The decent snowcover that was a little over 100 miles away was calling – no, it was screaming! – our names, so we loaded three new 2018 snowmobiles into a trailer on Wednesday, December 20, and headed for the Hayward/Cable area of northwestern Wisconsin for another break-in ride.
We found good early-season conditions, uncrowded trails and friendly hospitality in an historic snowmobiling destination that offers some of the very best of trail running. Put it on your list of must-visit locations if you’re an Upper Midwestern snowmobiler.
After a ride to break-in some of our fleet of 2018 demo sleds in Northeastern Minnesota last week, we had three more sleds that needed their initial miles and, as fate would have it, three riders who wanted to get out of the office on a Wednesday. Sales director Mark Rosacker was so enthused that he loaded and prepped the snowmobiles by himself Tuesday night to allow an early Wednesday departure. It was an odd mix of machines.
For this break-in run, we had a new-age utility monster in the Polaris 800 Titan Adventure; a off-trail focused crossover in the Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry X 850 E-TEC; and a rugged racer replica in the Polaris 800 Switchback XCR. Obviously two of the sleds were not in their natural environments for this completely trail-focused adventure – this ride was mainly about logging initial miles, not evaluation, so we kept it rather short.
We trailered from the Minneapolis area to the trails northeast of Hayward and parked at Hayward Powersports – home of an always-friendly, informative staff of snowmobilers. Once unloaded, we crossed Highway 77 and took the weaving, relatively tight Trail 5 north, then hung a right on the wider, sweeping and fast Trail 77. Trail 5 has a few branches and sticks down along the trail but was generally in excellent early-season shape, and Trail 77 was good as well – mostly smooth, though some tire ruts from an ATV or UTV that had been down the trail for the first 5 miles made things a little uneven and kept riders on their toes.
North of the County Road OO crossing, the trail gets a bit tighter and the terrain gets more interesting, with big rolling hills that were created by glacial advances and retreats and left what’s called “kame and kettle” topography in the area. The host Chequamegon National Forest is rustic and rural.
Eventually we twisted and turned our way up to Trail 8, where we hung another right to make our way to our eventual lunch destination. Trail 8 was firm and fun at first, but eventually we got to a logging area where the snow was hard-packed and the surface was icy. It hadn’t been plowed all the way down to the dirt, but close. That – plus the fear of meeting of a logging truck on the trail – caused us to back-down our pace.
Lunch was at an all-time favorite – the Lakewoods Resort on the shores of Lake Namakagon. This classy place has a deep history in snowmobiling; there are a few photos on the walls of snowmobile tests held 40 years ago. It was quiet during our visit, but P.C. Rasmussen of the resort-owning Rasmussen family stopped by after our lunch to chat, and said the stakes are expected to go up on the lake-crossing trails shortly after Christmas, and then the area will start to boom with snowmobilers. Oh, and speaking of the lunch, we’d highly recommend the Up North Chicken Quesadilla if you like a big pile of veggies integrated into your food. The fries that came with Managing Editor Nick Longworth’s big burger were thick-cut and filling, too!
After lunch we retraced part of our route, and then added on a couple of extensions to add to our mile count before getting back to the tow vehicle shortly before sunset – is was a relatively short ride, but it was nice to be able to load up before dark on the shortest day of the year.
The three sleds we had with us definitely had different characteristics, as they should given their intended audiences.
The big dog Titan was amazingly entertaining. With its 20- by 155-inch track beneath a wide tunnel, huge storage box on the back, mega-wide skis, monstrous windshield and high/low/neutral/reverse, it was unlike any demo sled we’d had in the last 20 years. But it was also quite capable on the trails, though when the power from the 800 Cleanfire engine hit the track the Titan would pull an impressive and surprising wheelie on demand.
The Renegade Backcountry X was a stallion that was looking for the proper place to run. The powertrain and chassis felt freewheeling and friction free – the spec chart will tell you it’s only got about an 8 horsepower advantage of the two Polaris sleds, but it certainly felt like more than that. It was certainly fine on the trail – and the new cMotion rear suspension proved to be a good suspension for trail bumps when they were encountered – but it required mainly a point-and-shoot sort of riding style because of the narrow front end that kept riders attention. We can’t wait to take this light and responsive sled off trail sometime soon – pray for more snow!
The Rush XCR was clearly in its element on the twisting trails – we were able to ride it with the sort of hair-on-fire approach that it encourages, as it felt glued to the trail and the front end hung onto its line perfectly in corners. The suspension is definitely firm, but we didn’t encounter any stutter bumps on this ride, so all seemed right in the world. The ergos felt tall compared to the other two machines, and there was a bit more vibration coming through the handlebars than we would have liked.
Like last week, we must stress that each of these sleds was in break-in mode, so initial fuel mileage may not reflect what we experience over the whole season, but for the record, here’s our miles-per-gallon for the trip: Polaris 800 Titan Adventure, 10.17 MPG; Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry X, 15.53 MPG; Polaris 800 Switchback XCR, 10.77 MPG.