First, a brief trail update. It looks like most clubs in Northeast Minnesota are going to Groom Thursday Night (the 25th) as temps are the best they are going to be all week. The trails around Duluth are sketchy at best but the North Shore trail is reported to be in “good” condition. Staying North of Two Harbors is a good plan as the snow depth is much better fro there north.
The March of Dimes Yeti Tour has been in existence since Nate and Kelly Alvar dreamed it up in the fall of 2010 and the first Yeti tour took place in January of 2011. The first year was a huge success and Yeti tour 2012 was set to be an even bigger event, especially with the addition of the presenting sponsor RJ Sport and Cycle in Duluth who graciously provided a 2012 Yamaha Vector to be raffled off for the fundraiser. Since then RJ’s has been the presenting sponsor every year and every year there has been a new Yamaha snowmobile up for grabs for one lucky raffle ticket holder. 2012 also debuted what I am now calling “The Curse of the Yeti,” because to everyone’s dismay and disbelief the riding portion of the event had to be cancelled due to lack of snow- a rarity in Northern Minnesota for January 28th. Not to be deterred by a freak fluke of nature, plans for Yeti Tour 2013 were put into motion and it promised to be another great event, unfortunately the curse of the Yeti struck again and again the riding portion of the event had to be cancelled due to lack of snow- on January 26th. Something had to be done-so the organizers changed the event from a two day ride to a single day ride and changed the route to run a more northerly path to help ensure better snow conditions. The plan worked, and the 2014 ride was blessed with plenty of snow- and sub zero temperatures. Yeti Tour 2014 kicked off at 5 below zero and by the time the ride ended it was a balmy 15 below. Again, in an effort to make the ride more likely to take place and more likely to not have bone chilling cold the ride date was moved to the third week of February. Ironically 2015 proved to be a record low snow year and the ride went on despite trails that were mostly dirt with an occasional snowflake and little to no grooming having taken place. We hoped for better in 2016 and things looked promising. The trails for the event looked to have plenty of snow and had been in beautiful condition the weekend before the event and everyone looked forward to what promised to be an incredible ride. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had different ideas and a freak warm up hit Northern Minnesota three days before the ride and followed it up with rain on Friday, turning the beautiful snow on the trail to wet sloppy slush. When the ride took place on Saturday morning the Curse of the Yeti showed up in full force..
I rolled out of bed the morning of the Yeti Tour 2016 and immediately thought of just going back to sleep. I had been riding all week with my daughter because the trails had been pristine and the 300+ miles I had put on over the previous four days had started catching up to my 47 year old body. My enthusiasm suffered more damage when I looked outside to see 40 degrees on the thermometer, but since I am the chronicler of the Yeti Tour I had to gather myself and ride up to the Sunset. The turnout was great with about 30 riders preparing themselves for the 140 mile ride and there were another dozen riders scheduled to meet us at Fish Lake. The ride was set to kick off at 9:00 but an initial group of ten sleds left a little early to get a jump on the day. I stayed back with the big group including the Yeti himself. All in all there were nineteen of us ready to make our way down the trail, but right before we got underway and were lining up our sleds one of the riders went over the snowbank leaving the parking lot at an odd angle and rolled his sled damaging the hood and popping off the windshield. Before we even got started our group was cut down to seventeen as the two sleds pulled back into the parking lot to fix the windshield.
The first leg of our journey took us from the Sunset to the Eagle’s Nest Resort on Fish Lake. The warm weather immediately started wreaking havoc on the snowmobiles in our group as we began experiencing overheating issues. We determined that we had to keep a steady nonstop pace to keep the heat exchangers cool. That’s when the rain started in, it was a light mist but enough to keep you wiping your faceshield every two minutes and further deteriorate the already heat stressed trail. By the time we made it to Fish Lake, the warm temps overwhelmed the Yeti’s sled and we had to tow him back to the Eagle’s Nest parking lot where he was picked up by Jake Alvar and the support crew. This left myself and our friend Justin (who was riding two up with his 8 year old son Alex, the youngest Yeti Tour rider ever) to catch up with the rest of the group. We found them further down the trail and saw that in an effort to keep the sleds cooler they had broken into two groups with eight of them going on ahead leaving us in the back in a group of now just nine sleds.
As we turned north on the CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail the rain turned into snow, normally a welcome sight to any snowmobiler but this snow was of the heavy wet variety and as it hit your face shield it stuck like glue and obstructed your vision, causing an even more constant wiping of your shield. The combination of warm weather, rain and slushy snow and heavy snowmobile traffic had at this point all but obliterated the trail, turning it into miles of slushy muddy slop pockmarked with washouts and moguls and we were all looking forward to reach the Dixie for a chance to warm up, dry off and eat some good food. As we pulled into the Dixie to eat lunch we were shocked to see a huge group of snowmobilers waiting there for us. There were not only the Yeti tour but also a large group of riders that were doing a poker run that day and were ironically riding the same route we were for the Yeti Tour. We wedged our way into the jam packed Dixie and enjoyed some burgers and fries and refueled the sleds to make the run to the Yukon trail. I was excited to ride the Yukon as I had been there earlier in the week and I knew it was in phenomenal condition and I thought that even with the warm weather it would be in good shape due to the higher amounts of snow it had received, and I was right, well, sort of.
There was more snow on the Yukon, but that snow had turned into very deep slush that the sled shad to churn through, riding on it was just slightly firmer than water skipping. We did make it up to the John A Brandt Memorial shelter for some fabulous photo ops and then we were off to the Brimson trail. The Brimson also had good snow cover but it too was like a tight twisty turny river of slush. We made a brief stop at Hugo’s to regroup and then were off to the Pequaywan Inn. As we neared the Pequaywan, the snow stopped and the temperature started to fall making the trail a little bit firmer and a little bit better to ride. We stopped for photo ops with the Yeti at the Pequaywan and for a few beverages before heading back out onto the trail for the home stretch. It is at this point that I and 3 other riders broke away from the pack to hightail it back to Duluth. The temperature had continued to drop and the Pequayan trail had firmed up enough that it actually presented a pretty enjoyable ride. Those conditions again deteriorated as we rode south into warmer weather and more beat up terrain on the North Shore Trail including some monstrous hard to see moguls at the bottom of a hill that claimed several sleds and had people bouncing off of their handle bars. We can’t stress enough how trail conditions can change throughout the day and how dug out moguls like this can form in a short period of time and how hard they can be to see in flat light conditions.
By the time we hit the Reservoir trail we were once again dealing with a slushy mogul filled nightmare and we were grateful to get back to the Sunset having conquered the day and the weather still in one piece, but a very painful and battered one piece.
With a great banquet of Pizza and some well-deserved adult beverages at the Sunset we put a wrap on the 2016 Yeti tour by giving away a Yama Viper to one very lucky raffle ticket holder who for the first time ever was actually at the banquet. We almost had to call the EMT’s when they read her name over the PA system. It’s not every day that you go home with a brand new snowmobile.
Overall the 2016 Yeti Tour could be penned as another success as it achieved its goal of raising money for the March of Dimes and provided another memorable ride for its riders. What will the 2017 Yeti Tour bring? That answer is as elusive as the Yeti himself, but we will be there to find out.