Author Archives: John Hartley

SNOWMOBILING’S 911 CALL

1aq1There are a large number of ailments that are affecting the health of the sport of snowmobiling: the economy, gas prices, declining registrations, competition from kid’s obsession with computers and video games, politicians, environmental activists, and warmer winters with less snow, all of these things play a role in the uncertainty of the future of our sport, but there is one thing that trumps all of these other factors, a silent killer that not only hurts the sport of snowmobiling but if left untreated will most assuredly kill the sport we love.  The good news is that every person reading this has the power to not only fix this problem but they also have the power to make the sport of snowmobiling stronger than it has ever been.  We at snowmobiletrail.com have been on this bandwagon for years, the snowmobile magazines have been on this bandwagon, businesses are on  board, the manufacturers are on board, the race community and everyone else that has a vested interest in the life of snowmobiling are on board but yet our cries fall on deaf ears and soon if these cries continue to go unheard the sport of snowmobiling as we know it will cease to exist, like the fate of the Titanic after hitting the iceberg,  it is a mathematical certainty.

Imagine going to the doctor for a check-up and, after running a battery of tests, the doctor comes in and tells you that you have several diseases and each one of them if left untreated will be fatal.  This is exactly what is happening to the sport of snowmobiling.  Then imagine that there is a magic pill that fixes just about everything, logic would dictate that you would take it but yet there are tens of thousands of snowmobilers that don’t.  That magic snowmobiling pill is joining a snowmobile club.

CLUBS IN CRISIS = SPORT IN CRISIS:  So why are the clubs in crisis?  The answer is simple, the clubs are aging- literally.  So many club members are getting older and older and literally dying off.  Without the younger club members getting involved there are less able bodied people to groom and brush the trails and eventually clubs lack enough people to do the work and the club disbands and the trails close.  There is a large misconception out there that the state and the DNR are responsible for the trails-that is not the case- it is the clubs that go out and get the easements and permits to build the trail and the clubs that maintain and groom them from there forward.  The clubs even have to work to raise funds to buy and maintain grooming equipment and then they need volunteers to run those groomers.  The clubs build the bridges, cut the brush and downed trees on the trails, put up the trail signs, teach snowmobile safety classes and send representatives to meet with the DNR and politicians at the state level to make sure snowmobilers needs are addressed, without them the sport of snowmobiling would die and it is dying right before our eyes. 

BENEFITS OF CLUB MEMBERSHIP:

1.      Promotion of the sport to friends, family members, and young snowmobilers:    One of the biggest problems in the sport that has the entire industry on edge is the ever declining numbers of youths taking up the sport of snowmobiling.  Since 2001 the number of students taking snowmobile safety classes has dropped by 62%!   The average age of snowmobilers keeps increasing and eventually we will hit a tipping point where there aren’t enough young snowmobilers to replace the old ones that die off.  Snowmobiling has long been thought of as a family sport but the drop in youth participation has alarmed the industry to the point that they have started building kid friendly sleds as evidenced by the new ¾ models released over the past few years.  The manufacturers realized that if they didn’t do something to keep kids involved the sport would be doomed.  That also led to the resurgence of the little 120 class sleds several years ago and now the ¾ sleds.  We all have a responsibility to bring friends and family, especially youth, out on the trails so they can experience the awesomeness of the snowmobiling world.  Too often we get hung up with hanging with our buddies and not getting the rest of the family out on the sleds.  We need young blood in the sport to keep the sport alive. We all know if you get a person who hasn’t been on a snowmobile before out on a good ride, they will be hooked.  Chances are the majority of the people reading this started riding when they were kids and their passion never died.  Remember that the next time you see kids out on the trail and encourage them to keep riding and welcome them to the family, the future of the sport depends on it.  The snowmobile club plays a huge role in getting youth involved just by providing a good well-groomed trail system.  Additionally clubs provide the snowmobile safety classes that are not only essential in getting younger riders involved but instilling the proper riding techniques at a young age that keep us all safe on the trails.  Without club members to teach classes, no new riders can get their permits and once again the sport dies.

2.      Registrations and Snowmobiling Laws:  Clubs play a vital role in meeting with the DNR and helping to determine how best to manage the sport.  One of the problems affecting the sport is the declining number of registrations.  States rely on registrations to fund the trail system, aka fund the clubs maintenance of the trails.  Without registrations there is no money to groom etc. The disturbing trend is that even though snowmobile sales have actually increased over the past few years, snowmobile registrations have decreased.  This means that there are a lot of rideable sleds out there sitting in people’s garages without current tags on them.  Part of this is lack of enforcement.  When the fine is less than a registration, people take their chances on getting caught, and when the DNR officers let people get off with just a warning for expired tabs it hurts us all.  These people will just continue to take their chances not realizing that their lack of registration will eventually lead to the demise of the trail system.  Joining a club helps spread awareness and helps improve the trail system.

3.      Fighting for your Snowmobiling Rights:  The reality of the modern day world is that there are  a number of groups out there that are basically trying to dictate to the rest of us what is an acceptable way to have fun.  We all know that politics are controlled by special interests and in many cases you need to be part of a vocal group to get your voice heard.  When there are groups out there that don’t want snowmobiles around then we must as snowmobilers ban together to protect our sport and funding for our sport.  Snowmobilers are huge economic contributors to the Northern and Mountain states and we are under ever increasing assault by groups that would like to do away with us.  We fight not only for ourselves but for others, like those that have physical disabilities that may prevent them from skiing or hiking but have the ability to get on a snowmobile and enjoy nature.  It is said that no one cares more about the duck population than duck hunters do and the same can be said for snowmobilers- snowmobilers love the outdoors and want the ability to explore it, but there are those out there trying to take that ability away from you.  Joining a snowmobile club gives you a powerful voice in protecting your sport and in many cases helps protect other off road recreational sports as well.

4.      Awesome Trails:  This is the one that always gets me.  My biggest pet peeve is the guy that complains about trail conditions, then you ask him “So do you belong to a club?” and more times than not the answer is “No.”  I used to be one of those guys and once I joined a club I realized that I had a huge role in making sure the trails in my area were in good shape.  That is what also alerted me to this crisis.  When I joined the club, 90% of its members were over 65 years old!  These guys are out there cutting up downed trees, fixing bridges and driving groomers in 20 below weather.  I made it a point to get as many new “younger” members as I could and within a few years we were able to turn our local trail system into one of the best maintained and most rideable trail systems in the area.

5.      Hanging Out With People That Love Snowmobiling:  The best part of joining a club is that you get to hang out with people that love snow as much as you do.  Everyone can’t wait for it to snow and is sad when it ends.  Club members all want to have the best trails possible and you have a network of people that are willing to ride with you at the drop of a hat, what can be better than that!

WHAT CAN YOU DO?  The answer is simple- Join a club.  In fact the state of Wisconsin was so concerned with their club crisis that they made joining a club mandatory when you register your sled- the result was higher registrations, higher youth involvement, higher sled sales, better trails and a huge surge in snowmobile participation and a very healthy state of the sport. Snowmobile clubs need you, even if you only volunteer to do an hour of trail work a season, that is one hour that wasn’t being done before.  Every little bit helps- make your voice heard and join a club today, you’ll be glad you did. 

A NEW SEASON HAS ARRIVED

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The leaves on the trees have begun to change color, the kids are going back to school, football season has started and snowmobile clubs are getting together after a long summer off, a new snowmobiling season is about to begin and a new season is beginning for us at snowmobiletrail.com.  Last year was a good year for us at snowmobiletrail.com as we have expanded our social media footprint.  Yes we spend the majority of our time in Northeast Minnesota but we address issues that affect the entire snowmobile community.  We are about all things snowmobile trail and whether that trail leads you to a beautiful mountain playground or your favorite watering hole, your trail issues are important to us.  As a group, everyone that rides a snowmobile is part of an extended family that wants to see the sport survive and grow and at times that means banning together to protect the sport we love.  Over the next few months we will have blogs on a number of topics to get you pumped up for a new winter but also to keep you up to date on what is happening around the world of snowmobiling.  Stay tuned, we have a lot of good stuff in store for you and you can always visit the website to read past articles in the Northeast Minnesota Snowmobile Blog Archives.  It’s never too early to start your snow dance!

 

TODAY ON THE TRAIL 3/17/19

The trails were beautiful today, the CJ Ramstad North Shoe Trail was getting pretty beat up with quite a few bare spots popping up. The grant in aid trails we rode today north of Duluth were amazing though. We were having some overheating issues with how hard the trail was- use your scratchers if you have them. The prognosis for the trails isn’t good with temps reaching into the fifties late in the week. Once again you may have to drive up to Finland by the end of next week if you want to ride.

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NORTHEAST MINNESOTA SNOWMOBILE TRAIL CONDITION UPDATE 3/14/19

1a314We waited until the last minute to post this because we wanted the most accurate data we could get.  Although we had a lot of rain the trails held up pretty well.  The problem is run off, so on many of the grant-in-aid trails there may be swampy water hiding under the snow.  From what we have seen most of the ice bridges survived and with colder temps coming we hope things freeze up and dry out.  All we can say is that if you ride on grant-in-aid be vigilant.  Also be aware of road crossings with ditches on either side of the road- you might want to send a scout across the road to check the other side of the snowbank if you can’t see what is across the road- we have heard of riders crossing roads and winding up in a ditch full of water on the other side.  We do know that the CJ Ramstad North Shore Trail is not only in good shape but is tentatively scheduled to be groomed Friday and Saturday night if the weather permits.  One other word of caution- if you go off trail the snow is incredibly water logged and it is like driving through slush on a lake- very difficult and potential to get hopelessly stuck.  Speaking of lakes there is a lot of slush out there under the snow so unless you know its good don’t risk it.

TODAY ON THE TRAIL 3/10/19

Today we spent a lot of time realizing that short track trail sleds are not mountain sleds and that 3 feet of powder, although fun, also wears your ass out when you put your sled in a place that it can’t handle! Looks like this week is gonna possibly suck warmth wise, here’s hoping for the best.

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Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, snow, sky, outdoor and nature

RIDE RECAP: YETI TOUR 2019

1yetiOver its 8 year history the snowmobilers that participate in the Yeti Tour have raised over $200,000 to help newborns and their families.  After a successful 2018 event, some big changes took place.  The Yeti Tour organizers decided to move their fund raising efforts to help a new local organization that directly helps families in Northern Minnesota, The Northland Newborn Foundation.  That was the first big change for the popular snowmobile charity event, the second caught the organizers a little off guard.  The 8 year home base for the Yeti Tour, The Sunset Bar and Grill unexpectedly closed as the business was put up for sale, leaving The Yeti Tour with no home.  Luckily a local venue, The Island Lake Inn on Island Lake, just north of Duluth, stepped in to provide the Yeti Tour with a home.  Having overcome two logistical hurdles, the Yeti Tour was on track and had only one nemesis left to fight:  the weather. 

The first Yeti Tour in 2011 went off beautifully, with perfect trails and perfect riding conditions, but that trend was not to last- two years of the ride portion of the event being cancelled due to lack of snow were followed by a year of 20 below zero temperatures which prompted the organizers to move the Yeti Tour to February where it then suffered from three years of record warm temps and melting trails and then a year of good temperatures but exceptionally thin snow cover.  In 2019 we had snow, we had wonderful trails and we had good temps.  When I hopped on my sled Saturday morning it was a comfortable 23 degrees.  I rode to the local trail head to meet my friend Allen and then we high tailed it up to the Island Lake Inn.  The trails were beautiful thanks to the joint efforts of several clubs:  The Duluth Drift Toppers, The Hermantown Night Riders, The Reservoir Riders and the Pequaywan area Trail Blazers.  We arrived at the Island Lake Inn and registered and the ride kicked off at 9:00 AM with a group of about forty sleds.  There was a group of about 10 sleds that would catch up later, a group we refer to as the Fish Lake Crew who come up every year early Friday and rent cabins at the Hi-Banks resort and spend their time out on the lake riding and fishing (they slept in Saturday after a long day of fun on Friday). 

We rode out of the Island Lake Inn lot to Island Lake and followed a well-marked lake trail courtesy of the Reservoir Riders club to the Reservoir Lakes trail which the club had groomed the night before to absolute pristine condition.  This large group of sleds reached the legendary CJ Ramstad North Shore Trail and headed north to the Pequaywan Trail.  Initially Allen and I were content being with the group but as is the case very year the large group begins to sort itself out into smaller sub groups that ride together at the same pace.  That is one of the reasons I love riding in the Yeti Tour- the route is mapped out for you but the ride is casual where you can hook up with a group of people that enjoy the same pace and hang out with them the rest of the day.   Another recent development is the ever increasing number of two up riders in the Yeti Tour.  Every year we are seeing more fathers and sons and husbands and wives and this year our first three generation group of riders: a grandson, a son and both grandparents! 

When we reached the Pequaywan Trail the group paused to make sure everyone was accounted for.  Allen and I took this opportunity to break away and move ahead of the pack.  We were followed by one of our friends, Dave and his other riding buddy.  The four of us then rocketed off to the Pequaywan Inn where we stopped for a burger and fries and a beverage. 

Soon the Pequaywan Inn was overrun with Yeti Sleds

Soon the Pequaywan Inn was overrun with Yeti Sleds

The Pequaywan was soon overrun with Yeti Riders.  Some groups left right away only stopping for beverages, they were followed shortly by Dave and then Allen and I headed out to get ahead of the larger group.  While departing we bumped into the Fish Lake crew who had finally caught up to everyone after getting a late start.  From the Pequaywan Inn we made our way to the Brimson trail but I knew of an old logging road in the area a little way off the trail and asked Allen if he wanted to go explore for a while.  He agreed and in the back of my mind I expected that eventually I would get him stuck in the deep powder we were encountering. 

Getting off your sled on the wrong side of the trail

Getting off your sled on the wrong side of the trail

We followed the old road to a large open field and decided it would be wise to turn around and head back toward the trail, it was here that I buried my Indy.  As Allen and I dug out my sled we could hear the large main group going by on the trail off in the distance.  “Well, it looks like you got us worn out and at the rear of the pack,” Allen said.  After more digging, pushing and pulling, Allen decided that we should switch places, he would control the throttle and I would push.  On the count of three he hit the gas and my sled started pulling itself out of its hole, sensing that we were getting out Allen hopped aboard and gunned it, showering me with a face full of snow that shot down inside my jacket, but at least we were out. After a few minutes of getting gobs of snow out of my jacket and facemask while Allen laughed his ass off, we were finally back on our sleds, making our way out of the woods and eventually back to the Brimson Trail.  From there it was off to Hugo’s where we caught up with all of the other Yeti riders and stopped to refuel.  Hugo’s represents the half way point of the Yeti Tour and it seemed that the entire group of fifty sleds refueled there and being at the end of the line cost us quite a bit of time.  With many of the riders deciding to hang out at Hugo’s for a while, Allen and I took advantage of the situation and got out ahead of the group again.  We followed the immaculately groomed Brimson Trail to the Yukon trail and it was off to the John A Brandt memorial Shelter where we were greeted by the Voyageur Snowmobile Club who were hosting a free lunch for everyone on the trail that day.  There were already more sleds at the shelter than we had ever seen and, knowing that there were 50+ sleds on their way, Allen and I decided to leave while the getting was good. 

A bonus lunch at the John A Brandt Memorial Shelter

A bonus lunch at the John A Brandt Memorial Shelter

We looped back down to the North Shore trail and had an uneventful but enjoyable ride back to the Island lake Inn for the night’s festivities including the pizza buffet and basket raffle and finally awarding a brand new Arctic Cat ZR 3000 to the Yeti Tour Raffle Winner. From there I rode home with 200 more miles on my sled and another fine day of riding to put into my memory banks. We encourage anyone who wants to ride to join us next year for Yeti Tour #10 in February of 2020 – it promises to be one heck of a good time!

NORTHEAST MINNESOTA SNOWMOBILE TRAIL CONDITION UPDATE

222219After 4 years of poor snow conditions we are finally going through a “normal” winter.  The Minnesota DNR lists snow depth up the shore at 40+ inches but we call BS on that- there are spots where we measured snow depth at five feet!  Needless to say the trails are excellent but we keep getting snow including a forecast that has snow Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with a chance for more by Tuesday!

NORTHEAST MINNESOTA SNOWMOBILE TRAIL CONDITION UPDATE 1/31/19

1a131After a week of record breaking cold we are left with abundant snow and excellent trails. The plan for most is to groom Friday night but the whole system may not get done in one night.  The trails were all in excellent shape before the cold so the base is incredible but we have had a lot of blowing and drifting which means if the groomer doesn’t get to everything you may have to contend with some big drifts aka FUN!  The boondocking possibilities are also looking very promising.  Temps on Saturday should be in the twenties with flurries in the forecast all weekend- perfect riding weather.  We expect traffic to be heavy so take advantage of the GIA trails and explore a little bit.  Have fun, be safe, and we will see you on the trail!