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WHAT’S NEW FOR 2022?

1asHello everyone and welcome to another year of snowmobiletrail.com!  It’s September and every year in the world of snowmobilers September marks a turning point.  The leaves start changing colors, the nights start getting colder, snowmobile clubs have their first meetings, trail work begins in earnest and in the high elevations of the mountains a few snowflakes start making their way to the ground.  Little by little that snow spreads and before you know it our favorite season is here!  To me September lights a little spark and at snowmobiletrail.com we start writing stories for you to digest and get you more and more amped up for winter until you are chomping at the bit waiting for that first big storm.  So what is on tap for 2022 at snowmobiletrail.com?

First off, last year we launched the snowmobiletrail.com YouTube channel which honestly took off with a resounding thud. We initially started with trail reports but soon found out that our print versions reached a much wider audience so we scrapped the video version and went back to print.  Our goal, after all, is to get you the best information as quickly and conveniently for you as possible, but that doesn’t mean that the YouTube channel is dead.  New for this year we will be breaking down local trails on the YouTube channel with our “Trail Ride” videos, where we ride a trail and give you some of the highlights of what you will see, that way you can find some real hidden gems off the beaten path.  We know that a lot of people come up from southern Minnesota as well as from Michigan, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and other states and most of those people stick to the well-known arteries of the CJ Ramstad North Shore Trail and miss out on some truly unique and spectacular riding areas and trails and we will highlight these places in our videos.  We will also be doing more “Today on the Trail” features with pictures and some videos of people we meet out on the trail.   This has always been a popular feature and we are going to bring it back in a big way this winter.  And of course we are going to have our up to the minute trail condition updates to help you plan your trips as well as some outstanding articles on the sport in general that we are sure you will find entertaining, informative and ramp up your heartbeat in anticipation of winter.  As always we are hoping that this will be THE YEAR of tons of snow and great riding for the whole season.  Start your snow dances and get ready for another great year, we will see you soon!

RIDE RECAP: 2022 YETI TOUR

a1yeti4The Yeti Tour is a charity ride that raises money for the Northland Newborn Foundation, an organization set up to help babies and families who experience difficulties in the first few weeks of life.  The Yeti Tour has been helping newborns and their families since the ride was started in 2011 by Nate and Kelly Alvar of Duluth.  Snowmobiletrail.com has been a supporter of the Yeti Tour since its inception and I have ridden in this event every year.  My Yeti Tour 2022 experience actually started the night before the Yeti Tour.  After years of horrible weather and trail conditions for the ride, this year was set up to be perfect.  The weather was set to be in the 20’s and the trails were in the best condition they have been in in two years, and we had an abundance of fresh snow on the ground.  I was so excited that I laid awake most of the night.  I got out of bed a half hour before my alarm was set to go off and thought “I have hardly gotten any sleep.  This is way too early to get up.  I’ll just go back to sleep for another half hour…” We’ve all done it and you already know how that works out.  So, an hour later I am sleeping through my alarm and my wife is punching me in the back trying to wake me up.  I finally pop out of bed and scramble to get myself together.  Registration for the Yeti Tour started at 8:00 with the ride commencing at 9:00.  By the time I was ready to go it was 8:30 and I still had a 45-minute ride ahead of me just to get the staging area at the Island Lake Inn.  As I was about to fire up my sled my buddy Allen texted me and told me he just got to the lot by the Island Lake Inn where the ride starts and apologized for being late, thinking that I was already there.  I texted him that I was just leaving and hopped on my sled to get up to the Island Lake Inn.  I was greeted by a perfectly groomed Rice Lake Trail courtesy of the Duluth Drift Toppers snowmobile Club, onto another perfectly groomed Hermantown Trail courtesy of the Hermantown Night Riders, up to Fish and Island Lake and a beautiful trail laid down by the Reservoir Riders Snowmobile club.  We had so much snow and it has been so windy that I lost track of the trail markers going across Island Lake and relied on just my sense of awareness of where I was to find the Island Lake Inn, I only wound up about a half mile off course, but I got there by 9:15.

I was worried that everyone had already left, but as it turns out there were 60 riders registered and it took a while for everyone to check in plus several riders decided to take advantage of a tasty Island Lake Inn breakfast.  We watched a couple of groups head out and I left with the main group that included Yeti Tour Founder Nate Alvar and several other members of the Alvar Clan along with friends and relatives.  We rode out across Island Lake to the Reservoir Lakes trail which was also a beautiful part of the Reservoir Riders trail system (side note:  the Reservoir Riders trail system is worth a trip up to Duluth, there’s lots of great terrain changes and lots of options for food, lodging and fuel in the area.  See the snowmobietrail.com Northeast Minnesota Blog February 2016 Archives for an in-depth analysis of the Reservoir Riders Trail System).  On the way our group started to split apart with Myself, Allen and Jake Alvar getting ahead of the pack; that is until I went into a turn and slid off the trail. I honestly have no idea what happened, one second, I’m on the trail

My biggest trail gaffe in 3 years

My biggest trail gaffe in 3 years

and the next second I’m off the edge buried in waist deep snow and I mean absolutely buried.  Luckily the rest of the group caught up to us, and an army of guys helped dig me out.  I can’t thank them enough; I would have been digging most of the day trying to get out of there without them.  We stayed with the big group until the Normana pit where the three of us split off again on the beautifully, and I do mean beautifully groomed CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail courtesy of the Drift Toppers Snowmobile Club.  From there we turned onto the Pequaywan Trail which, as is usually the case, was perfect, courtesy of the Pequaywan Area Trail Blazers.  I stayed at the back of the pack behind Jake and was able to witness him slide off the edge of the trail in a corner and puff down in a big deep trench of snow.  This made me feel pretty good because now I wasn’t the only one who had gotten stuck.  I helped Jake dig himself out. By this time and having dug out two sleds from over three feet of snow I was bushed.  We beat everyone to the Pequaywan Inn except for two early groups that had gone on ahead to Hugo’s.  We sat down for a Bacon Cheeseburger and beer fries and soon about 50 riders flooded into the Pequaywan Inn for lunch.

We ate and got ahead of the pack, heading out to the Brimson trail to ride to Hugo’s to refuel.  The ride to Hugo’s was uneventful but the temperature in the 20’s and all of the recent snow had brought snowmobilers from all over the area out of the woodwork.  Aside from the 60 Yeti sleds there were an additional 36 sleds we passed going the opposite direction with a great many more in Hugo’s parking lot.  After we left Hugo’s, it seemed that there were more snowmobiles around every corner and the heavy traffic had taken its toll on the trail and it had started to develop some big body busting moguls.  I was also seeing a number of areas where riders had slid off of the trail into the deep powder on the edge.  There was a large group assisting one of these sleds that had slid off a turn and had dived deep into the woods.  There were about five or six guys working on getting them out and a rider before and after the corner slowing sleds down to make sure none of these good Samaritans got hit.  After passing this group of sleds there was another large group coming toward us on the straightaway, so we decided to pull off to the side to avoid riding through the bottleneck.  As we pulled off Jake puled just a few inches off of the packed surface of the trail

Stay on the trail Jake!

Stay on the trail Jake!

and down he went into the waist deep powder.  After laughing heartily in my helmet and feeling much less like a complete idiot for riding off of the trail earlier I was once again left with the task of helping Jake dig out, but this time Allen was there to help and came up with a much better plan of using manpower to literally lift the back of the sled onto the hardpack and use its motor in reverse to drag the front of the sled out as we assisted.  It worked perfectly and we were on our way.  The temperature had crept up to 28 degrees and now that combined with the punishing moguls and the workout, we endured pulling Jake out started to really amp up our riding temperature.  We stopped to open up our jacket vents and get a little more air flow going to cool us down.   Finally, we got to the Yukon Trail which had been again wonderfully groomed by the Voyageur Snowmobile club out of Two Harbors.  We rode up to the John A Brandt Memorial Shelter to hang out with about 40 other riders who were enjoying this crown jewel of the Yukon Trail.

a1yeti2We left the shelter at about 1:30 and made the fifty-mile trek on the Yukon and North Shore Trail back to Duluth on absolutely fantastic trails that were holding up well in spite of the heavy traffic.  Later that night I drove out to the after party at the Island Lake Inn where we gave away a new Honda four-wheeler courtesy of RJ Sport and Cycle in Duluth and Yeti Tour 2022 came to a close raising a healthy sum of cash for the Northland Newborn Foundation.

THE REVIVAL OF 1990′S ERA SLEDS

1a21622

Human beings are strange.  For the past several decades health officials have been trying to get people off of their couches and into the outdoors and it seemed as though they were fighting a losing battle.  The leaders of the snowmobile industry were lamenting the steady decline in snowmobile sales worldwide and the future of the sport was in question, then came 2020, and more specifically the Covid 19 pandemic.  Suddenly, we as human beings were told we had to social distance and shelter in place and that the best thing you could do was sit on your couch and watch TV, so what did we do?  Exactly the opposite.  Now that you were forced to stay home all people wanted to do was get outside, recreational vehicle sales went through the roof and one of the biggest benefactors in this resurgence was the snowmobile industry.  People suddenly realized what a lot of us knew all along:  snowmobiling is fun and a great way to get out of the house and spend time with your family.  Dealers went from having excess inventory to trying to find new or used sleds wherever they could.  Prices went through the roof and supply went to absolute zero.  In spite of the lack of new sleds people still wanted to ride and families across the country went out to their barns and backyards to see if that old Indy 500 they parked fifteen years ago could still run.  Dealers were suddenly overwhelmed with older sleds being brought in for rehab and soon parts for older models became scarce and registrations of older sleds went through the roof.  Overnight the trails were full of old iron and families out enjoying winter.

Enter 2021.  As supply chains slowly start to recover and other types of recreational vehicles are starting to become available the one industry that is still suffering from massive shortages is the snowmobile industry.  Not only did Covid get mom and dad and the kids back out on the trail, it also got them to ride one of their buddy’s newer sleds and made them decide they want one of their own.  The huge surge in preorders and continued supply chain pressure has put the delivery of some new sleds out almost a year from when they were ordered in April of 2021.  With the urge to ride not being filed by the lack of new machines, more the 90’s and early 2000’s era sleds have been showing up on sales sights around the county for prices that a year or two ago were considered outrageous. Sleds that were going for a grand just 3 years ago are going for twice that and if you happen to have a nice sled that has been babied and kept in a nice heated garage its whole life with regular maintenance records and low miles you can charge blood and get it.

 

BUYER BEWARE

With all of these old sleds brought back to life, there are a number of people out there that have taken this opportunity to unload their problems on someone else.  You hear more and more horror stories of the old “It ran great when I parked it” (ten years ago) or “It just needs the carbs gone through” (aka complete rebuild).  Rusted suspensions, dead shocks, blown engines, bent frames, the list goes on and on.  If you haven’t been around sleds a while the best thing you can do is take someone with you who can go over that machine with a fine toothed comb. Tips for buying a used sled can be found in our Northeast Minnesota Snowmobile Blog Archives from October of 2014-

THE DEAD SLED MARKET

With demand so high there has been another new market that has emerged:  Dead sleds.  Just like old cars in a farmer’s field, people have gone on the hunt for sleds that have good bones but are no longer in running condition.  If you are handy with a wrench you can buy something for just a few hundred bucks and get it back on the trail.  But this too has put pressure on parts houses and nearly wiped out the used snowmobile parts market of all of its inventory.  Now even dead non-running snowmobiles are getting increasingly hard to find.  I recently spoke to a guy who just bought a 22 year old sled with a blown motor who said, “Everything else is there and in good shape and I’d be paying $2,000 for this thing if it was running.  For a few hundred bucks I can get this thing back on the trail.”

THE FUTURE IMPACT OF THE 90’S RESURGENCE

So what will be the fallout of the 1990’s sled revival?   We are already seeing new sled demand increasing as well as a huge demand increase for snowmobile gear but what other effects will this have on the sport?  Most of the side effects seem to be positive:  Registrations of old and new sleds have increased dramatically leading to more money in state trail accounts.  Snowmobile club memberships are on the rise and huge numbers of kids are taking part in snowmobile safety classes.  All of this paints a bright future for the sport but of course there are going to be some negative impacts as well- rising new sled prices as well as rising prices on parts and gear.  Also, in a few years some of these people that ponied up big bucks for a 90’s era sled will find themselves sitting on something worth 20% of what they paid for it.  But for now those of us that have a love affair with the classic sleds will get to see more of them on the trail and at the local watering hole and we will also get to see the next generation of snowmobilers out enjoying the sport and helping keep it alive for decades to come.

NORTHEAST MINNESOTA SNOWMOBILE TRAIL CONDITIONS UPDATE 1/21/22

1a121  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!

RIDE RECAP: YETI TOUR 2021

                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.

THE 1990′s: THE SECOND GOLDEN AGE OF SNOWMOBILING

CIMG1043While 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.

THE END OF THE FIRST GOLDEN AGE OF SNOWMOBILES

1-1132021Hello 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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THE 30th ANNIVERSARY OF THE HALLOWEEN SNOWSTORM

a halThursday, 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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