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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.


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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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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1-2021-3It’s a question that groups of snowmobile trail riders ask every time they go out, “Who wants to lead?”  The leader of a group of snowmobilers is an important position, they set the pace for the entire group and they are also responsible for deciphering the terrain and alerting the group of any upcoming danger or other snowmobilers.  Most of the time the leader is the guy most familiar with the trail, but if you are in unfamiliar territory or the entire group is familiar with the trail the decision gets a little more tricky.  If everyone has equal experience, often times you just swap out leaders as long as everyone is comfortable with the pace, it’s when you get into unknown areas that you want a leader who really knows what they are doing.  In a sense the riders behind the leader are almost like lemmings, they are pretty much going to follow the leaders’ example pace and location wise on the trail.  Sometimes this can lead to disaster.

Several years ago there was a group of riders who were all pretty confident of the trail they were on and also confident in the guy they had leading the way, there were seven guys in the group and all were seasoned experienced riders, they got into a hilly section of trail and the leader had them going at a pretty brisk pace.  As the leader crested a hill he hit a mogul, got tossed off of his machine and abruptly had his sled slammed into by the rider behind him, then the sled behind him hit him, and the sled behind him hit him and so forth until all seven sleds were a mangled twist of wreckage along with several broken bones.  Luckily no one suffered any life threatening injuries but all of it could have been avoided if they were going a little bit slower and the leader was able to see the mogul and slow down the group.  They were overconfident in their group leader and their own riding abilities.

Unfortunately this scenario repeats itself often during the season, which emphasizes how important it is to pick the right person to lead your group.  A leader has to be aware of the rules of the trails, the experience level of his group and must have the ability to keep track of everyone in the group to make sure no one is left behind with some sort of issue. Luckily for us we have a guy in our regular riding group who used to race sport bikes.  He is relatively new to snowmobiling but took to it like a fish in water.  Obviously when you are on a race track on a sport bike you need to be ultra-focused and luckily for us he carried this focus over to snowmobiles.  He has an uncanny knack for reading the trail and setting the perfect pace for the group and avoiding any sort of danger that may lay ahead so we almost always have him lead, which of course, drives him crazy because sometimes he just wants to hang back and ride casual, that is of course until he gets frustrated when he’s not in control.

So remember when you are picking your trail leader to put some thought into it, because the person leading your group might just be the one that keeps your day of fun from turning into a day of disaster.

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fusionfireEverybody has a story like this.  You are riding with your buddy and he has gotten ahead of you.  You come around a bend in the trail and see him standing off in the woods with his sled nowhere in sight.  The first thought that crosses your mind is that he has pulled off for a bathroom break, but why is he so far away from his sled? Then you see him limping around, you look down the trail and see his sled off in the trees.  “What’s wrong?” you ask.

“I crashed.  I think I might have broken my leg.” And then comes the question that every guy who has ever crashed anything in his life asks, the most important question of all… “How is my sled?” You walk down the trail and venture into the trees, the taillight is still on which means the sled is still running, you think that’s a good sign.  You go around to the front of the sled and see that it has impacted the tree at a high rate of speed, the front of the sled is missing, pieces of it scattered about in the deep snow, the hood is destroyed, one A arm is mangled beyond recognition and the ski has broken off, the belly pan is in pieces somewhere under the sled, the exhaust is smashed right up against the motor, the steering column is bent and unusable but somehow she is still running albeit with a labored chugging sound, like an engine that is about to die but somehow keeps going.  “Well, how is it?” your buddy asks again.

“Dude, it’s not good.”  Your buddy has finally limped his way over to you ignoring the pain in his leg (he has determined at this point that since he can walk it’s not broken) the next thing you hear is a cascade of obscenities as he sees what’s left of his sled.  He tells you that he came into the corner too fast, thought he was going to hit a tree so he jumped off and threw his sled off to the left hoping to save it.  He still hit the tree with his leg but his plan to save the sled didn’t work out as it shot across the trail and hit a different tree.

He picks up the pieces he can salvage and then you miraculously nurse the sled back to the bar where you are going to have to call his wife to come get you with the trailer anticipating the chewing out you are going to get from her because you are “that friend” that always is there when he does stupid things.

The insurance company determines that the frame is bent and the sled is toast.  Your friends sled is dead.

This is just one way that a sled dies.  Sometimes you have had a sled so long that one day it just gives up and you realize that your years of fixes have finally met their match and the sled is just flat wore out and done.  I had that happen to my 2000 Indy 500.  It was actually my wife’s sled and we bought it from a guy who had a buddy that worked for the Polaris race team.  The guy needed to replace the track and his buddy told him they had left over snocross front and rear suspensions from that year so they modified the chassis a little bit to fit everything and bam you had a snocross sled.  That snowmobile was a blast but years of abuse wore the thing out and when the engine blew up I realized the skid was toast and the frame was also starting to develop some stress fractures.  It was time for it to go.  Then last year I had a relative visiting and she crashed my old reliable two up.  While I was sitting there looking at it in pieces thinking that it was finally time for the sled to move on to snowmobile heaven I started having flashbacks to when I brought that sled home, our first snowmobile at our new house.  I remembered how excited my wife was and how our then ten year old daughter was fascinated with this new addition to our household.  It wasn’t long before she wanted to ride it and then drive it, learning how to ride on that very sled.  I kept looking it over as these memories flooded over me and I flashed back to when I was a kid and my father sold our 12’ Lund boat.  I remembered what I perceived as tears welling up in his eyes and I was in total shock because I had never seen my dad cry, my brother asked him what was wrong and he just said “We had a lot of good times in that boat.”  At the time I thought he was crazy for being upset about selling a boat but now I understood, I couldn’t shake the memories of all the times that my wife and daughter and I had on that sled.  After a few phone calls to some vintage parts places I was able to scrape together everything I needed to bring it back to life and it is still in my garage.  It doesn’t hit the trail anymore but it is still used to haul wood around the property and as an occasional fun sled to ride around the back field when relatives visit.

Just like old cars, old sleds die, some in dramatic fashion while others just fall victim to time and a few lucky ones survive to become centerpieces of vintage shows and serve as reminders of times past.  Maybe that accounts for the popularity of vintage shows, to remember our past and seeing sleds that have survived and escaped the snowmobile grave yard.

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A- snow in waterYears ago, my friend was camping with his wife in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota.  They were rowing across a lake back to their campsite after a day of hiking when a storm unexpectedly blew in with rain lightning and high winds.  The once glass calm lake was now a churning cauldron of three foot waves and water was quickly swamping their canoe.  As they struggled against the waves my friend’s wife stopped paddling and started to cry, complaining that she was too tired to continue on.  My friend responded by saying “If you don’t start paddling, we are going to F#$%*&g DIE out here!”  Sensing the urgency of their situation she picked up the paddle and they made it safely to shore.

What had started out as a day of fun and adventure had quickly turned into a life threatening situation.  Luckily they survived and had a great story to tell their kids years later.  If you snowmobile in the mountains or out in the Alaskan or Canadian wilderness you know that there is an element of danger and any snowmobiler with half a brain in their heads take the precautions to have all the necessary avalanche or survival equipment with them, yet every season there is someone that took that one extra risk and went into a sketchy area that unfortunately has their snowmobiling days end permanently, or the one guy who left his beacon behind as he takes one last quick spin or the guy who went out on his trap line and forgot to bring an extra drive belt, we hear these stories every year and they are tragic but we know that there was an inherent risk involved to begin with and sometimes you can be totally prepared and still have things go wrong.

But what about us flatland trail riders?  How often do you think about things going horribly wrong when you pull away from your garage in the morning?  Of course there is always the possibility that you could crash or be hit by some moron on the trail but how often do you think about the possibility of being stranded and having to survive out in the woods?  Again, the risk is always there but it is not something most trail riders think about, but they should, especially in Northeast Minnesota and the snow belt of Wisconsin, the UP and Canada.  For those of us that live on the shores of Lake Superior there really shouldn’t be an excuse for us to leave unprepared.  We should know that the same Great Lakes that are responsible for dumping huge amounts of snow on us are also responsible for sending hundreds of ships and thousands of sailors to their doom with their unpredictable weather and Lake Superior is notorious for giving you lake effect snow that the weather service never saw coming, snow so intense that visibility is cut to zero causing the trail to disappear altogether.

Many of us relish these storms, as we all know there is nothing quite as satisfying as challenging the elements on you sled and very few things top the adrenaline rush you get riding in a blizzard, but sometimes these storms get so intense that the trails become unrideable and people get lost or stranded.  The problem is exacerbated by large swaths of area that are completely devoid of any type of cell service.  Once you are lost or stranded in these areas you are on your own, and there are some places where the weather gets so bad that your chances of seeing another snowmobile fade away to nothing.  In the past several years there have been multiple instances in both the UP and Northeast Minnesota where snowmobilers did not return from a day of riding and search parties had to be assembled to find them, and often times these people were just out for a trail ride and had either gotten lost, or wandered off trail or broke through thin ice or got hopelessly stuck in the deep snow and with the onset of a severe storm were unable to get back to civilization, and it can happen faster than you think.

Just a few years ago there were a few of us that decided to go on a quick afternoon ride up north.  We rode right out of the headquarters and it began snowing.  We were having so much fun that we decided to go a little farther and then a little farther still.  Without warning the wind picked up and the intensity of the snow tripled.  With deteriorating visibility we decided it was wise to head back.  On our way the storm got worse and worse and visibility dropped to zero as the sun went down.  Our situation quickly went from fun to a little tricky to now hoping we would make it home safely and we were on a trail we knew well.  I began wondering what would have happened to us if we were from out of town on a trail we didn’t know and got caught up in this storm.  It is something we don’t often think about but should.  At a minimum you should have some food, stuff to start a fire, some water and a first aid kit and a survival blanket packed away on your sled if you are traveling to an area you don’t know.  You never know when your fun in the weekend snow can turn on a dime into a battle for life and death.  It’s better to be safe and to have a good story to tell your kids than to wind up on the front page of the newspaper.

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Here is the video from the 18th Annual Vintage fest just north of Duluth. We had some difficulty with the camera and the wind but unfortunately you don’t find out until after everything is shot. Sorry for the choppy nature of the video but it i a good lesson in what not to do in the future! Don’t forget to subscribe to the channel so that you get al of the trail updates this winter, hopefully the site will be busier than ever!


1-2021-2            Like many people I collect vintage snowmobile stuff, specifically old snowmobile magazines from the late sixties and early seventies when there were over a hundred snowmobile manufacturers pumping out sleds in the US and Canada.  Magazines as thick as a National Geographic just to fit the fifty pages of ads from the manufacturers!  The other day I was thumbing through the August 1971 issue of Snow Sports magazine, and ran across the article that I took the above excerpt from.  It struck me that here we are exactly 50 years later and this same article could have been written yesterday, in fact we see this sort of story every year when the trails open.  Just like we can’t escape lying politicians, it seems we can also not get away from “that guy” in the snowmobile world.  We see posts from clubs showing snowmobile tracks going right past the “Stay On Trail” and “No Trespassing” and “Do Not Enter” signs that inevitably get trails closed.  We can have a thousand snowmobilers in a row follow the rules but then as the saying goes, “it only takes one bad apple to ruin the bunch” and someone decides the lure of an open field is too great and that’s it, trail closed.  Reading this article it was disheartening to me that the same problems clubs had in the early days of the sport to secure places to ride still haunt us fifty years later.  I hope that this year we can be smarter as a group and that when you see those signs or think about making illegal exhaust modifications to your sled that you think twice about it and don’t be the one guy that gets the trail that thousands of people use shut down forever.    


1-2021-1Recently our snowmobile club suffered the passing of Bob Klein, our long time club president and MNUSA’s region 7 Director.  Bob had been a member of the club for forty years and had held nearly every position as well as holding several positions in Region 7.  He had a hand in the development of many of the trails in Northeast Minnesota that we enjoy today as well as being the key person behind the operation and maintenance of our club’s old Tucker groomer, at one time or another he had literally had his hands on every nut and bolt on that machine.  Bob’s passing made me reflect on the history of our club and countless other clubs in the United States and Canada.  Our club was formed in the late 60s by a group of enthusiastic snowmobilers in the Lakeside neighborhood of Duluth.  Over the years they oversaw the construction on the Duluth snowmobile trail system and were key players in the development of the now iconic CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail.

Our club’s history mirrors that of countless other snowmobile clubs throughout North America.  In the early days of the sport, a handful of snowmobilers came together to start a club and create a series of well-defined trails and places to ride.  Men and women riding on machines now only seen in vintage shows pulling old box spring mattresses behind their sleds to flatten out the trails they had created cut by hand with chain saws to get them to a popular watering hole or pizza place.  Over the years those old machines and mattresses were replaced by groomers and drags and club houses and garages with lights and heat and the enormous network of trails we enjoy today.  Minnesota itself has over 22,000 miles of trails, the seeds of which were started 6 decades ago by a small group of snowmobilers flying around with snowmobiles powered by a fire breathing ten horse motors. We owe our entire sport to these people, the unsung heroes that were out grooming in their one piece snowmobile suits and putting in countless hours of clearing trails through wooded wilderness one foot at a time.

Luckily our club is going strong with a huge influx of new members, helping to keep the club alive.  Unfortunately there are many clubs out there that are like our club was years ago when our club consisted of a half dozen members whose average age was about 60 that were miraculously keeping things going.  I first found out about our club when I enrolled my daughter in the snowmobile safety class that the club put on.  If your club holds classes it is a great place to recruit new members.  Once I saw how few members were left and how old they were I started recruiting my friends.  We had other members join when they saw us out doing summer trail work and, upon realizing how old most of these guys with chainsaws were they decided to recruit some of their friends.  Little by little we had an influx of newer younger members and before you knew it the club had a website, and facebook page and started posting stuff on social media which attracted even more members who previously had no idea we existed.  Now we have a solid roster of sixty members with more new members coming in all the time.

Unfortunately our club is the exception to the rule.  Most people have no idea what it takes to keep the trail system going.  They also have no idea that it’s all volunteers and local clubs that maintain and groom the trails.  Every time we get new members they are surprised to find out that it’s all club members that volunteer to do all the work to keep the trails cleared and groomed.  Without the work of the clubs the trails would cease to exist.  Our club tells our members that even if they go work out on the trail for a half hour a year it doesn’t matter to us because a little is better than not having them in the club at all.  This is another issue that clubs struggle with.  Everyone has different levels of time and availability.  Everyone knows it’s usually a handful of members that do a majority of the work but the more members you have the more work can be done.  An all-day project for two people suddenly becomes a half hour long project for 20 people.  The bigger the pool of members you have to draw from the bigger pool of talent you have and the more connections you have to get things done.  Maybe it’s a guy with a special tool or a connection at city hall or someone that knows somebody at the power company or friends of a land owner that owns a key section of trail, you never know, each new member brings something different to the table and the more the merrier.  Lots of times members are able to contribute in ways that never even occurred to them. The more members you have the more secure your future is and the nicer your trails will be for years to come and the longer you will be able to carry on the legacy of those that came before you.

Sadly every year there are clubs that fold and trails that get shut down simply because there is no one left to maintain them.  As active snowmobilers, we owe it to those few men and women that started all of this for us to keep their vision alive and preserve our sport for the next generation.  If you are not a club member go out and join one, you may be surprised at how fulfilling it is and you will have a hand in ensuring that the trails stay open for the next generation of snowmobilers.

Make sure to subscribe ton the new YouTube channel to get all the latest videos of Northeast Minnesota snowmobiling!


1a1221Once again we touch base with all of our followers on the longest day of the year. From here on out the days start getting shorter as we march toward our favorite season. As we all enjoy the summer and things start getting back to normal we are very happy to announce some very big changes taking place at this year. We will be really ramping up things in Northeast Minnesota, giving you more frequent trail condition updates and adding a video component to the website where we will feature video updates of what’s going on in the Northeast part of the state. If you are coming from Michigan, Wisconsin, Southern Minnesota or anywhere else in the snowmobiling world we will be providing you with the best and most up to date Northeast Minnesota trail conditions possible along with a ton of snowmobile related articles on the Northeast Minnesota Snowmobiling Blog. We hope you enjoy these upcoming changes and look forward to seeing you out on the trail this winter. As always thank you all for your support!!!


1a201Covid-19 made its appearance in full force at the tail end of the 2019-20 snowmobile season.  As the season came to an end, stay at home orders were put in place across the Snow Belt.  For years, public health officials had decried that Americans spend far too much time indoors and encouraged everyone to pursue outdoor activities.  Those pleas fell on deaf ears as more and more Americans wasted away in front of computer screens and cell phones.  Then in April we were told that everyone needs to stay home, stay indoors and watch TV and play video games and surf the internet, so just like a child that gets told they can’t have a piece of candy the general public revolted and became obsessed with being outdoors.  Record sales were seen in the RV, Boat and ATV industry as families decided to social distance in the great outdoors and as winter approaches the Snowmobile industry is experiencing the same enormous increase in demand with many dealers selling out of any sleds they had in stock.  And it’s not just new sleds flying out of the showroom, used sleds are in high demand and many old dusty pieces of iron out in the barn are being dusted off as registrations for older sleds have seen a giant surge and shops have been flooded with old Indy’s and MXZ’s needing some touch ups to be brought back to life.  Dealers and parts houses nationwide are running out of parts as the supply chain has been interrupted coupled with record demand.  The number of first time snowmobile buyers is skyrocketing and the future of the sport hasn’t looked this good since the boom in the 90s. 

So what does this mean for snowmobiling in the 2020-21 season? Along with the positive aspects of a growing sport there can be some drawbacks as well.  For one, we will see a lot of new and inexperienced riders out on the trail, with snowmobile safety courses being done nearly all on line with little or no in person testing combined with a number of adults who will just skip the safety course all together, we will undoubtedly see an increased level of stupid trail accidents- especially the annoying completely avoidable ones with people riding on the wrong side of the trail.  Trespassing issues will also be a concern as more uneducated people leave the trail to ride in restricted areas or on private property.  Lastly there will be an increased number of speed related injuries as riders exceed safe speeds or are unable to handle the performance of the high performance machines.  We have already seen this scenario play out this summer with a huge spike in ATV crashes caused by speeding, drunk driving, rollovers and too many riders on a machine. Additional issues that can be unique to snowmobiling are the potential for riders to become lost or stranded especially in bad weather, as well as increased avalanche potential as more riders flock to the mountains. We are also likely to see more exposure related complications as people head out unprepared without proper gear.

Despite the negative impact there is a huge upside- lots of new people being exposed to the greatest winter recreational activity in existence.  This is an opportunity for all of us to strengthen the snowmobile community and ensure the survival of our sport.  The backbone of snowmobiling has always been that it is an activity that can be enjoyed by the entire family and the family aspect of the sport has been listed as the #1 most enjoyable attribute of snowmobiling since it began.

A few things to remember out on the trail this year:  Make sure you have your lodging squared away as there will be a lot of people staying in hotels and motels.  Be aware of fuel stops- some businesses have closed due to the pandemic and where you once had fuel there may not be fuel available in that area any longer.  Pack some food and water with you, many restaurants and bars have restrictions or are flat out closed.  Be careful and slow down, there are likely to be a handful of idiots out there (even in a normal season) and there are going to be many more inexperienced riders on the trail.  Be prepared with emergency and survival gear, you never know when you or someone else will get in a bad situation.  And lastly, have fun!  Snowmobiling is all about having a good time and passing that good time on to others.  As the ultimate social distancing sport this has the potential to be a historic season, let’s all get through it safe and healthy!!!



Hello Everyone!  It is June 21st, the longest day of the year.  From here forward the days start getting shorter and we creep ever closer to our favorite time of the year.  To celebrate here is a review of the 2020 Indy XC 800.  This should have been published back in April but lets just blame the Coronavirus for this being late.  So here you go:

Before I begin this review of the Polaris Indy XC I need to give you a brief back story.  I am a Ski-Doo guy, I have always been and always will be, so how did I end up on an Indy XC?  That is where the back story comes in.  I grew up riding Ski-Doos and when I moved back to Minnesota in the early 90’s I assumed that I would hop right back on a snowmobile, but there was college, a house payment and a new baby that kept the snowmobile thing on hold for about ten years.  Once things calmed down and finances improved, my wife decided it was time we got back into snowmobiling.  I went out and bought my gear before I even bought a sled and, assuming I would buy a Ski-Doo, I even bought a yellow and black helmet.  The plan was to get a touring sled so my wife and I could ride and our 5 year old daughter could stay at home with the baby sitter.  After searching for a good used Ski-Doo Grand Touring I stumbled across a 2000 Indy 600 Touring sled that was in near mint condition at a price I could not pass up- so here I was decked out in Ski-Doo colors on a Polaris.

Shortly after buying the sled my daughter wanted to know what all the excitement was about with this new snowmobile thing, all it took was a couple of laps around the field behind our house and she was hooked.  At the end of the season my wife decided she would buy a sled for herself so that I could take our daughter on the two up and all three of us could be on the trail at once.  My wife, not being brand loyal, found a sweet 2001 Indy 500 with some aftermarket snocross suspension modifications and bought it for herself, now I was a Ski-Doo guy with two Polaris’.  Now fast-forward several years to my daughter getting her snowmobile safety certificate and wanting her own sled, having grown up on a Polaris her choice for her first sled was obvious- a 1999 Indy Super Sport 550, now I was a Ski-Doo guy with three Polaris’ in my garage!   I knew someday I would be upgrading, and a Renegade was in my sights, that was until 2013 when Polaris came out with the new Indy.  My buddy bought one and the moment I sat on it it fit me like a glove, just the overall body position and handling it possessed had me sold.  In 2014 our 2001 Indy 500 met its demise and it was time to buy a new sled.  I debated between the Indy and a Renegade and in the end the 2015 Indy 600 SP won out primarily because after riding my buddy’s Indy and my other buddy’s Renegade the Indy just fit me better (and the price tag didn’t hurt much either).  At this point I’m starting to think that maybe I’m turning into a Polaris guy even though I keep thinking of myself as a Ski-Doo guy. 

Now fast-forward to 2018 and the introduction of the Indy XC on the Axys Chassis, right away it caught my eye- specifically for the longer track and the ability to turn it into a two up at any time with the aid of a few attachments.  My Polaris loving friend bought a new XC for 2019 and as soon as I rode it I loved it even more than my SP.  After the 2018-19 winter ended, our old 2000 Indy 600 Touring was beginning to show its age and had become a constant nickel and dime money pit.  I sat down with my wife and told her all about the Indy XC and how it was prewired for a two up seat with heated grips, we don’t ride two up as much anymore and our daughter is off in college but when she comes home she usually brings a friend and takes them out on the two-up.  We were starting to be less and less confident that the old 600 Touring could continue to hold up on some of our longer rides and not wanting to take the chance of being stranded my wife agreed that it was time to upgrade.  With the green light for a new sled I was off to the dealer to snow check my 2020 Indy XC.  1aindyWhat I loved about the Indy besides the accessories were all of the other options Polaris offered, unfortunately I was under a strict budget and I made a list of needs and wants. I loved the Polaris build your ride where you could pick colors graphics and just about anything else you wanted.  After getting my colors set I went to the track and chose the 129 1.25” Ice Ripper. 

With a few clicks of a button the Indy XC easily converts from a one up to a two up

With a few clicks of a button the Indy XC easily converts from a one up to a two up

I Figured the 129 was a good compromise between trail and off trail riding.  As 75% of my riding is trail based and having rode with longer tracks I felt the 129 would give me enough length but not too much for the tight corners.  I also knew that the 1.25” lugs were a great trail height and were good enough off trail as well and the Ice ripper gave me the added traction of studs without having to stud the track.  Next up was the motor, I loved my 600 Indy and 90% of the time for the trails we ride in Northeast Minnesota the 600 was plenty fast enough, where my problems started with the 600 is every time we went off trail.  The 600 could get my fat butt through the snow but it was working very hard and just didn’t have the power I wanted in the powder and now with a longer track with deeper lugs I knew I had to step up on the power plant, the question was do I go with the old 800 or the new 850?  Again, money was also a concern and the 850 was almost $1,000 more.  Did I really need to spend an extra grand for 50cc’s? I decided I did not.  I know there are 850 guys out there screaming at their computer right now but the 800 has been a good motor for a long time and I’m happy with it.  I also got the high windshield because I ride regardless of how cold it is and I want a warm sled, then came the display gauge- I really liked the idea of the ride command gauge with all of the bells and whistles and maps and GPS but again it was another grand and I have ridden my whole life without any of that stuff so I figured I’d stay under budget and get the regular display. Then I tacked on the two up seat and a few other accessories and I was done.

Now all I had to do was wait.  The last time I ordered a sled in April it showed up in Late September so as September rolled around my excitement started to build, September came and went- no sled, but that’s okay you have October, which also came and went- NO SLED.  Then November, half way through the month I called the dealer and they said it would be there before Thanksgiving, which came and went- then we got a huge dump of snow at the end of November for the first time in God knows how long and still NO SLED.  Here I was with the season actually starting on time but luckily my Indy 600 was still there for me.  The dealer was now also getting upset because their stuff was not in and they were getting crushed with calls from people wanting their rides.  I talked to one of our loyal readers who said when he ordered his Ski-Doo a few years back he didn’t get it until January!!! But he did say that once he got on it he forgot about being angry.  How could something you order in April show up half way through the season?  That’s like ordering an RV in December and getting it in August, this was a true WTF moment for me.  Then finally the call came just days before Christmas that my sled was in.  My overwhelmed dealer got it uncrated prepped and ready to go in 24 hours so big Kudos to them.

I got the sled home and warmed it up with a few laps around the yard before I hit the field behind my house.  I had saved the powder back there for the new sled and right away I couldn’t believe how well it performed.  I could stop it in the fluff and hammer it and it just dug itself out.  Then I hit the trail and couldn’t believe how well it handled, it felt like it was glued to the trail and cornered as if it was on rails (oh and I forgot all about being angry that it was so late).  For the next 3 months I put the sled through its paces, deep snow, hard pack, frozen trail, extreme cold, you name it, I did it, and no matter what I threw at it it performed flawlessly every time.  By the end of the season I felt as though I may have found the perfect trail sled.  At least for me it felt that way.  So, in conclusion my review of the 2020 Polaris Indy XC 800: Kick Ass!