crashed. I think I might have broken my leg.” And then comes the question that every guy who has ever crashed anything in his life asks, the most important question of all… “How is my sled?” You walk down the trail and venture into the trees, the taillight is still on which means the sled is still running, you think that’s a good sign. You go around to the front of the sled and see that it has impacted the tree at a high rate of speed, the front of the sled is missing, pieces of it scattered about in the deep snow, the hood is destroyed, one A arm is mangled beyond recognition and the ski has broken off, the belly pan is in pieces somewhere under the sled, the exhaust is smashed right up against the motor, the steering column is bent and unusable but somehow she is still running albeit with a labored chugging sound, like an engine that is about to die but somehow keeps going. “Well, how is it?” your buddy asks again.
“Dude, it’s not good.” Your buddy has finally limped his way over to you ignoring the pain in his leg (he has determined at this point that since he can walk it’s not broken) the next thing you hear is a cascade of obscenities as he sees what’s left of his sled. He tells you that he came into the corner too fast, thought he was going to hit a tree so he jumped off and threw his sled off to the left hoping to save it. He still hit the tree with his leg but his plan to save the sled didn’t work out as it shot across the trail and hit a different tree.
He picks up the pieces he can salvage and then you miraculously nurse the sled back to the bar where you are going to have to call his wife to come get you with the trailer anticipating the chewing out you are going to get from her because you are “that friend” that always is there when he does stupid things.
The insurance company determines that the frame is bent and the sled is toast. Your friends sled is dead.
This is just one way that a sled dies. Sometimes you have had a sled so long that one day it just gives up and you realize that your years of fixes have finally met their match and the sled is just flat wore out and done. I had that happen to my 2000 Indy 500. It was actually my wife’s sled and we bought it from a guy who had a buddy that worked for the Polaris race team. The guy needed to replace the track and his buddy told him they had left over snocross front and rear suspensions from that year so they modified the chassis a little bit to fit everything and bam you had a snocross sled. That snowmobile was a blast but years of abuse wore the thing out and when the engine blew up I realized the skid was toast and the frame was also starting to develop some stress fractures. It was time for it to go. Then last year I had a relative visiting and she crashed my old reliable two up. While I was sitting there looking at it in pieces thinking that it was finally time for the sled to move on to snowmobile heaven I started having flashbacks to when I brought that sled home, our first snowmobile at our new house. I remembered how excited my wife was and how our then ten year old daughter was fascinated with this new addition to our household. It wasn’t long before she wanted to ride it and then drive it, learning how to ride on that very sled. I kept looking it over as these memories flooded over me and I flashed back to when I was a kid and my father sold our 12’ Lund boat. I remembered what I perceived as tears welling up in his eyes and I was in total shock because I had never seen my dad cry, my brother asked him what was wrong and he just said “We had a lot of good times in that boat.” At the time I thought he was crazy for being upset about selling a boat but now I understood, I couldn’t shake the memories of all the times that my wife and daughter and I had on that sled. After a few phone calls to some vintage parts places I was able to scrape together everything I needed to bring it back to life and it is still in my garage. It doesn’t hit the trail anymore but it is still used to haul wood around the property and as an occasional fun sled to ride around the back field when relatives visit.
Just like old cars, old sleds die, some in dramatic fashion while others just fall victim to time and a few lucky ones survive to become centerpieces of vintage shows and serve as reminders of times past. Maybe that accounts for the popularity of vintage shows, to remember our past and seeing sleds that have survived and escaped the snowmobile grave yard.
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Years ago, my friend was camping with his wife in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota. They were rowing across a lake back to their campsite after a day of hiking when a storm unexpectedly blew in with rain lightning and high winds. The once glass calm lake was now a churning cauldron of three foot waves and water was quickly swamping their canoe. As they struggled against the waves my friend’s wife stopped paddling and started to cry, complaining that she was too tired to continue on. My friend responded by saying “If you don’t start paddling, we are going to F#$%*&g DIE out here!” Sensing the urgency of their situation she picked up the paddle and they made it safely to shore.
What had started out as a day of fun and adventure had quickly turned into a life threatening situation. Luckily they survived and had a great story to tell their kids years later. If you snowmobile in the mountains or out in the Alaskan or Canadian wilderness you know that there is an element of danger and any snowmobiler with half a brain in their heads take the precautions to have all the necessary avalanche or survival equipment with them, yet every season there is someone that took that one extra risk and went into a sketchy area that unfortunately has their snowmobiling days end permanently, or the one guy who left his beacon behind as he takes one last quick spin or the guy who went out on his trap line and forgot to bring an extra drive belt, we hear these stories every year and they are tragic but we know that there was an inherent risk involved to begin with and sometimes you can be totally prepared and still have things go wrong.
But what about us flatland trail riders? How often do you think about things going horribly wrong when you pull away from your garage in the morning? Of course there is always the possibility that you could crash or be hit by some moron on the trail but how often do you think about the possibility of being stranded and having to survive out in the woods? Again, the risk is always there but it is not something most trail riders think about, but they should, especially in Northeast Minnesota and the snow belt of Wisconsin, the UP and Canada. For those of us that live on the shores of Lake Superior there really shouldn’t be an excuse for us to leave unprepared. We should know that the same Great Lakes that are responsible for dumping huge amounts of snow on us are also responsible for sending hundreds of ships and thousands of sailors to their doom with their unpredictable weather and Lake Superior is notorious for giving you lake effect snow that the weather service never saw coming, snow so intense that visibility is cut to zero causing the trail to disappear altogether.
Many of us relish these storms, as we all know there is nothing quite as satisfying as challenging the elements on you sled and very few things top the adrenaline rush you get riding in a blizzard, but sometimes these storms get so intense that the trails become unrideable and people get lost or stranded. The problem is exacerbated by large swaths of area that are completely devoid of any type of cell service. Once you are lost or stranded in these areas you are on your own, and there are some places where the weather gets so bad that your chances of seeing another snowmobile fade away to nothing. In the past several years there have been multiple instances in both the UP and Northeast Minnesota where snowmobilers did not return from a day of riding and search parties had to be assembled to find them, and often times these people were just out for a trail ride and had either gotten lost, or wandered off trail or broke through thin ice or got hopelessly stuck in the deep snow and with the onset of a severe storm were unable to get back to civilization, and it can happen faster than you think.
Just a few years ago there were a few of us that decided to go on a quick afternoon ride up north. We rode right out of the Snowmobiletrail.com headquarters and it began snowing. We were having so much fun that we decided to go a little farther and then a little farther still. Without warning the wind picked up and the intensity of the snow tripled. With deteriorating visibility we decided it was wise to head back. On our way the storm got worse and worse and visibility dropped to zero as the sun went down. Our situation quickly went from fun to a little tricky to now hoping we would make it home safely and we were on a trail we knew well. I began wondering what would have happened to us if we were from out of town on a trail we didn’t know and got caught up in this storm. It is something we don’t often think about but should. At a minimum you should have some food, stuff to start a fire, some water and a first aid kit and a survival blanket packed away on your sled if you are traveling to an area you don’t know. You never know when your fun in the weekend snow can turn on a dime into a battle for life and death. It’s better to be safe and to have a good story to tell your kids than to wind up on the front page of the newspaper.
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