It was the break-in ride that just about broke us – and did in fact partially break one sled. Yet despite sore muscles this morning plus the search for a new lower A-arm, we still look back at yesterday’s first Upper Midwestern ride of the season with fond memories, and can’t wait to get back out.
It all started earlier this week, as a hurried search for rideable snow conditions resulted in much time on social media, some traded emails and a handful of phone calls. By Wednesday evening, we were all set to go ride the forest roads of the Bayfield Peninsula in northern Wisconsin. Then, Wednesday night right before the lights went out, a post on Facebook by the Trestle Inn showed some impressive snowbanks and a report of 10 to 12 inches of fresh snow in the Minnesota Arrowhead region.
The decision on which of those two to visit occurred in the truck as we were pointed north before sunrise on Thursday. We chose Minnesota because we already had our trail passes in that state but would have had to stop for Wisconsin trial passes along the way. Evidence of fresh snow was everywhere on our drive up.
When we pulled into the big trailhead parking lot just up the hill from Two Harbors, though, ours was the only vehicle in the lot. We quickly unloaded the sleds we chose to bring with on this first break-in ride – a 2018 Polaris 600 Rush Pro-S, a 2018 Ski-Doo MXZ X-RS 850 E-TEC and a 2018 Yamaha Sidewinder L-TX SE. Each had that new sled smell as their idled in the parking lot.
The ride itself was stunningly beautiful and occasionally surprisingly brutal. Leaving from Two Harbors on the CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail, there was maybe 6 inches of fresh, fluffy snow covering a very icy and somewhat choppy and rough trail base. It looked awesome in front of the sled while we were putting the first marks on the fresh snow, but the rough surface offered plenty of surprises, and traction was at a premium. However, snow hung from every tree branch, there were flashes of blue sky mixed with mostly high clouds and we were actually riding instead of sitting behind a desk – who could complain?
The ride got even better as we rode northeast and got past the first turnoff to Finland, Minnesota, and the snow got a little deeper. For a large section a single ATV or UTV had been down the trail, creating tire grooves that didn’t match the snowmobile perfectly, but there was enough fresh snow where we kind of floated along, keeping a loose grip on the bars as the sled clawed through now 8-plus inches of fresh. We couldn’t ride in full attack mode, though, as there were still branches and other obstacles here and there – it was an early-season ride, and caution was advised.
We took a sidetrip down one of the Moosewalk trails, which had a smoother base and provided an enjoyable ride, though it was narrow in some sections as snow laden tree branches and a few downed limps reflected the nature of this ride. It was beautiful scenery, however. Since we detoured onto the Moosewalk, we adapted our plan and followed the signs to newly planned lunch stop – the Wildhurst Lodge. Unfortunately, when we arrived we found them closed. With empty stomachs growling, we returned to the weaving trails, worked our way back to the North Shore trail and proceeded in the direction of our originally planned lunch stop – the famous Trestle Inn. The trail took us up and down big hills and showcased the rugged terrain of the area before we finally got to the intersection of the North Shore and Tomahawk trails – the sign said 5 miles to the Trestle, and our stomachs weren’t the only things near empty; so were our fuel tanks.
There was on snowmobile track on the Tomahawk, and it only went part way to the Trestle before turning off. The frozen swamp in that trail was especially rugged, forcing us to pick our way through carefully. Finally the Trestle Inn came into sight, but there was a problem: There wasn’t a single sled or other vehicle in the parking lot. A drive past the front door unveiled the cause – a personal appointment by the staff resulted in the Trestle being closed for the afternoon!
Luckily, the gas pump down the hill from the Trestle was working, so we were able to fill the sleds. We nibbled on some beef jerky scraps and emptied the last water out of our bottles, and then turned our sleds back to the south for our return trip to our tow vehicle.
Along the way, in the swamp section along the Tomahawk trail, waited a surprise. Following the same exact path that we left in the snow on the way up to the Trestle, a tree limb that was hidden beneath the snow got stabbed betwee the A-arms on the right side of our Polaris, and put a dent in the lower A-arm, a few inches from the inner mount. And this – sometimes – is how we decide what how-to stories to focus on in within the Service & Repair department of future issues of Snow Goer!
Back on the North Shore Trail headed south, we actually followed fresh groomer tracks for awhile – from what we could tell, this was the first time a groomer had gone through with a draw this season. We caught the groomer after about 10 miles and then had bumpy, uneven trails for the remaining 45 miles back to the truck. Our truck wasn’t alone in the parking lot – it was joined by a local sheriff’s deputy. No reason to worry, however – the friendly cop drove over as we were loading our sleds, asked about the trail conditions, thanked us for coming up and said he wished he could have joined us. Nice guy.
All totaled, we put between 138 and 141 miles on the three sleds (depending on which odometer you believe), got a first run on some of our new riding gear (Managing Editor Nick Longworth is pictured in his new FXR setup, though he had on Fly midlayer gear, a HMK safety vest, a Castle X helmet and Fly boots) and I looked absolutely smashing in my new Klim Valdez Parka and Powderhawk Pant (though you’ll just have to trust me, because nobody took pictures of me!).
Break-in modes vary per manufacturer, and therefore history has shown our break-in rides usually have the worst fuel mileage of the season. The fact that the sleds were working extra hard while pushing loose snow vs. riding on a hard-pack trail will make it doubly so this year, but for the record the Ski-Doo 850 was by far the mileage champ, getting 15.02 mpg, while the Yamaha Sidewinder came in at 12.89 and the Polaris at 9.62.