Lots of snow and cold temps have made the trails in Northeast Minnesota awesome, truly some of the best riding conditions we have seen in the last 10 years. Since last week’s blizzard all of the drifts have been knocked down and the trails are amazing. Ride right, ride safe and we will see you on the trails!
Over 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.
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.
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.
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!
After 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!
After 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!
Northeast Minnesota trail conditions are as follows: Freaking Awesome! There are two issues- first it is brutally cold so bundle up, second the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon starts Sunday and will be running on the CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail out of Duluth starting at noon. We suggest avoiding this trail for the week or stop at one of the trail intersections, campout and watch the dogs go by and remember that the entire concept of the modern snowmobile was to essentialy be a motorized dog sled. (See the January 2014 blog for the history of the snowmobile and how it pertains to the dog sled) enjoy the weekend and stay warm!
Today we just had a snowmobiletrail.com staff ride with a few friends and family joining in. The temperature was brutally cold (-19F) but the trails were perfect. Our day wrapped up with watching some snow move in off of Lake Superior, so you currently have a perfect base with fresh snow on top- it doesn’t get much better than that!
All of the trails in Northeast Minnesota have been groomed this week and, with the cold weather, are solid as a rock. We suggest using ice scratchers if you have them. We rode the other night and even though the sleds were as smooth as glass they were as hard as glass as well. Northeast Minnesota has see a record number of sleds over the past two weeks and several of the southern trails (around Duluth) have developed bare spots, better conditions can be found from Two Harbors north as they have benefitted from some lake effect snow. Last week there were so many sleds that a trail that started off perfect at 8 AM was trashed by noon. With the cold temperatures we expect less traffic this weekend and, even with heavy traffic, the base is now so hard that it should wear very well. Ideally we would like some more snow but that snow keeps going south where they don’t want it. Send us some of that snow up this way, eh!
The Arrowhead region of Minnesota boasts the highest seasonal snow totals in the state with the higher elevations around Lake Superior receiving over 100 inches of snow annually. Add to that that Northeast Minnesota is usually the first area in the Midwest to receive rideable snow and also one of the last to have it melt and it is understandable why that area of the state is deluged with snowmobilers from surrounding areas both early and late in the season. Like our neighbors in northeast Wisconsin and the U.P., we see tremendous traffic and with only about 1,000 miles of trails with good snow cover, grooming can become a losing battle for the clubs and the DNR when the rest of the Midwest is suffering from lack of snow. So how do you make the most of your trek to Northeast Minnesota? It all starts with taking advantage of the grooming schedule. The centerpiece of the Northeast Minnesota trail system is the CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail. This 150 mile gem will be the trail that leads to all of the other trails in the system. All of the trails will be groomed
at some point by the local clubs during the week so if you hit the trail Saturday morning you will find your Grant In Aid trails to be in the best shape of the weekend. We suggest taking advantage of the Grant In Aid trails on Saturday as they will be in the best condition and will also have less traffic. So many people that visit the area often ignore these trails for the more famous North Shore Trail but if you do this you are missing out on some of the most fantastic trail riding you will ever experience, not to mention epic scenery and photo opportunities. By Sunday most of the Grant In Aid trails will have been heavily ridden and portions of them may or may not be groomed Saturday night as some clubs have such large systems it is impossible to reach every mile of their trails in one evening. The North Shore Trail, however, is groomed from end to end every Friday and Saturday night with local clubs each being assigned a section of trail, this also pulls those particular groomers off the Grant In Aid trails for the night making it even harder for them to groom their entire system unless they possess multiple groomers and have multiple available operators. This makes the North Shore Trail your best bet for Sunday. Also, the farther north you get the farther into the wilderness you are, making food and fuel stops essential. If someone can carry extra gas and oil on their sled it is good idea as fuel stops are few and far between- so take advantage of them when you see them. It is also a good idea to bring a winter survival kit with you as a breakdown in this part of the state could mean an unexpected evening outdoors. If you follow these simple steps you will have good trails all weekend long as well as an abundance of good times and excellent memories!