Hello everyone! Well, here we are again, the longest day of the year, which means from here on out the days start getting shorter and snow starts getting closer. Sorry if you posted a comment in the past month or so on the Northeast Minnesota Snowmobile Blog, the Russians are hacking into the blog and Spamming us to death and we just bulk deleted everything so if you had something posted we apologize. Let the countdown begin!
I used to have a St. Bernard that loved the snow. One would expect a dog that had been bred to rescue people in the Swiss Alps to be a big fan of snow, but this dog was an absolute snow addict. Every fall when the first snowflakes fell from the sky she would start barking until you let her outside. Once there was any amount of snow on the ground she became an outside dog for the rest of the winter. Every spring she would lay on the last patch of snow she could find until every last flake was melted. Once all the snow was gone she transitioned back to an inside dog, spending her entire summer in our kitchen laying over the air conditioning vent.
Hardcore snowmobilers are a lot like my St. Bernard and for them, spring can be a depressing time. Over the years I’ve struggled with different ways to cope with post snow depression and I have finally found a solution that makes dealing with spring a little bit easier.
THE SEASONS OF TRANSITION
Much like life, I look at a year as being simply a transition from different stages leading up to the ultimate conclusion of winter. The first thing to do is look at spring not as the death of winter but a rebirth of a new series of transitions that ultimately leads you back to winter. I try to forget the fact that snow is melting and look forward to the life that is springing up all around me, the return of birds, green grass and leaves on the trees. It’s time to wash and wax your sled, lube it up, put fuel stabilizer in it and tuck it away in your garage for the summer. It may also be time to fix any minor or major problems that developed with the sled over the winter. This year my kid’s Indy needs a whole suspension rebuild which will be much easier to do with the temperature in my garage above zero. Now that your sleds are squared away you have to come up with a mental trick to help grind your way to winter and that’s where my transition stages come in.
Besides being a snowmobiler I also happen to be a Minnesota Vikings fan, which in itself is a special kind of added torture. Luckily the NFL transition somewhat mirrors the seasonal transition. The typical Vikings season usually ends in late December or early January which is usually when the best snow starts arriving. You finish out the snowmobile season and spring comes which also means NFL draft time. As you are checking out the Spring only models from the manufacturers you are also seeing your team building for their future just like (If you purchased a spring only sled) you are building for your future snowmobile season. Before you know it, June 21st arrives and the days start getting shorter- yes the hottest summer days are still to come but each day gets shorter and shorter and you are marching ever closer to winter.
SUMMER: By the time summer arrives you can look forward to a cooler filled with ice and beer on your deck and the grill cooking up the perfect steaks. Every time you reach into the icy cooler and feel the crisp cold beer on the back of your throat you are reminded of the crisp coldness of winter. In the NFL you have OTA’s and then training camp and the next thing you know its August and preseason football is here. Back to school ads start cropping up on TV and fall is just around the corner.
FALL: This is when things start taking shape and your snowmobile juices start flowing. The first snowmobile club meetings are called to order, swap meets start popping up and the NFL season gets under way. The leaves start changing color and October arrives. By October, the Cleveland Browns have already been eliminated from playoff contention and clubs start feverishly working on getting the trails ready. Snowmobiletrail.com starts posting blogs and every day gets a little bit colder. After Halloween passes you can start watching the weather every night before you go to bed. You know that the cold nights will start bleeding into cold days, ice starts forming on the pond and any day that early snowstorm could hit and at long last you are back into winter and your sleds roar to life for another season of bliss. Give these mental tricks a try this off season and see if it accelerates your journey toward what will hopefully be a winter that is less disappointing than football season.
April 1st marks the official end of the snowmobiling season and it was another poor year to say the least. After two years of horrible snow conditions and an excruciating long off season marked by a major thunderstorms in July that uprooted tens of thousands of trees in Northern Minnesota that took months to clear, everyone was looking forward to what would hopefully be a nice cold and snowy winter, but once again mother nature decided otherwise. We did get snow, but that snow was always soon followed by fifty degree temperatures and rain which melted and ruined the trails and prevented the snowmobile clubs from getting on any consistent grooming schedule. There were severe thaws in December, January and finally the ultimate season killer in February. All we can do now is start looking to next season and hope we don’t go through a fourth bad winter in a row.
We would, however, like to thank all of our new followers that came on board this year. The wider we expand our reach, the easier it is for us to share good trail condition info from around the state. We still have a few articles to throw out there before summer so keep checking in, and be sure to follow us on facebook for the latest in trail conditions and links to some new features we will have coming up next winter including our new series “Trailside Stops” where we highlight all of our favorite trailside bars and fueling stations that are essential to a good day’s ride. We also encourage you to check out the Northeast Minnesota Snowmobile Blog Archives where you will find old articles on specific trails, destinations you may want to consider for next years trips, info on vintage sleds and of course some entertaining snowmobile stories from the trails as well as a slew of pictures from our various rides. Enjoy the off season!
This may be it. Looking around the state there are a lot of the same problems, warm temps compromised ice bridges and melted trails. Cold Temps refroze those trails making them icy. Fresh snow fell in some areas making some trails rideable but thin ice recently melted swamps and the questionable integrity of ice bridges have kept groomers off of a lot of trails, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the trails are all terrible. So here’s what we can tell you. There are long sections of some trails that are good to go. One trail we do know is a good candidate right now is the CJ Ramstad North Shore Trail. The trail will be groomed from Duluth to Finland Friday night and is currently in fairly good shape. We rode a long stretch of it on Tuesday and it was a lot of fun. Beware of ice under the snow though and really watch it in the corners. Ride smart not stupid. If you want to act like a snowcross racer you should stay home because with all of the ice you are going to wind up in the trees or worse slide into an oncoming sled. If you ride smart the trail is pretty nice. There are stretches where some water has run across the trail and some logging areas that are a little thin. I think Duluth right now is a good place to start. Closing in on Finland the trail deteriorates quite a bit. After Finland you are back to a good base and you can get pretty far north. As for all of the GIA trails, we rode some that are good but not groomed and others that are pretty much done due to the melt. Bear in mind we have had snow which has covered some really thin ice so be careful. The lakes are still pretty good but check with the locals before you go out. Overall if you come up to Northern Minnesota you are going to find some good trails just be smart and be careful. Sunday it is supposed to be in the 50′s which will mean the end of most trails.
This weeks trail update is a tricky one. From Duluth south there is no snow but that could change with the possible storm. From Duluth north there is snow here and there but the warm weather and rain not only destroyed most of the trails but also melted ice bridges ad filled up swamps with water. The cold weather, however, has put a thin sheet of ice on everything making these areas exceptionally dangerous. The good news is from Finland North there is enough snow to groom but there are still big stretches of dirt and ice. As has been the case all year, the farther North you get the better it is. Can you ride this weekend? Yes. Will it be good, probably not.
“The approach of a Yeti is often times preceded by unusual changes in the weather.” -Ancient Himalayan Proverb
“Chasing Something Legendary.” That is the motto of the March of Dimes Yeti Tour. From its inception in 2011 the Yeti tour has indeed been legendary – legendary in its ability to coincide with freak weather conditions. Yeti Tour 2011 went off without a hitch, perfect weather and an extremely smooth execution of the event, instantly making it one of the premier fundraising rides in Northern Minnesota. Unfortunately the winter weather gods have not cooperated since. The ride portion of the event was cancelled in 2012 & 2013 for lack of snow. Brutal cold hit the Yeti Tour in 2014 but trail conditions were excellent. In 2015 the Yeti tour was hit with an extreme lack of snow, the ride went on as planned but trail conditions were poor. 2016 saw record setting warmth and rain. All winter we watched the extended forecast and everything for 2017 looked great. The previous weekend saw fantastic trails and perfect temps but a record setting warm up was on the way and that is where my Yeti Tour 2017 adventure begins…
It was Wednesday night February 15th and I was making last minute preparations for the upcoming Yeti Tour on Saturday the 18th. I knew the forecast had called for warmer weather and I thought I would get a quick ride in on my 2015 INDY SP to make sure everything was working well for the ride. I was going down the trail and noticed snow coming up through the top of my ski. I stopped and was shocked to see that one of my carbide bolts had come loose and somewhere along the line my carbide had literally broken in half and was now missing. I rode home and in the process shaved off most of the bottom of my ski to a point where I now needed a new ski. I went to our local dealer only to find they didn’t have a ski in stock and that it would take until next week to get one. That meant no riding of the new Indy for the Yeti Tour, so I had to switch to my trusty old 2000 Indy 600 Touring sled. The Touring sled had been the centerpiece in our family’s sled line up for years, but as my daughter grew up she eventually wanted her own snowmobile and the Touring sled now sits idle and only goes out if we have guests. Since I hadn’t put a lot into it I gave it a good going over and made sure it was ready to go.
By the time Saturday arrived the weatherman’s predictions had come true and I woke up to the sound of melting snow dripping off of my roof, I checked the temp and we were already at 37 degrees. I rode to the Yeti Tour staging area (an advantage of living two blocks away from the state trail) and joined the group of about 20 riders. There had been over 40 riders registered but half had dropped out due to overheating concerns. I too was concerned about the overheating issue but decided to give it a go anyway. I paired up with my longtime friend Allen who was going on his first Yeti tour. He too had been concerned about the heat the night before but like me had decided to give it a go, we figured that if the temperature looked like it was going to become an issue we could simply turn back.
We rolled out of the Sunset Bar and Grill staging area right at 9:00 AM. We hit the Hermantown trail heading north to Fish Lake and were amazed at how perfectly groomed it was even with the now rising temps, a phenomenal job of grooming performed by the Hermantown snowmobile club. We did encounter a few bare spots in areas where the trail ran north/ south and was a victim of southern exposure. By the time we reached Fish Lake a few riders had already had overheating issues and elected to turn back. The rest of us continued on to find before us absolutely pristine trail conditions thanks to the efforts of the Reservoir Riders snowmobile club. We soon reached a well-traveled CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail that despite the heavy traffic was still in good condition. From there we turned onto the Pequaywan trail which was in even better shape. After a quick stop at the Pequaywan Inn it was off to Hugo’s on the Brimson Trail for a fuel stop. The Brimson trail was in even better condition than the Pequaywan. It had become evident that the farther north we traveled the more snow there was and the better the trail conditions were in spite of the warm weather.
While we were at Hugo’s getting fuel a conversation ensued as to whether we should go back the way we came or continue on the route. It seemed that several riders were worried about the rising temps and possible deteriorating trail conditions and going back the way we came meant assurances of a familiar trail that we knew was still in good shape. I argued that there was no reason to believe the trail conditions would be worse ahead of us with the fantastic job the Pequaywan snowmobile club had done earlier in the week. Half of the group turned back and half decided to go on. At this point Allen and I had hooked up with Jim Bianchi, the president of the Hermantown snowmobile club. The three of us decided to leave the rest of the group at Hugo’s as they decided to hang back and have some food and beverages. I was worried about the increasing heat and wanted to get back to Duluth as quickly as possible. At the moment it was 47 degrees, the forecast high for the day, but it was only 1:00 and I thought the temp could continue gong up for at least the next few hours.
As we left Hugo’s I soon found that both of my predictions proved to be correct, the trails remained fabulous and, in fact improved the farther we went, but the temperature kept rising and soon the old Touring sled started letting me know it wasn’t happy. There was a great deal of hesitation and the engine started giving me a strange tone. We hit the Yukon trail and rode to the John A Brandt Memorial Shelter and I loaded up my running boards with snow to cool the heat exchangers. Once we got back on the trail the snow melted almost immediately and the sled became more and more doggish. I crossed a remote gravel pit road and pulled over to load up my running boards again only to find that Allen and Jim were no longer behind me. I waited and waited but they didn’t arrive. I doubled back to find Allen and his 2008 Ski-Doo broken down on the side of the trail. He was cruising along just fine and then the check engine light went on and the engine just stopped. We thought it may be hot so we waited to see if it would start, it did not. Another Yeti group came along and we tried in vain to get Allen’s sled to re-fire. We called the support vehicle crew and told them we would meet them at the end of the Gravel Pit road. I towed Allen to the road and was dragging him down to the highway to meet the support vehicle when we came across a gate blocking the road. It was locked and there were huge boulders on both sides of the gate to prevent anyone from driving around it. Now we were really stuck. It was so warm out that my sled would overheat if I had to pull Allen any further and the gate was blocking us from moving forward. I unhooked Allen’s sled and theorized that there was so much snow on top of the boulders that I could probably ride over them. Allen thought it was an insane idea but we really didn’t have a choice. I made a ramp of snow and took a run at it and sure enough I was able to ride over the top of them. From there we pulled Allen’s sled over the boulders to the other side of the gate. We decided that with the rising temps it would be foolish for me to continue attempting to pull Allen’s sled any further and I gave him a ride to the Highway where we waited for the support vehicle to pick us up. We loaded up my sled first and then drove down to the gate to pick up Allen’s sled. When we got into the truck to make our way back to Duluth we were astonished to see that the temperature had risen to a whopping 58 degrees- a horrible temperature for any snowmobile. Thus ended the ride portion of the 2017 Yeti Tour.
Later that night we all met back at the Sunset for the post Yeti Tour banquet where we ate pizza, gave away door prizes and had a Chinese auction which featured some fantastic items like an autographed Adrian Peterson football, a Yeti cooler (of course) and a snowmobile lift system for your garage which I just happened to win. The night ended with us giving away the grand Prize for the Yeti Tour Raffle, a new Yamaha Viper, which went to a lucky snowmobiler from Two Harbors, and one lucky person walked away with a baby Yeti. You don’t see baby Yetis every day but at the Yeti Tour you can count on finding things you never expected.
Overall, Yeti Tour 2017 was a success and raised tons of money for a great cause. What will Yeti Tour 2018 be like? You can find out yourself by joining us for the 2018 Yeti Tour. Just log on to www.yetitour.com for more information. There’s one thing we can be certain about, the Yeti Tour will always be legendary.
Ugh. So here’s the scenario: Nearly all tails were groomed Wednesday night in order to give them a chance to set up for the weekend. Friday is supposed to kick off a long horrible stretch of warm weather that should thoroughly decimate the trail by the end of the weekend. Anything the warm temperatures don’t kill off, the upcoming rain in the forecast will. So why is it that when the weather man predicts a huge snowfall he is usually wrong? Or when he predicts 75 Degrees and sunny we wind up getting 50′s and rain? It seems that the only time he is right is when he tells you it will be warm enough to ruin the trails and prematurely end another season. Lets hope he is wrong this week and the warm air stays away. We never caught a break this winter. Every time we were a few inches of snow away from the trails being in such good shape that we could survive a warm spell lkie this we just couldn’t get over the hump. Right this second the trails are good but that can change in a matter of hours. Our other big concern is the deterioration of ice bridges and swamp ice. Be careful out there. This is probably it for the season unless the weather takes a dramatic turn.
Trail report for Northern Minnesota is pretty simple this week. The trails are all in good to excellent condition. The snow and cold we received earlier in the week has helped everything set up nicely. As has been the case all winter the farther north you get the better the trails are but even in the Duluth area trails are better than they have been for a couple of years. We are looking forward to logging some serious miles this weekend. We are also crossing our fingers that the snow and cold temps stick around for the Yeti Tour on the 18th.
Normally after a good weekend of riding we would post some good pictures from the trail, but I had the misfortune of seeing the one thing no snowmobiler wants to see or be a part of: a snowmobile accident. I decided to go out for a quick ride and rendezvous with some friends on a nearby lake and just a few minutes down the trail I crossed a road and there was a rider on the other side. He stopped me and told me to be careful because there was a rider up the trail who had hit a tree and broke his leg and they were waiting for the paramedics to arrive. Just then the first of the emergency personnel arrived and I gave him a ride out to the crash site. When we arrived at the scene we found the crash victim laying on the ground with his buddy close by and his sled off to the side of the trail. In typical snowmobiler fashion he was more worried about the condition of his sled then the fact that there was a bone sticking out of his leg and was more mad that his season was over than the fact that his leg was broken. When the EMS guy asked him what happened I heard the familiar words “I was going too fast.” The guy was mad at himself for “being an idiot” as he put it. The EMS guy said something to him that was very pertinent, “Well, look at it this way, the good news is we can fix your leg and fix your sled, but we can’t fix death, so it could be worse.”
The thing is, it could be worse and for a few snowmobilers every year the worst happens. Snowmobiles, like any motorized vehicle, are dangerous, and the fact that we are riding on ice and snow in conditions that are ever changing makes snowmobiling a riskier proposition than many other forms of recreation. Add to that that snow tends to conceal objects buried under it and you get another combination for disaster. For the most part, however, nearly all snowmobile crashes can be avoided by being aware of three simple things.
EXCESSIVE SPEED: By far the #1 most common factor in snowmobile accidents is excessive speed. When you are going too fast it makes it extremely difficult to avoid unforeseen objects or hazards that pop up on an unfamiliar trail, field or lake. We all know someone who was flying across a lake on what they thought would be a nice safe flat surface only to be launched into the air by an ice road or pressure ridge that cropped up out of nowhere. This exact thing happened to me years ago on my way to my sister’s house. She lived on a small private lake that was a blast to ride on. I drove to her house, stayed for a while and then hopped on my sled to go back home. I was flying across the lake like I had done dozens of times before and then suddenly there was an ice road that someone had plowed in the hour that I had been visiting my sister. I pulled up on my sled and jumped it about thirty feet and landed in a nice puff of deep powder. Needless to say I was lucky. I’ve seen other riders make this same mistake and go tumbling head over heels and destroy their sleds in the process. Excessive speed on the trail is the cause of nearly all head on collisions every year. Going too fast into a corner can result in you drifting to the other side of the trail and hitting someone. Excessive speed also accounts for the majority of all single sled trail crashes. An icy corner can make you lose control or if you are going to fast you can miss a corner all together and wind up in the trees. The thing about trees is that they don’t move. In the decades old battle of snowmobile vs. tree the trees have won 100% of the time.
OBJECTS HIDDEN UNDER THE SNOW: One of the unique problems snowmobilers face is that snow conceals dangerous obstacles under its magnificent beautiful powder. This problem faces every rider from the woods to the mountains. Every year riders are killed or seriously injured by hitting hidden culverts, creek beds, rocks, stumps and barbed wire fences. I have a motto that I follow now and it can be used anywhere- “If you don’t know, go slow.” I came up with this after riding through a beautiful unfamiliar field years ago and suddenly riding right off a steep drop off that resulted in a shattered wrist. Since then whenever I come across unfamiliar terrain I go slow enough to avoid any such hazards. Even if you hit a rock or a stump, at a slow speed you dramatically reduce your odds of a severe injury. This rule of thumb is especially pertinent on an unfamiliar trail where there could be a hairpin turn or fallen tree that you ride up on with no idea that it is coming. Going slow gives you enough time to react and avoid disaster.
ALCOHOL: This one is a no brainer. Alcohol plays a major role in snowmobile accidents every year. This is one I never quite understood, you are riding on a powerful motorized vehicle on ice and snow usually in extreme weather conditions through the woods on a narrow trail surrounded by trees (that as mentioned earlier don’t like to move) and yet some people think combining all that with alcohol is a good plan. Alcohol related crashes involving snowmobiles almost always result in serious injury or death. The rule of thumb here is just don’t do it.
If you follow these three simple rules you can avoid wrecking your sled or worse yet wrecking yourself and you will be able to enjoy the beauty and awesome adrenaline rush of riding the trails for years to come.
Winter has returned! The whole Northern half of the state finally received some badly needed snow. The fresh snow along with colder weather has allowed grooming to resume and the trails are in fair riding condition. The further north from Duluth you go they improve to good, very good and excellent! Basically you could draw a line starting at Duluth and anywhere north of that Line you are in good shape. Moreover, there is more snow in the forecast for Saturday and temps should be in the low 20′s, the only way it gets better than that is if the Swedish Bikini team shows up with sleds full of beer and bratwurst. In short its time to load up the snowmobiles and hit the trails!